Sunday, October 21, 2012

Review: TEN by Gretchen McNeil

It was supposed to be the weekend of their lives—an exclusive house party on Henry Island. Best friends Meg and Minnie each have their reasons for being there (which involve T.J., the school’s most eligible bachelor) and look forward to three glorious days of boys, booze and fun-filled luxury.

But what they expect is definitely not what they get, and what starts out as fun turns dark and twisted after the discovery of a DVD with a sinister message: Vengeance is mine.

Suddenly people are dying, and with a storm raging, the teens are cut off from the outside world. No electricity, no phones, no internet, and a ferry that isn’t scheduled to return for two days. As the deaths become more violent and the teens turn on each other, can Meg find the killer before more people die? Or is the killer closer to her than she could ever imagine?
So maybe it wasn't the best idea to plow through the climax of this book at midnight. I strongly recommend not doing that... unless, you know, heart palpitations are your thing.

I've written about this book in my Wishlist Wednesday meme and even joined Gretchen McNeil's Army of Ten. You can read all my reasons for being excited about this book in those posts. To sum up: Agatha Christie = awesome. Her book And Then There Were None = Head Honcho of Awesomeness. Therefore, a YA thriller loosely based off aforementioned Head Honcho book is going to be AMAAAAAZING!

At least, that was my theory. But as I promised in my Army of Ten post, I will review Ms. McNeil's work as objectively as possible, so here it goes.
The book opens with Minnie and Meg traveling to the island. They've lied to their parents and ditched all supervision to attend a weekend house party hosted by the coolest girl in school. Because that always turns out well.

At the party are eight other teens. They vary in degrees of squickiness from the super-scuzzball Nathan and the control freak Vivian to Minnie's ex Gunner (Mr. "Gun Show" himself) and Meg's secret crush T.J. I'm not going to spend a lot of time of the characters, because they were a secondary consideration for me. Since we know they're going to be killed off one by one, I didn't bother to make much of a connection. Also, most of the teens are purposely easy to dislike (or suspiciously angelic), so I spent the first few chapters going "Wait, who was Lori? And is Kumiko a girl or boy?" Not to worry, though; the characters' individual impressions grow stronger the longer they live.

Though the teens arrive expecting a weekend of drinking and debauchery, their plans are about to go seriously awry. While in search of a good movie, they come across a DVD and pop it in. And this is what they see:

I gotta admit, Ms. McNeil did a great job at layering on the spooky atmosphere from the beginning. Even before the teens start to get an inkling that something's wrong, we the readers start getting bad vibes. Meg doubts the wisdom of lying to her parents and going to a secluded island, the ferrymen warn her to be careful, and even though there's another house party going on at the same island, the house the teens are at is separated from the rest of the island by a rickety wooden bridge.

Then things do go wrong. The bad things start almost innocuously, a careless accident, it seems. I loved it. I can't say what "it" was, due to spoilers, but I loved the nod to the first death in And Then There Were None.

Really, spoiler-wise, I can't say too much at all. I will say that the first and second deaths didn't bother me too much. But the third on out? Again, reading at night probably isn't the best idea. Make no mistake, this isn't a happily-ever-after, everyone-gets-out-alive sort of book. People die. Teens die, and they die badly.

After the second death, the situation devolves rapidly. Red paint slashes mysteriously appear in the hallway, tallying the deaths as they happen, leaving no doubt that the dead teens were purposely picked off. Inevitably, the suspicion and finger-pointing escalates. Who is targeting the teens? Is it one of their own, or someone else hiding in the house?

There are several plot holes that made me worry my bottom lip just a bit, but I was willing to gloss over them. If you can't ignore gaps for the sake of the entertainment, then it's probably best to skip the book. Luckily, I don't have that problem. (Yes, I'm a bit smug about my handy mental blinders.)

The hook for Ten is the same hook from And Then There Were None, and it's a good one. What would you do if you found yourself trapped in a house with a ruthless murderer? And what if that murderer was someone you knew?

There's nowhere to run. If you hide, he (or she) will find you. The only way to survive is to hope that you're just that much stronger, that much smarter than the person hunting you... and that you'll be able to react quickly enough in that brief moment when the murderer is revealed.

I can't tell you whether Meg was strong enough or smart enough or quick enough. I can tell you that though I guessed the murderer (I credit multiple rereads of ATTWN), I found the big reveal to be utterly exhilarating. When you reach the climax and honestly can't way whether the heroine will come out alive, you know you're reading a great thriller. Judging by how white my knuckles were by the end, Ten was a pretty great thriller.

Points Added For: Some awesome ATTWN homages, a fantastic climax, what we learn about the other house, making my toes curl.

Points Subtracted For: Having a few plot holes, not really having a character I could connect with fully.

Good For Fans Of: And Then There Were None, teen slashers, a murderer with a score to settle.

Notes For Parents: Clearly, there's carnage. There's also language, sexual innuendo, bullying, drinking, and mention of other illicit activities.

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