Our YA contemporary Thursday review for today, is for Kara Taylor's debut novel, Prep School Confidential.
Taylor's novel is a fun, intriguing mystery that will have you biting your nails and reading feverishly to the end.
Paperback, 304 pages
Expected publication: July 30th 2013 by St. Martin's Griffin
This is a book which will intrigue and delight readers, and have them clamoring for the sequel.
(And yes, those were the exact words that someone used!)
When I heard that the book also involved a mystery set at a New England prep school, I knew that this was a title I had to check out.
Prep School Confidential details the aftermath of former Upper East Side queen bee Anne Dowling’s life, after she accidentally burns down part of her school.
Faster than you can say Henri Bendel, Anne is shipped off to the Wheatley School, a prestigious boarding school outside of Boston. She’s only there for a week, before her roommate Isabella’s body is found in the woods behind the school.
Even though the rest of the school seems determined to put the incident behind them, Anne isn’t willing to rest until she can figure out what happened to Isabella. With the help of Isabella’s brother and a cute classmate, she’s determined to get to the bottom of things.
However, someone else seems as equally determined to do whatever it takes to stop Anne, including framing her for Isabella’s murder. It’s now a race against time, to uncover the truth.
Things that worked:
From the very first page, I was completely charmed by Anne Dowling.
Even though the reader is initially introduced to Anne on an afternoon where she’s behaving in a flippant manner and not above wheeling and dealing her way out of trouble, I couldn’t help but immediately love her personality. She’s bold, smart and relatable.
Anne becomes even more likable after being (forcibly) shipped to attend the Wheatley School in Boston. Now that she’s no longer in her element in Manhattan, Taylor does a beautiful job of showing how Anne calms down, reexamines her priorities and starts acclimating to her environment.
And once the mystery begins to kick in, Taylor does a fine job of juggling both Anne’s pre-Wheatley impulsiveness, with the genuine loyalty and sense of duty to others that she’s developed since her arrival at the school.
All in all, the character ARC for Anne is a beautiful one, and I think readers are going to highly enjoy experiencing her growth along with her.
As for the secondary characters, they were all unique and memorable in their own ways. I especially liked the details that Taylor included about the secondary characters – e.g. Isabella’s love of Les Miserables; Anthony’s temper; etc., that all made them well-rounded and fleshed-out on the page.
* The mystery or the red herrings
Throughout the course of Prep School Confidential, Taylor presents the readers with a number of red herrings.
She does a fantastic job of getting Anne (and by proxy, the reader) attached to a character, only to reveal a fact or an obstacle that immediately casts doubt and suspicion on that character.
It was exhilarating watching Anne struggling with her constant loyalties and doubts about characters, and using her intelligence and wits to figure out who’s who.
On that note, the overall mystery was also well done. It’s complicated, comes with a number of seriously crazy twists, but also isn’t written in a way that makes it impossible to figure out.
Taylor crafts the unanswered questions about Isabella in way that makes the entire situation seem perfectly feasible, if that makes any sense.
* The twist
Without giving any spoilers away, there’s a bit of a twist about halfway through the book, which will have you viewing the ongoing situation (and many of the characters), very differently.
Taylor does a wonderful job of making the twist seem completely logical (and at certain times, even tragic), while also using it to propel the action and the main mystery forward.
* The ending
Taylor’s ending is a brilliant masterstroke. She drops hints about the ending all throughout the book, but still manages to (finally!) reveal her hand in a way that had me flailing and chortling, “NO WAY!”
I absolutely can’t wait to see where she goes with the revelations made in the ending, in the second book.
(And if the sneak-peek included in my book is any indication, it will be to a very, very awesome place.)
Things that didn't work/Things to consider:
My one (very, very minor) quibble with Prep School Confidential is the love triangle.
On the one hand, I love how Kara postitioned and wrote the love triangle. She perfectly captures that “Zomg, I’m solving a mystery and I have cute boys chasing after me!” vibe that I also used to find in Nancy Drew books.
(Because hey, if you’re off solving incredibly time-consuming mysteries, why not have a cute boy or two help you move the case along, right?)
On the other hand, I still couldn’t help but mentally compare the love triangle with some of the other well-known love triangles in YA lit. Even though I loved the relationships between Anne/Anthony/Brent, I did notice a bit of underdevelopment.
E.g. Anne seemed to become attached to both of the boys too quickly.
However, I can’t discount the fact that Anne is a teenager, and teenagers will often form attachments, quickly.
Readers of all ages and backgrounds will find Anne Dowling to be an incredibly relatable, clever and humorous heroine, and will strongly enjoy solving each obstacle right alongside her.
I recommend this book for all YA readers, but especially for readers who are looking for YA contemporary books with a kick. I also recommend to fans of Maureen Johnson’s Shades of London series, and for anyone who grew up with Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys, and wants to read the work of a more-than-worthy successor.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of Prep School Confidential from St. Martin’s Press, in exchange for an honest review. A big thank-you to Loren and the team!