I was rather impressed by this book. The writing style is pretty good, and the opening prologue is one of the more impactful ones I've seen in a YA novel. Riley is babysitting for these two parents, when suddenly burglars invade the house and kill them. She ends up going to therapy because she's having anxiety over the incident, and the story goes on from there.
There's a lot of deaths in this book.
The main part of the story involves a hostage situation. Riley is at a therapy sleepover with several other teenagers, and three kidnappers storm the place, armed with guns. At first it seems like it's just a hostage situation and everything will be okay - Riley happens to be the daughter of a (deceased) cop, and feels she knows how all of this works - but not everything goes to plan, and soon we have a lot of dead kids all over the place.
In all the confusion, she manages to escape from the kidnappers with one of the other guys in the therapy group - Max, who turns out to suffer from schizophrenia. The doors and windows are all locked, and their kidnappers now seem intent on killing them all. Before long, everyone starts dropping like flies.
That's the first part of the book. The SECOND part, strangely enough, is when Riley and Max escape the building and manage to call 911...and the cops suspect Max for being responsible for the deaths of 7 kids and both adult therapists. A bit odd, in my opinion. I would have thought that the author would focus on other aspects, rather than the reasons why Max was framed for mass-murder.
Riley is a strong character in her own right. She was alright. Max, too, is a rather interesting person, and the chapters are indispersed with his personal thoughts. He's constantly second-guessing himself, is struggling with his own mental health (he has to cope without his meds for a few hours, which is pretty bad for him), and has this internal voice in his head which seems to be constantly arguing with him. I don't know much about schizophrenia myself, but I thought it was presented rather well.
It did get a bit annoying after a while, though. I just wanted to see how the plot was going to turn out, and instead the author gave me another huge chapter about Max's thoughts on what had already happened.
Also, don't ask me why, but he had this really dumb British stereotype surrounding him. He was saying stuff like "Tally ho!" and "Jolly good" as if he was some posh old-fashioned royal out of the middle of the London in the 80s. Yes, he's British, and half the time Max was joking about his mannerisms, but seriously now?
I mean, come on. I'm British. No one talks like that anymore. Even the goddamn Queen doesn't talk like that, least of all teenagers! Does the author really not know how to write an English character without resorting to really awkward stereotypes?
I wouldn't call it racist or anything - British stereotypes aren't really that insulting (I can't tell you how often someone tries to ask if I drink English tea, and ironically I've never drunk tea). But it looks a bit embarrassing.
Here's my other gripe about the book. Loads of teenagers die in the first half of the book, mainly because the gunmen have shot them in some evil or sadistic fashion. It's all very scary and edgy.
Or at least it would be, if I actually knew any of these characters for more than a chapter beforehand. Seriously. I was barely introduced to them. The first person dies just a few chapters in, not long after the prologue where a similar thing happened. It was just really jarring and I found it hard to care at times.
At one point, one of the other girls gets close to Riley and tells her how brave she is and that she's a hero for keeping everyone together...a character who had said almost nothing up to this point. I was rolling my eyes so hard at her, and, sure enough, she gets shot less than a chapter later.
I get what the author is trying to go for here, but could you at least give us a chance to know some of these characters beforehand?? They know each other's names. This is a therapy sleepover, for crying out loud! I wanted to know their backgrounds about their therapy! It was done really well in other books, but here...we just didn't know anything about them! At least, not until the last minute, once it was too late. I had trouble remembering the names of the therapists.
Instead, these mentally ill kids are just treated like fodder to be killed off by the gunmen. I guess the author was in a hurry to kill them all off, so she didn't bother to give us much background about them. Oh, and there's a gay kid too. He got sent to therapy by his homophobic dad, and he dies too.
Once I got to the end of the book, however, there were quite a few interesting plot twists. Namely about how this wasn't a hostage situation at all, and a lot of things were planned at the start. I expected that all this would tie back to the couple who were murdered in the prologue, and naturally it did. A few nice surprises were in store, and then a few more people die before we really get to know them, and...
...oh yeah, and the forced romance. Riley and Max have known each other a day. One. Day. Even Riley herself acknowledges this. I just skimmed over the kisses.
Overall, this turned to be very enjoyable, especially towards the end. I probably wouldn't read it again, though. All those plot twists lose their effect after the first time. It was good to see some coverage of mental illness, but the way that loads of characters simply get killed before we've got the chance to know them was a significant flaw in the reading. If you're going to kill seven teenagers, at least make us care about them first.