________________ CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 3 . . . . September 18, 2015


Set You Free.

Jeff Ross.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2015.
248 pp., trade pbk., pdf & epub, $14.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-4598-0797-6 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4598-0798-3 (pdf), ISBN 978-1-4598-0790-0 (epub).

Grades 8-10 / Ages 13-15.

Review by Kim Aippersbach.

*** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



"You don't believe Tom had anything to do with Ben's disappearance, do you?"

"Not a chance," Grady says. "Absolutely no way."

"Then we need to figure out who could have."

Grady nods, staring out the window. "So where do we start?"

"I've been thinking about this," I say. "Detective Evans told me there are three main reasons kids disappear. One, they take off. But that doesn't seem like something Ben would do. Another is that someone has snatched them. Which we can't rule out. I mean, it's possible. I never noticed anyone watching Ben, but that doesn't mean there wasn't. It would be awful, and I don't even want to think about it. So . . ."

"What is the third way?"

"Family," I say. "That's number one."

Grady smiles. "The Carters," he says.

"The Carters," I say.

"You want to dig into the mayor's life?"

Set You Free is a tense mystery about the disappearance of five-year-old Ben Carter, the son of the mayor. Lauren is Ben's 17-year-old babysitter. Because her older brother, Tom, disappeared at the same time as Ben, he is the police's prime suspect. Lauren gets together with Tom's friend Grady, a skilled hacker, and together they try to get enough evidence to find Ben and clear Tom's name. The police are following Lauren, thinking she might lead them to Tom. Lauren and Grady find ways to foil and evade the police while Grady hacks into the Carters' computers. They discover that Ben's older sister is involved with a drug dealer, his older brother was involved in a fatal street racing accident, and his father, the mayor, is colluding with a step-brother on a corrupt real-estate deal. Lauren and Grady find the mayor's secret lakeshore cabin. Ben isn't there, but Lauren finds a USB drive with proof of the mayor's illegal dealings, which she emails to newspapers and the police. She tells the detective that she will bring Tom in if the detective arrests the mayor.

      Then Lauren goes to a room above a record shop where Tom and Ben have been hiding and sneaks them out. She delivers Ben to his mother, who has been in on the plan all along. Between them, they staged Ben's kidnapping so that the police would begin looking into the mayor and uncover his corruption in order that Ben and his mother could be free of him. Tom runs away, and Lauren has a defiant meeting with Detective Evans where she insists that she doesn't know where Tom is but that the incriminating evidence against the mayor is true.

      Set You Free effectively stretches out the tension inherent in a missing child case, gradually getting more fast-paced and exciting as Lauren and Grady trick the police and close in on Mayor Carter. The writing is engaging, and the mystery is intriguing. Lauren's relationship with Grady develops believably; their banter as they learn to trust each other and begin to like each other is enjoyable.

      The plot twist, however, is awkward and contrived, and the reasons given for the kidnapping plot are not convincing. It is an unsatisfactory resolution of a promising mystery plot, and it undercuts all sympathy for Lauren's character. Lauren's apparent contempt for the police is puzzling at first, but her conflict with Detective Evans over whether Tom should be a suspect feels believable. When we find out that Lauren and Tom really are the kidnappers, Lauren is revealed as a cold-blooded, manipulative liar, using everyone around her to pursue her plot. Even though her motivations are supposedly concern for Ben and his mother, it is hard to see her as anything but callous and unfeeling. Since the narration is in first person, Lauren has been lying to the reader, too, so we lose both sympathy and trust.

      Grady's easy forgiveness of Lauren's deception is a pat ending that doesn't ring true. Neither is it plausible that Lauren, Tom and Grady get away with the various crimes they commit: kidnapping, breaking and entering, theft, interfering with an investigation, hacking. The police come across as inept and possibly corrupt. However, Det. Evans is too sympathetically portrayed for us to feel triumphant at Lauren's rude victory speech. In the end, we have only Lauren's word that anyone is a villain, and the only person we've seen being villainous is Lauren. It's an odd place to end a thriller.

      Set You Free would make an interesting departure point to discuss law versus morality: is it ever okay to disobey the law in order to do something right? The book could also be used in a discussion of unreliable narrators.

      Teens will enjoy the good writing and the suspenseful, action elements of the plot and may be less disturbed by Lauren's illegal activities. Set You Free 's a book that could appeal equally to boys and girls.


Kim Aippersbach is a writer, editor, and mother of three in Vancouver, BC.

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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