Published: 17th March 2020
Genre: Young Adult Thriller
Trigger warnings: Bullying including cyber-bullying, sexual references, suicide
This was my second buddy read with Noly, and we had a wonderful time trying to make sense of the high stakes plot and guessing what was going to happen. Our reaction at the end was one of mutual shock and plenty of gasping emojis!
What do the queen bee, star athlete, valedictorian, stoner, loner, and music geek all have in common? They were all invited to a scholarship dinner, only to discover it’s a trap. Someone has locked them into a room with a bomb, a syringe filled with poison, and a note saying they have an hour to pick someone to kill … or else everyone dies.
Amber Prescott is determined to get her classmates and herself out of the room alive, but that might be easier said than done. No one knows how they’re all connected or who would want them dead. As they retrace the events over the past year that might have triggered their captor’s ultimatum, it becomes clear that everyone is hiding something. And with the clock ticking down, confusion turns into fear, and fear morphs into panic as they race to answer the biggest question: Who will they choose to die?
This is a thrilling and intense book with permanently high stakes and a plot that never loosens its grip until the very last page. A tantalising premise paves the way for a story that relentlessly keeps you guessing and on the lookout for the slightest clue over the course of two separate timelines, all leading up to an absolute bombshell of a twist at the end.
For a young adult novel it really packs a punch, creating a frightful scenario that plays out slowly in a way that builds palpable tension and unpredictability, while also exploring sensitive topics such as bullying and suicide in considerable detail. There are lighter moments to be found among all of this, but it amounts to an addictive, thought-provoking read that certainly leaves a lasting impression.
On a Tuesday evening in February, Amber Prescott is fulfilling an invitation to a dinner party after apparently receiving a scholarship. She is joined in the dining room by a group of her fellow high school students, comprising of her baseball-playing boyfriend Robbie, former best friend Priya, queen bee Sasha, teenage prodigy Diego, and drug user Scott.
When they are all seated, Amber lifts a platter to reveal a plate containing a syringe, a note, and a bomb. On the note, it says they have one hour to choose who to kill with the lethal poison in the syringe, or the bomb will explode and kill them all. The door shuts and locks them inside, and there is no way out. It is now up to the six of them to decide what to do.
Needless to say, this setup truly grabs your attention and promises that everything to come will be super intriguing. Firstly there is the question of how each individual character will react to the situation they have been placed in and what they will end up doing, while also seeing all of their secrets laid bare. At the same time, the reader is left to speculate who organised such an elaborate and deadly trap.
Much of this speculation comes from taking in the past timeline, which takes place during the year leading up to that night. It shows all of the six main characters, the numerous ups and downs of their relationships and the occasionally damaging consequences of the decisions they made. There also seem to be several other individuals who could potentially have a motive.
As such, this creates an extremely tense atmosphere and leads to something resembling a detailed examination of human psychology. The themes play a big part in this, and as the timer ticks down some of the characters reveal their true colours and certain pieces of the plot begin to fall into place, with devastating consequences.
The story is told entirely in the first person from Amber’s point of view, and this fact caught my attention at first, for in this kind of book you are normally accustomed to reading from more than one character’s perspective. All the same, this technique worked very well in the end and it did not hinder the development of any of the other people trapped in that room.
Amber was an interesting narrator who I really connected with and found likeable, at least for most of the way. She is not afraid to be herself and has a strong sense of self-awareness, although she did have an adorable yet frustrating tendency to take responsibility for the actions of other people. There is no question that Amber has her flaws, but she always means well.
As for Priya, I found her storyline quite tragic and it was hard not to have sympathy for her as the sequence of events leading to the present ordeal played out. By contrast, I never really felt any positive feelings towards Robbie at all; I found him selfish and totally unsupportive towards Amber, while for all of his academic qualities Diego was not the kind of person I would rely on in a crisis.
But there is no doubt that Sasha is the most unlikable character of all. She is utterly manipulative and does everything for her own gain, often at the expense of others and not caring if they get hurt in the process. There was a chance that she could have been written as a bit of a cliché, but instead the author gives her a very complex and multi-layered personality that made her seem distinctly authentic.
The main setting of the room where the six characters are trapped gives the book a very tense and claustrophobic feel, and you can truly sense their fear and urgency as the timer runs down, leading to acts of desperation. Another thing that really helps is the fast pace, which not only guarantees that the chapters seem to pass by really quickly, but also that it is a difficult one to put down.
Along with this enduring concept, the most memorable feature of this book is the ending. The twist itself did occur to me as a possibility once or twice along the way, but I never really considered it as the likely outcome. Even still, the way it was revealed was unbelievable to the extent that it made me speechless, and for that matter there was another twist shortly before that which I absolutely did not see coming.
Overall, this was a rollercoaster of a read that delivered an irresistible premise, a sophisticated and stark portrayal of topics relevant to a young adult audience, and a twist that definitely lifted it up a few notches in my estimation. It was not without faults in some areas, but it is one that I shall not be forgetting any time soon.
Diana Urban works in digital marketing, assisting startup businesses, but has launched a secondary career as an author of dark and twisty thrillers. All Your Twisted Secrets is her debut novel, published in March, and that will be followed by These Deadly Games, which is due to be released in 2022. She lives in Boston with her husband.
I can also attest that she is an absolutely lovely person. Look out for my Q&A with Diana, coming up on Wednesday!
A tense and often exhilarating read that keeps you on tenterhooks right up until the most dramatic of twists at the end. I really enjoyed it.
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐