Truth or Dare, Book 1
Tags: YA, contemporary, mystery, suspense, thriller, betrayal
Echo Bay is a picture-perfect oceanside town with the expected batch of annual summer tourists and year-round privileged white teens. But it has an ominous claim to fame: several times in past Fall Festivals, a beautiful young woman mysteriously dies out in the water by Phantom Rock.
Little of this matters, however, with Tenley Reed’s arrival back in town. Wanting to claim her old life as the most popular and most desired girl in her grade, she throws one of her infamous house parties, complete with one of the Truth or Dare games for which she’s known. But this time, an unknown darer continues the game long past it’s time to end it. Three girls start receiving dares that they must follow through for fear of the darer exposing their deepest secrets: Tenley; her best friend Caitlin, the perfect All-American with the Harvard dream; and Sydney, the scholarship student. And for reasons they don’t know, the darer is not going to stop until they are all dead…
I was hoping, when I picked this book up, that it would defy my expectations. With a synopsis that sounded like it had been lifted directly from a rejected Pretty Little Liars installment, I’ll admit that my expectations weren’t high. And while I did finish the book (which says something, I suppose, considering how I’m not afraid to DNF a book that I don’t have a chance of loving), I kind of wish that, well, I hadn’t.
Throughout the whole book, I kept on shaking my head and saying to myself, “What’s wrong with this, Steph? The writing is decent—it fulfills the basic requirements of a YA blockbuster—and yet, despite the fact that I am reading it, I have an utter lack of investment in the characters and their fates.” What, exactly, did TRUTH OR DARE lack that kept it only mediocre?
And then I realized: it was lacking a heart. There is no non-superficial reason for caring about the characters. Superficiality in fiction differs from superficiality in real life. In real life, superficiality refers to physical, tangible things like appearances or dress or money. In fiction, it refers to the lack of spark that makes the characters never read like anything more than a couple of puppets. And it doesn’t matter how many oh-so-sad tragedies you want to pile on a character—Tenley’s father, Sydney’s past, Caitlin’s kidnapping, Caitlin’s panic attacks, Caitlin’s everything—the fact is that the author did not succeed in making her characters come alive with personality quirks and turns of phrase and all those things that make a person unique. It doesn’t take a really jaded reader to notice this.
(Side note: TRUTH OR DARE is a product of Paper Lantern Lit, a company that essentially develops elaborate plots and then hires new authors to write the stories. I didn’t learn this until after I had already finished the book. The correlation between PLL-style books and—in my opinion—their general lack of heart has yet to be scientifically examined.)
Despite the lack of heart and my lack of investment in the characters, I still kept on reading, drawn by the idea that all would be revealed, and several hours’ worth of my time would be justified. That was before I got to the thoroughly unrewarding ending, which, compared to the tight plotting of the rest of the book, was sloppy, a slap-dash anti-climax put together as a weak payoff before the mystery continues painfully on to a Book Two. What the hell?! Is it too much to ask for some sort of payoff, some sort of conclusion, after trudging through 400 pages of drivel tailor-made for the nonthinking YA reader? There is no clearer sign that this was a concept created for purely financial reasons than such a cop-out ending that basically demands that if you wanted to be invested in the story, you had better be in it for the long haul. Too bad that wasn’t made clear earlier in the story for the rest of us who have no interest in making that sort of an investment in a forgettable teen mystery series.
Oh, I have no doubt that this book will find its audience. It’s just the sort of mediocre copycat drivel that drives the market nowadays.
Cover discussion: No comment. Next question.
Poppy / May 14, 2013 / Hardcover / 400pp. / $18.00
e-galley received from publisher and NetGalley for review.