Teen thrillers - reviews of I'll Be There and Dead Time

A teen romance isn’t usually the thing I find that keeps me turning the pages until late into the night. But there is something very special about ‘I’ll be there’ by Holly Goldberg Sloan – not least that what starts out as a straightforward romance quickly ramps up to being a tremendous thriller.

When Emily meets Sam they are instantly connected, even though it’s clear there is something very different about Sam. Different is good, different means he doesn’t swagger and isn’t full of stories about himself and doesn't insist on doing homework with sport on the TV.

Different because he always has his kid brother, Riddle, in tow – a kid small for his age, always obsessively drawing detailed pictures and not doing or saying a lot else.

When Emily’s family realise this is serious they want to meet Sam, want to meet his brother. Want to meet his parents . . . and that’s where the trouble starts.

The story is told both from Emily’s point of view, and Sam’s, so the reader is already well aware what the trouble is. Sam’s father is a career criminal, wanted in several states, always on the move. He doesn’t school them, he doesn’t even feed them. The two boys have made a life for themselves, the pair of them a tight unit, scrounging for food, making a bit of money by helping folk unload at the dump, keeping on the right side of their violent father.

Everything changes for Sam and Riddle when they start to join Emily’s family for home cooked meals . . . and Emily’s father wants to nurture Sam’s musical talent, it is just a matter of time until their unbalanced father finds out . . .

What follows is an exciting story of survival, of getting back to the people you love, no matter what it takes. It’s a really captivating, live-affirming and moving story, full of heart and surprises.

It’s great to see a teen love story that manages not to be simply about Boys or Tragic First Love, but is about the fact that love can take many forms, about families and how fate can sometimes turn on the smallest of things.

Who’d have thought a teen romance would be one of my favourite reads of the year so far (although I think  many adults may also sneakily like this love story with a heart of gold).

Anne Cassidy is one of the best-known names in teen thrillers and her latest, 'Dead Time', is centred around not just one mystery, but two - one of which looks set to continue in further books in this series.

When Rose rebels against her grandmother’s choice of private schooling and joins a college in a rough part of London, she knows she doesn’t fit in, but is determined to make it work, even when she is a key witness when a boy who has been bullying her is knifed

Her mother, who was in the police, disappeared five years ago and Rose is trying to live the sort of life she feels her mother would have chosen for her. So she half-heartedly agrees when the dead boy’s girlfriend appeals to her for help identifying his killer. 

Rose has also linked up recently with Joshua, whose father disappeared at the same time as Rose’s mother. Rose is surprised to learn that Joshua never believed the story of how the two disappeared and has been searching for them ever since, setting up websites and never giving up hope.

The twin investigations form a compelling and intricate plot that works on many levels. It’s not only a welcome modern-day thriller, with contemporary themes and strong main characters, it’s also a compelling mystery. 

The deaths aren’t dwelt on, but the mystery of both the college deaths and picking up the cold trail of Rose’s mother’s disappearance are edge-of-the-seat stuff.

Rose is in some ways not an engaging heroine, but her backstory and her bewilderment at trying to fit in with her cold grandmother, who had been estranged from her daughter at the time of her disappearance, is well handled.

It’s a well crafted and satisfying story that works on many levels. And with only a light romantic angle and not too much gruesome details about the murders, this could well appeal to those readers who have outgrown younger mystery stories – as well as the teen audience for which is has been written.

And finally, Kate Harrison, author of 'Soul Beach' - another cracking teen thriller about a social website that appears to be a portal to the dead - is putting together a survey about what we read and why.

Publishers don't do an awful lot of research and she has become interested in changes to our reading habits. If you have a few minutes and want to help to shape the future of reading, do go and answer the questions at http://kate-harrison.com/news/reader-survey-2012-what-do-you-think-of-uk-fiction.

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