YA covers such a fascinatingly wide range, from paranormal romance to historical to sci-fi, but Tamara Hart Heiner's debut novel Perilous is something I haven't seen before: classic suspense for the YA crowd. Before I get into my review, here's the blurb for the back cover:
Jaci Rivera has plans for her sophomore year: go to regionals with the track team, make the honor roll, and eat too much pizza with her best friends, Callie and Sara. Her biggest concern is Amanda, the pushy girl who moved in a few months ago. What she doesn't plan for is catching a robber red-handed, or being kidnapped. The desperate thief drags her and her friends 2,000 miles across the Canadian border. They escape from his lair, only to find that he has spies and agents watching their path home, waiting to intercept them and take them back. Then Jaci finds something out about her family. Something which irrevocably connects her to their kidnapper, and makes her question their chances of escape.
Four girls go to the mall. They have a few little mishaps, and end up witnessing a robbery and being kidnapped - and Tamara Hart Heiner makes it believable. I was impressed with her ability to take somewhat crazy situations and convince you that a couple of fifteen- and fourteen-year-old girls can end up kidnapped, escaping, and trekking hundreds of miles through the woods to get home. The characterization of Jaci and her friends was spot-on and convincing.
What struck me most about this book, though, was the pace and tension. From the shocking first chapter on, it's hard to pull your head out of this book. For me, it was almost too much at times - I wanted the girls to find a safe place and trustworthy people, but their paranoia quickly becomes yours, and it was hard to breathe at times. I was definitely invested in these characters, especially Tamara quickly demonstrates she isn't so attached to her characters as to guarantee a perfectly happy ending! When the ending does come, though (and I finally got to breathe a little easier!) it's satisfying, while leaving some subplots open. Can we expect a sequel, Tamara? (I'll read it!)
Overall, this was a different read, but I really liked it. I thought it was interesting that there's actually an adult perspective in the book - the detective who is searching for the girls - but he and the girls never actually intersect. I thought that was an unusual and risky move for a YA novel. My minimal nitpicks? I thought there were a few HUGE coincidences that occured throughout the book, but Tamara laid the seeds for those so well that I was able to pretty much suspend my disbelief. The tone of the novel is a little formal (which I think is pretty common in debut novels) and serious (which is understandable, given the events and tension of the story) for my preferences, but Tamara's prose is clear and competent - I think her writing can only get better as time goes on. And, since I have a few questions about what happens to the girls next, I'm hoping to see a follow-up ASAP!