CM . . .
. Volume XXI Number 5. . . .October 3, 2014 |
After living in luxurious surroundings in steamy Miami, Valentina is now barely scraping by, busking and working as a model for a creepy artist, returning each night to a shared apartment in chilly Montreal. What could have led her to switch a life of ease in which she was the spoiled daughter of a wealthy art dealer for this hardscrabble, solitary existence?
Kiss Kill Vanish is an exciting new novel from Canadian-born Jessica Martinez, a writer with a growing reputation for producing original, intense fiction for young adults. At the centre of her latest novel is 17-year-old Valentina. Valentina grew up as one of three daughters in a wealthy Miami family, but she gave up everything—money, family, friends; her entire privileged existence--after witnessing a terrible crime committed by her boyfriend and father.
Emilio, her boyfriend, was one of her father’s assistants in the jet-setting, high pressure world of international art dealing. Gorgeous and 24-years-old, Emilio became interested in 17-year-old Valentina rather than her older sisters. They kept their love hidden from her father and would find ways to see each other secretly, even when on the family's yacht. Emilio taught her the mandolin and spoke of the places he'd take her someday; is it any wonder that Valentina fell in love with him? Then everything changed on the night she witnessed Emilio kill someone at her father’s bidding. While hiding in a closet, she watched the two men she loved become cold, murderous people she didn't know any more and didn't want to know:
In that moment, Valentina's life changed forever. She fled in a panic, impulsively catching a flight to Montreal where she’d been trying to forge a new existence for the past three months. Glamorous, well-traveled Valentina has been replaced with Jane, a pseudonym that hides her true identity while reflecting her life as a girl who wants to be forgettable and untraceable. As Jane, she must now look after herself, a challenge for any teenager, but especially for one who's been indulged and taken care of all her life. Martinez does a compelling job of showing her protagonist's contrasting lives: from an opulent mansion to a dingy apartment, from being spoiled to being self-reliant, from being surrounded by friends, servants, and family to being surrounded by strangers; and her wrenching about-face from trusting everyone to trusting no one.
One of Valentina's few personal connections in Montreal is Lucien, a young artist. She was busking—using the mandolin she stole from Emilio--when Lucien discovered her and made her his “muse”: he pays her to model for his paintings. Valentina’s upbringing—in a house filled with priceless art by masters like Degas—means that she finds his work cheesy, but she needs the money. Lucien is condescending to her, but she can’t reveal to him who she really is. Lucien's troubled brother with addiction problems, Marcel, seems an unlikely ally at first, but he grows in importance throughout the novel.
As Kiss Kill Vanish progresses, Valentina discovers more information that reveals her life in Miami was not what it seemed to be, in many ways. As her old and new lives collide, she must become resourceful in ways she never would have imagined, making life-or-death decisions and determining her own fate. Much of the action takes place in Valentina’s mind as she sifts through moments in her past and considers what her next steps should be. Most teenaged readers would be comfortable with Martinez’s frequent use of flashback which focuses on the incident that triggered Valentina’s desperate escape to Montreal. The author's use of a countdown device to heighten suspense in a few areas of the novel is a bit heavy-handed.
Overall, however, the novel is original and engaging, with some exciting, unexpected moments and rough-edged characters. It’s a psychological thriller that employs themes of betrayal and revenge, tied closely to the secrets in Valentina's family and her eventual discovery of the truth. Martinez includes plenty of plot twists to keep the reader guessing. The final chapters, full of suspense and action, are well worth waiting for. Younger readers may need to be aware that there is also some description of violence and death within the novel, including the scene of a possible suicide. Kiss Kill Vanish would be a great pick for high-school aged students looking for a good thriller, or those looking for an enticing introduction to the genre.
Gillian Lapenskie is a teacher-librarian at Barrie Central Collegiate in Barrie, ON.
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