CM . . . . Volume XXI Number 3 . . . . September 19, 2014
Maddie, the main character of the novel, is heading to university on a scholarship in the fall, and life seems to be unfolding as it should. Her friends are great, her work on the school newspaper is going well, and her mother's divorce is almost finalized. On her way home through the park one evening, Maddie is inadvertently the witness to a brutal attack on a homeless man. She recognizes Hector and has time to get a good look at the two gang members who attack him. At that moment, she cannot intervene without putting herself in danger. However, Maddie goes to the police and is able to identify the gang members in a line-up which ends up putting her in danger anyway. Ironically, her safety eventually depends on Lobo, the leader of a rival gang. Thus Maddie is drawn into a world of gangs and sex trafficking which she barely knew existed.
Allison Van Diepen has given her young adult readers a fourth novel, and it seems that her writing only continues to improve. Maddie is the focus of this book, and she is strong, courageous and resourceful. She never intentionally puts herself in danger but has a very strong sense of doing what is right and following her conscience and, therefore, she never accepts the status quo if she feels she can make a difference. She is bright, motivated and a wonderful role model for the young adult women who are the intended audience of the novel.
Van Diepen weaves various themes together to come up with a multi-layered and interesting plot. On the surface is Maddie's continuing involvement with a gang, but this gang is different. Its members are interested in saving young women who are victims of sex traffickers, and this is what puts them in conflict with other neighbourhood gangs. They are trying to do what is right and are on the side of the law, despite their inherent mistrust and dislike of the police. This is the exciting piece of the plot which will, as the title so clearly states, keep readers on the edge of their seats.
Added to the thriller aspect of the novel is the coming-of-age theme. Maddie is at an interesting junction in her life, ready to move to a new city and begin school there. Naturally, this is both exciting and frightening, and Maddie must learn to deal not only with her own feelings about the change but also the emotions of various girlfriends whom she has known since childhood. As the story unfolds, Maddie matures and seems to eventually figure out where she belongs. As well, there is humour in the efforts of Manny, Maddie's co-worker at McDonalds, to convince Maddie to see him as a potential date. While Manny's efforts seem doomed to fail, he continues to hit on Maddie and thus provides an interesting secondary character.
Lobo, both mysterious and sensitive, is the gang leader who sets out to protect Maddie and keep her safe. He is an interesting combination of tough guy and romantic hero and shows an amazing ability to understand not only Maddie but the various members of his gang as well. He is committed to helping young women who have inadvertently become part of the sex trade and thus is a hero, even when his methods might seem questionable As a romantic counterpart for Maddie, he is compassionate, sexy and loving, and the two appear to have a lasting and strong relationship.
Van Diepen sets her novel in Miami, and thus it is sprinkled with bits of Spanish and the atmosphere of a large American city where crime is prevalent. Any urban environment would work for the novel, but Miami lends an international and somewhat edgy feeling to the book.
This young adult novel has an exciting yet believable plot and is filled with memorable characters whose main motive is to not just follow their dreams but follow their conscience as well. Van Diepen has given readers a novel which is approachable and interesting for readers at any level. The vocabulary is not difficult, and chapters are not long.
Ann Ketcheson is a retired high school teacher-librarian and teacher of English and French who lives in Ottawa, ON.
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