Conspiracy Girl by Sarah Alderson
Nic Preston’s family were murdered in the famous Cooper case. The murderers walked free and Nic’s starting a new life. Two years later and someone comes to her home; someone who wants her dead. The two seem linked but Nic is after one thing alone: survival. The plot is strong and fast-paced, though interrupted with poor word choices, repetitious language and clichéd metaphors. I don’t buy Finn as the romantic love interest. It’s a deterrent from the main story, which wouldn’t be a bad thing if it felt like it had a place in the story. The truth is, it’s poorly executed, like a block of new apartments without a foundation.
Alderson holds all the cards but she throws them down too early. The story turns into a clichéd nightmare, most, if not all, of which you could guess. The only good thing about sub-standard YA books like this are that they provide a measure by which the really good ones shine bright.
Nic tells us, verbatim, at one point, that Finn leaves her standing, swaying inches from an open flame. What’s wrong with him? When Goz is hurt, Nic screams for him yet she abandons him one page later with little consolation. There’s no evidence of any protective measures either by Agents Corbell or Ziv at the safehouse. They don’t seem to perform any checks and they don’t immediately confiscate her phone so they can’t be tracked through her signal. I’m not a federal agent and even I know this.
Finn’s initial narrative appears, at first, to be quite technical, though on closer inspection, his narrative is bland with the technical reinforcement of an Introduction to Computers 101 graduate. Alderson quickly diverts attention from what seems to be a lack of technical know-how to Finn’s criminal and charitable accomplishments. Finn’s perspective is feminine, maybe more so than Nic’s and just as bland. It’s obvious in the language that his narrative was penned by a female author (nothing wrong with this if (A) it sounds like a guy or (B) you wanted him to read like a fifteen-year-old fangirl). He notices the maitre d’s bleached-white smile at his favourite steakhouse, how Nic’s hair fans out over the bed and how he wants to brush it away from her cheeks, how her hair hangs loose… Grow a pair.
At one point, he talks about not being able to forget the first time he met Nic but instead, starts rambling on about the FBI and his regrets. Logic missed the first turn in this ink-and-paper car crash.
When Nic thinks back to her mother’s and stepsister’s murders, we get some dialogue between the murderers. There’s nothing indicative of their South African roots (which a true storyteller would have achieved) but that’s not what bothers me so much. It’s the cartoony-villain caricature that they emanate that makes it impossible to take them seriously.
And then we come to Finn’s narration (*shudders* – prepare yourself!):
- “She [Maggie] looks like an angry, little leprechaun.” No, just no.
- “She [Nic] swallows drily before continuing…” How does Finn know this? Has he had an out-of-body experience?
And then we have Nic’s narrative (even worse, if that’s possible):
- “He’s still trying not to grin.” How does Nic know this? Is she suddenly telepathic?
- Nic reads like a manual on how to repair Boeing engines (though this is insulting to Boeing): “’Well, from what you just told me,’ I say, ‘and from what I already know about you, I don’t doubt that you lied and somehow found a way to cheat the system, depriving the rightful Snapple winner of their deserved prize.And I also don’t doubt that in your mind you can probably find a way to justify it.”’ Does this sound like a teenage girl you’ve ever met? Just saying.
Two things that worked well in Nic’s narrative were a handful of descriptions (“drool hanging like viscous vines from his teeth…”) and her Big Brother reference which helps to anchor the story in a particular place. Her commentary on Finn is occasionally interesting too:
“A mix of contradictory thoughts and feelings rushes through me; disgust that he thinks it’s OK to hook up with the delivery girl, annoyance that women seem to just offer themselves up to him like hot slices of pizza…”
I don’t see why we need to hear Finn’s voice, especially when it’s as bland as Nic’s. They spend 90% of the story in each other’s company. A dual narrative works best when the characters are separated for the majority of the story (and it also helps when both voices don’t sound the same).
Nic and Finn are clichéd to the nines. They have that whole regurgitated, predictable relationship developing when really, there isn’t grounds for this. They’re being hunted by assassins but he comments on the swish of her hair and her scent. She comments on Finn’s sculpted body and his strong arms. Goz is the only one with a bit of personality. Maggie is a decent character though I think we should be able to see more of the strong, independent, feminine side of her character throughout.
Finn and Nic, in general, irritated me in a way that no character has irritated me since A Shade of Vampire:
- “It doesn’t actually taste that bad, if you can get past the texture, which reminds me of rubbery intestines.” How does she know what intestines taste like? (Nic)
- “I can’t stop my gaze from falling to his chest. He’s seriously ripped.” You HATE him. You think he was responsible for the injustice of your family’s murder. What the hell? (Nic)
I’m not convinces the maitre d would grab Finn’s thigh either. If she was that aggressive, any normal person wouldn’t return to the steakhouse. I mean, she practically stalks him to his house and he seems to have some awareness of this. What I don’t get is why he still went all those times? Find somewhere new for God’s sake. Not. Buying. What. You’re. Selling.
There were odd glimpses of hope for both characters sprinkled sparingly (unfortunately) throughout the story:
- “In which case it’s no holds barred and they better have good health insurance.” (Finn)
- “One girl freaked out and left, thinking I was some kind of serial killer and that it was a refrigeration unit where I was storing dismembered bodies. She’d obviously been watching too much Dexter. Another girl asked, with a little too much eagerness, if it was my red room of pain. She’d obviously been reading too much Fifty Shades.”
More of this and less of the Mills and Boon content (the beefy guy, the hard slabs of muscle and the ripped body) might have helped this read more like Gone Girl and less like a PG version of Fifty Shades.
Quality of Writing: 4/20
Lazy and repetitious word choices: “gaze”, “stare”, the raising of eyebrows, the rolling of eyes; everyone is “smiling” in this fairytale thriller and Finn constantly and consistently “grins”; a caricature male, YA lead if ever there was one. Nic’s heart is always “hammering” and “beating wildly”. Nic drops in Dr. Phipps, her therapist, quite subtly. Kudos for that.
This aside, there are two other language issues that prevented me from getting lost in the story –
(1) Weird word choices:
“My heart is flying in my chest.”
“I turn the corner on my street and take a glance over my shoulder.” (Why not just glance?)
“a creaking noise from somewhere in the apartment makes us both freeze…” Well, duh! We know it’s inside the apartment. You spent needless pages telling us about it.
“a waft of perfume”
(2) Distancing language:
“Sleep has its arms wrapped tightly around me and its pulling me down.”
“All of a sudden my attention flies back to the door.” Poor choice of words and the focus is on “attention” which distances us from Nic.
“I can tell she’s walking fast by the clipped tone she’s employing.” Do I really need to comment on this?
The setting isn’t too clear. At first, I thought it was North America and then, maybe England, with all the British references. It took me a while to get to grips with the fact that she’s British, living in L.A. There really needs to be more subtle references to indicate this throughout. The mix of American and British references is jarring. My main issue comes with the description, particularly in Vermont, where Nic describes every detail. The writing demonstrates a clear inability to dramatize any of the locations’ details.
Comparative Literature: 2/10
It lacks the intrigue and mystery of S. J. Watson’s Before I go to Sleep. It lacks the natural romance and tension of A.J. Grainger’s Captive. It lacks the characterization of Anna Dressed in Blood. There’s nothing original or different in this story. Clichéd characters and writing style, bland, narrative voices though a decent concept but one whose delivery is poor.
Overall Score: 27/100
Rate it or Slate it?
Slate it: Conspiracy Girl feels like it was written by someone who took a one-hour, dodgy online Creative Writing course. Usually, I pass along decent reads to my best friend and fellow bookworm but I’d be embarrassed to give this book to a charity shop. There was so much more I could have commented on; like how Nic and Finn read younger than they’re meant to be or the information dumps throughout – not to mention the for-the-reader’s-benefit passages. Avoid at all costs.
Books You May Also Like:
Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake – a powerful, well-executed story that encompasses horror, terror and mystery
Before I go to Sleep by S. J. Watson – though it’s not YA, it does have an interesting premise; a woman with amnesia struggles to remember her life but as she remembers, she realise that everything may not be as it appears
Captive by A. J. Grainger – this is everything that Conspiracy Girl could have been; high on thrills, tension and suspense with a sprinkling of romance