Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Review: Circle of Silence by Carol M. Tanzman

First appeared on Goodreads, July 30, 2012

The biggest story of my life could be how it ends
It’s my turn to run a Campus News crew, and I’ve put together a team that can break stories wide open. And Washington Irving High has a truly great one to cover, if only we can find a lead.

A secret society has formed in our school. It announced its presence with pranks: underwear on the flagpole, a toilet in the hallway, cryptic notes. A circle of silence keeps the society a mystery. No one knows its members, agenda or initiation secrets—until a student lands in the hospital under strange circumstances.

will blow this story wide open and stop others from being hurt... …or worse. And while my ex, Jagger, might want to help, I don’t trust him yet. (And, no, not because of our past together. That is not important to this story.)

But whether you find me, Valerie Gaines, reporting in front of the camera, or a victim in the top story of the newscast…be sure to watchCampus News at 9:00 a.m. this Friday.

Well, this was interesting.

I usually have a policy of not requesting arcs of sequels, if I haven't read the first book, but the reason why I haven't picked up dancergirl, the first book in the WiHi series, is because I didn't know any better. But, given what I've seen from this book, I should say the chances of me picking up Carol M. Tanzman's debut novel are pretty high.

Why do I start with this? Well, because my reviews are repetitive as all Hell and I needed to spice things up a bit.

Right off the bat, I was drawn to the premise. I mean, a teenage sleuth? A reporter trying to crack a secret society story? What's not to like? Valerie Gaines, our protagonist, is very much like Kami Glass in Sarah Rees Brennan's Unspoken - she's spunky and driven, determined to get that story and prove herself to her team, but she also has a bit of ruthlessness which I found rather pleasing. Maybe it's because I'm evil incarnate, but I like it when heroines know what they want and go after it. 

Val knew getting the story could be dangerous. Did she snivel, cower, or let the guys in the team handle it? Hell to the no! Granted, she gets in over her head, WAY in over her head, but she picks herself right back up and persists until the very end, which is very admirable.

The rest of the cast is pretty cool too - I loved Marci and Henri and Raul and Omar, and even Jagger, at first (more on him later). I found Val's twin brothers Jesse and James (really) to be hilarious, and the leader of MP was nicely developed. The plot moved at a good pace, and I never felt like we were focusing too much on something unnecessary, or rushed headfirst without taking a break. There were also a few red herrings thrown in which honestly made me wonder, and the actual revelations were pretty sweet. All in all, a very engaging read.

I do have some gripes with this, though, but since most of them are concerning a main plot twist and the ending, I'll put them under a spoiler tag.

Okay, so, early on in the story it is established not only that Val's teammate Raul has the hots for her, but also that her ex, Jagger, wants to get back together with her. We have a standard bad-boy vs. friendly nice guy love triangle forming, with good points for both boys. But then Jagger gets picked by the MP for an initiation, and tells Val he'll film everything so that they can crack the story. They arrange for her to be nearby, and call the cops if anything goes wrong.

But then the MP change the location, take Jagger to an abandoned place and make him play Pass Out, a game where someone puts their head through a noose and emulates a hanging, which is apparently similar to a high. Val's arrival makes the MP run, and someone kicks the box from under Jagger's feet, nearly killing him.

That act of selfless heroism pretty much wins him the girl. It kind of bothers me.

First of, Jagger and Val broke up because he cheated. Granted, he was drunk and stupid, but he cheated nonetheless. She hasn't gotten over that, and even after he apologises, I was never entirely convinced that it was sufficient grounds on getting back together.

Meanwhile, Raul is nice and kind and supportive - so much so that his role in the climax (finding Valerie and calling the cops) was crucial, because without him, she could have died. I realize that there are more things to take into account here - like physical attraction, and personal preference - but I never got the vibe from Val that she was opposed to the idea of being Raul's girlfriend. So not only it the hispanic boy blown off in favor of Slacker Jagger, he's also paired off with the other guy's admirer Hailey in the end.

What's even more frustrating is that Jagger's "act of selflessness" (putting his head through the noose), which won him the girl was completely and totally pointless. By the time they showed him the challenge, he had already shot enough material for the coverage, and nothing stopped him from leaving. He could have easily walked away, or, better yet, called the cops, but he didn't.

Why? Is nearly dying of asphyxiation/broken neck such a thing for teenage boys? Especially when offered by the people who have already landed another person in the hospital? There's no doubt about it, Jagger could have left, but he didn't, because going through the whole thing would make him a hero in Val's eyes.

That? Right there? It's not good. It's been already established that he has problems at home, and he's emotionally unstable. Starting a relationship with him almost becoming a vegetable for the girl he loves has the potential of becoming huge emotional blackmail later on.

But maybe that's just me being pessimistic. I do think that Ms Tanzman had the best of intentions, and the ending suggests that everything is hunky dory, so I guess that the reader is left with hopes for the best about our heroes. I suppose I'm jaded that way.

In spite of my objections, however, it is a book I would recommend, if, for example, you're looking for a contemporary YA with a mystery twist, or for fans of secret societies, like inThe Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks.

Note: A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley.

Note 2: Image via Goodreads.

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