________________ CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 28 . . . . March 25, 2016


Beware That Girl.

Teresa Toten.
Toronto, ON: Doubleday Canada, 2016.
336 pp., hardcover & ebook, $19.99 (hc.).
ISBN 978-0-38567-836-0 (hc.), ISBN 978-0-38567-837-7 (ebook).

Grades 9-12 / Ages 14-17.

Review by Ann Ketcheson.

**** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reader's Copy.



There was collateral damage in the aftermath of that little confrontation - me. What just happened? I'd ignored the early warning signals and now it felt like there were missiles raining down on my head.

How dare I risk everything, this whole setup? Who cared if he chewed her up and spit her out? Caring was dangerous and sloppy. It got in the way. Sure, I had to keep an eye out, but caring was for losers.

Yet aside from Sister Rose, no one had ever been kinder or more openly generous to me than Olivia had.

So I cared. Big mistake.

I had to get back on survival footing, which meant war footing. I had to find out everything there was on Olivia, because I was pretty sure that Mark already knew. That had to be his game. I had a gut feeling that he knew stuff and then played accordingly. Yup, information had to be his trump card. He must have got to Kruger by now. Between her and Draper, all the files were there for his pickings. Mark probably knew everything there was to know about me, about my dad, about it all. He was just biding his time. But how was he going to use it? Jesus. My stomach seized. I felt my way to the bathroom.

I turned on the bath taps but threw up before I stepped into the tub. Sinking into the water, I realized that I'd have to start with him. Mark. Who was he? Where was he before this? He'd said he was at a lot of schools. What did that mean, exactly?

I couldn't sit on the sidelines and just watch this play out any more. I needed to arm myself. I'd had this sense of pure dread before, but I didn't know what to do about it. How to act. I was a kid. Not this time. No, sir.

Then I got out of the bath and threw up again.

Kate and Olivia are both seniors at Waverly School in New York City, but that is all they have in common. Kate is a scholarship student whose parents are both dead. She supplements her scholarship funds by working in a Chinese grocery store and living in a small room in the store's basement. Olivia, on the other hand, is rich and privileged and leads a life of glamour. As long as no one looks too closely, her situation seems virtually perfect. Kate decides that the only way she'll get ahead and potentially get to Yale is to befriend Olivia and convince her that the two are soulmates. Since Kate is used to deception and lying, she has no problem attaining her goal. The two truly become best friends until Mark, handsome and charming, arrives at the school to head their fundraising committee. He both beguiles and worries the two girls, and they wonder just how much he has learned about them and what he might do with this knowledge.

      Teresa Toten has won awards for her books for both children and young adults, and Beware That Girl is another excellent example of her work. She is able to find the right tone for both of the main characters. Kate is street smart and tough, knowing where she is headed in life and convinced she can get what she wants. Through flashbacks, readers learn about Kate's past and her dysfunctional and abusive father, and this knowledge gives readers an understanding of what motivates her and why she has such a tough persona. Readers admire her hard work and determination but shake their heads at her actions which are often both selfish and ruthless. Beware that Girl - does this mean Kate?

      Toten also gives readers a good sense of Olivia, a rich kid who is spoiled by her father and whose every whim is seen to by the live-in maid in their large Central Park apartment. Olivia has had her emotional ups and downs and is dependent on both psychiatrists and medications to keep herself calm and reasonable. Olivia has been damaged by events in her past, specifically the death of her mother, and now is catered to by everyone around her. Her peers at school also are keen to keep Olivia happy so they can be part of the "it" girls of the senior class. Occasionally Olivia throws caution to the wind and chooses to skip her meds, drink more alcohol and take risks. Beware that Girl - does this mean Olivia?

      The novel is a psychological study of two very different young women and what happens when they live together and attempt a friendship. The story is further complicated when Mark Redkin arrives. He seems to have the admiration of both female staff and students and is quick to ingratiate himself at the school and with the students' parents as well. Naturally, someone in charge of fundraising for an elite school needs a certain amount of flair and the ability to convince others to do what he wants, but Toten portrays Mark as a little too slick and someone who bears watching. The thrill and suspense of the book mount from chapter to chapter as Mark's real personality becomes evident, and he is obviously a menace to everyone around him. If there is one small flaw in the novel, it is that Mark's background is never really examined. Readers initially like him, then distrust him and then feel almost evil vibes from the man. Amateur psychologists might like to know what happened to create such a person.

      Beware that Girl is written from the perspective of the two protagonists, and throughout most of the text the two alternate with chapters written in the first person in the voice of each of the girls. This serves to move the story along while also giving readers an understanding of the relationship between the two young women.

      Set in New York City, the book captures the feel of a large metropolitan centre and particularly gives readers the sense of the elite lifestyle of the ultra-rich. Girls at the elite Waverly School have the latest fashions, exotic vacations and all of the latest drugs, prescribed or otherwise. Because Toten 's focus is on Kate and Olivia, readers learn very little about any of the secondary characters.

      There are dark themes in the novel, including the use of prescription drugs, mental illness and sexual abuse. All contribute to the suspense of the book as well as giving it a gritty and down-to-earth feel. Readers like both Kate and Olivia without ever being entirely sure how trustworthy they are or how they might react in certain situations. Readers truly don't know if they should beware of Kate or Olivia - or both.

      The cover of the novel underlines this uncertainty as there is certainly a young woman depicted - but who is it? The font used on the cover also bears mention as it is filled with sharp edges. Readers are warned about the two protagonists before they even open the book.

      Beware that Girl is a thriller which will keep readers on the edge of their seats. From early in the novel, readers know something will happen and that it won't be good. Readers will be watching everything leading up to the 'train wreck' of the exciting ending and will be powerless to stop the action. Toten manages to keep the suspense building, and the climax is as unexpected as it is thrilling.

Highly Recommended.

Ann Ketcheson, a retired teacher-librarian and high school teacher of English and French, lives in Ottawa, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.

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