A Brutal Gem

I’m reading a lot of YA at the moment. I think it’s because the genre pushes so many boundaries and isn’t so set in its ways (for want of a better term) compared with romance offerings aimed at the adult market. I mean, how many times have you heard adult romance readers say something like, “I hate first person point-0f-view books. I never read them.” Or if they do read first person books, it might be something like, “I hate books written in present tense. I never read them.”

Whenever I hear that kind of comment I inwardly wince and presume that the speaker doesn’t read YA — or at least, doesn’t read widely in the genre. And I feel kinda sad about all the amazing books that person is missing out on because they “never”.

One such book is on my reading list for April: Mind Games by Kiersten White. (If that name sounds familiar, she’s the author of the Paranormalcy trilogy).

Mind Games: They stole her past. She won’t let them take her future.

I can’t see the present… but I know what lies ahead.

My instincts are always right… but every move I make feels wrong.

It’s my fault Fia’s here… how was I supposed to know?

Annie will die if I don’t do what they ask… I’ll wish I were dead if I do.

Not only is Mind Games written in first person present tense, but it also swaps the point-of view between the two main characters, sisters Fia and Annie. And the timeline isn’t linear; it zips back and forth from the past to the present.

I know, I know: this book was a hot mess that was impossible to follow, right?

So wrong. For me, nothing could be further from the truth. It works brilliantly — think movie-style flashbacks. Also, those past-set chapters interspersed with the present day timeline are written linearly, starting from seven years ago and getting progressively closer to the present day timeline. For me, this gives a thread of urgency throughout the story, like we’re running as fast as we can so we can catch up to the present and finally have all the information we need to survive along with the two main characters. And then the final scene…. Well, let’s just say the past came full circle, like whoa!

The other really interesting aspect of this book is how vibrantly different each point-of-view character is. Even if each chapter didn’t have a heading i.e. Fia or Annie, it’d be very apparent who “I” was and which character was taking center stage in that chapter. Annie is blind, but she can occasionally “see” events, so her point of view is very unique. But I especially loved when we were in Fia’s head. She’s a damaged character whose been abused in the name of “training” and forced to kill and do things she didn’t want to do in order to keep her sister safe. She “feels” wrongness. Inside her head is a pretty scary place to be. Here’s an excerpt:

I sit up (it hurts, it hurts my body hurts) and grab her hand in mine. She startles; I haven’t been touching her at all lately. I don’t like my hands anymore. I used to think they were pretty. Now they look like they belong on someone else’s body. Someone who kills people. “Listen to me. Do not tell them. Don’t tell them you’re seeing more. Don’t tell Clarice. Don’t even think about what you’re seeing.”

“Why?” Fia, you’re scaring me. Why won’t you tell me what’s going on?”

“Promise me you won’t tell them!”

“I won’t! I promise! What’s going on?”

I drop her hand. “Nothing. And stop trying to see me. You won’t like it.” I walk out of her dorm room.

Down the hall.

Down the stairs.

Doesn’t matter where I go.

Outside the entrance hall I nearly bump into a boy. He’s wearing a coat and he is tall and he belongs black-and-white and shirtless on the wall of a clothing store and his warm brown eyes are completely glazed over. I simultaneously want to kiss him and to get as far away from him as possible. He feels wrong, he feels dangerous; my heart speeds up the same way for him that it did for the stun guns.

Everything here feels wrong all the time. But he feels exciting wrong.

“Hey,” he says, grinning, his eyes tracing over me without apology.

“Hey.” There are no boys here. Not teenagers, anyway. Only men. With weapons. (It hurts, it hurts my body hurts.)

“James. Keane. James Keane.” He sticks out his hand for me to shake it.

I keep my murderer hands to myself. “Keane as in the Keane Foundation?”

“The very same!”

“I should bash your brains in right now,” I say, but I am too tired to do it.

“You’re the third person to say that to me today!” He winks, then takes my arm and links it through his own. “Why don’t you take me on the grand tour of the secret school?”

“Why don’t you take a walking tour through rush-hour traffic?”

He laughs. “I like you. What did you say your name is?”


“Sofia. Soooofia. Sofia, I have done something very bad.”

It is wrong to go with him as he pulls me down the hall toward the empty classrooms. I go anyway. “I’ll bet I’ve done something worse.” Tap tap goes my finger.

“I would love to hear it if you have. But I get to go first. I have” –he looks both ways down the hall in exaggerated caution, then leans in and whispers right in my ear (wrong, wrong, but it doesn’t stop the shivers from going up and down my spine; he is gorgeous, I have never been this close to a gorgeous boy) –“broken into a boarding school for special teenage girls.”

I shove him back, glare. “That’s it? That’s pathetic.”

“It’s not! It’s very, very, bad. You see, I brought whiskey with me. Stolen whiskey.”

I yawn, patting my hand over my mouth.

“Stolen from the dean of my college.”

I check the watch I’m not wearing for the time.

“After he expelled me.”

I look him straight in the eyes. “I delivered a package bomb that killed two people.”

This book is captioned on the back cover by author Holly Black as “A brutal, exciting gem of a book.” And it certainly is.

In the acknowledgements, the author thanks her agent (Michelle Wolfson) for letting her write a book she “wasn’t supposed to” and for sending it out “in spite of its being ‘crazy'”. I’d like to thank Michelle, too. If she hadn’t taken a chance on this book, it might never have seen the light of day. And that would have been a huge shame for readers like me, and my daughter, who loved it to bits… and can’t wait for the next installment. Please let there be another installment!!!!!

And here’s my reading list for April:

  • The Touch of Twilight (Sign of the Zodiac 3) by Vicki Pettersson
  • Mind Games by Kiersten White
  • Crossing The Line by Katie McGarry
  • Newborn Baby For Christmas by Fiona Lowe
  • The War Hero’s Locked-Away Heart by Louisa George
  • Dark Kiss by Michelle Rowen
  • Shadow City by Diana Pharaoh Francis
  • What The Librarian Did by Karina Bliss
  • Breathe by Sarah Crossan
  • Divergent by Veronica Roth
  • City of Souls (Sign of the Zodiac 4) by Vicki Pettersson
  • Cheat The Grave (Sign of the Zodiac 5) by Vicki Pettersson

Happy Reading!



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