________________ CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 13 . . . . November 27, 2015


The Masked Truth.

Kelley Armstrong.
Toronto, ON: Doubleday Canada, 2015.
340 pp., hardcover & epub, $21.99 (hc.).
ISBN 978-0-385-68475-0 (hc.), ISBN 978-0-385-68476-7 (epub).

Grades 8-12 / Ages 13-17.

Review by Ann Ketcheson.

**** /4



Max slams his open hand into my shoulder, knocking me sideways. I start to turn, but he's pushing me toward the adjoining hall, and I realize the noise from behind us has changed – not cries and scuffling now but one of our captors shouting, "Where the hell is the girl?"

I look down the main hall, toward the exit.

"No," Max whispers. "Not unless you can outrun bullets."

He's right. The door seems so close, so damned close, but it's at least another twenty running steps away, and I can already hear footsteps thumping behind us.

I take the side corridor. I see doors. That's all I see: endless rows of closed doors in a dim hall, like something out of a nightmare.

I glance at the first door. Which is also the first place they'll look. At the second, I try the handle. Locked. Max is already racing past, and I think that's it, he's getting the hell away while the little mouse looks for a hole to hide in. But he only tries the next door and then waves to me when it opens. He holds it while I dart through. Then he closes the door behind us, as carefully as he can, while footfalls thunder down the other hall.

When that door shuts the room goes completely dark and I stop short. Then there's a faint bluish light, and I turn to see Max holding down the glow button on his watch. He shines it around.

We're in a cleaning closet. It's big enough for me to get away from the door, picking past mops and buckets with extreme care, until I'm tucked down behind them. Max joins me.

Outside we hear footsteps. They've slowed now. A second pair joins them.

"What the hell are you doing?" It's X Files. "Stay in the room."

"I can see the door from here," the second man – Predator – says.

"Yeah, which means we'll have to chase them if they run."

"I just thought – "

"Don't. That's my job. Now get back in there and – Shit!"

A distant shoe squeak. Then the
pfft of a suppressed shot, and X Files snarls, "You left them with Mark's gun?" Running footfalls. Several pairs, the remaining hostages fleeing the room. X Files and Predator take off after them.

Max slips to the door, lighting his way. He holds up his finger and I see his lips move, counting to five, then he cracks it open and waves at me, still crouched behind the mops. I steady myself and follow.

Riley Vasquez is a 17-year-old whose world has come close to falling apart. Her policeman father was shot while on duty, and then Riley was in the house when the couple for whom she was babysitting was murdered. Max Cross is 18, and he has just been formally diagnosed with schizophrenia, completely altering his life plans. The two will spend a weekend at a therapy camp along with other teenagers deemed to have "issues". An organized camp with healing and wellness as its goal is the last place anyone would expect to deal with a gang of criminals intent on taking the group hostage and demanding ransom.

      Armstrong gives her readers two strong protagonists in Riley and Max. Riley is dealing with PTSD and its accompanying flashbacks and panic attacks, and yet she manages to remain calm, brave and strong, keeping her head in the midst of truly terrifying situations. Max makes an excellent partner and teammate for her despite his worry about his own reactions and the lack of medications for his illness. He is a master of irony and understatement and helps to keep Riley on track and even to add touches of humour to an otherwise suspenseful thriller.

      The hostage-taking and subsequent efforts of the teens to avoid their captors and eventually get out of the building where the therapy camp is housed take up the first half of the novel. Some readers may find the situation is unbelievable – a group of teens in an old warehouse in an industrial part of town with a maze of corridors, no windows and only two doors. Logically, this may not make a great deal of sense, but Armstrong keeps the plot moving with unpredictable surprises and a few red herrings – the hallmarks of good suspense writing. For young adult readers who enjoy the thriller genre, the tension and mounting count of dead bodies will only enhance their enjoyment of the book.

      The second half of the book moves along even more quickly and has more twists and turns for readers. The novel's title is an apt one. The criminals are literally masked during the hostage taking, and, when the truth is revealed in the final pages, readers realize that they have been masked both literally and figuratively. As well, the teens all have some sort of mask to wear thanks to their mental illnesses. Riley comes across as a strong young woman, and yet she constantly tells herself that she is a coward who hid under the bed with a little girl rather than confronting the men who murdered the child's parents. Max seems nonchalant and rather precocious, using this mask to hide his schizophrenia and his worry that, at any moment, he may lose control.

      Armstrong gives her teen readers excellent glimpses into the minds of their peers who might be struggling with mental issues, such as depression, suicidal thoughts, PTSD and schizophrenia. She mixes facts about the illnesses into the plot and more than once points out the importance of professional therapy as well as support from friends and family. Some characters in the novel portray societal views about 'crazy people', and Armstrong includes them to help make her point about our lack of understanding of mental illness and the need for continued information and education. Interestingly, a few chapters are told from Max's point of view, but these are written in the third person. This gives readers a sense of Max having two personalities as he comments about himself from another point of view in a way that may seem objective, even detached.

      There are places where readers will have to suspend their disbelief if they take a strictly logical approach to the plot and characters of The Masked Truth. But there are many other places where readers will be on the edge of their seats, quickly turning pages as they are swept up in an unpredictable and suspenseful story.

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.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.

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