Title: Escape Theory
Author: Margaux Froley. This is her first novel.
Genre: Young Adult, Mystery
Summary: Sixteen-year-old Devon Mackintosh has always felt like an outsider at Keaton, the prestigious California boarding school perched above the Pacific. As long as she’s not fitting in, Devon figures she might as well pad her application to Stanford’s psych program. So junior year, she decides to become a peer counselor, a de facto therapist for students in crisis. At first, it seems like it will be an easy fly-on-the-wall gig, but her expectations are turned upside down when Jason Hutchins (a.k.a. “Hutch”), one of the Keaton’s most popular students, commits suicide.
Devon dives into her new role providing support for Hutch’s friends, but she’s haunted by her own attachment to him. The two shared an extraordinary night during their first week freshman year; it was the only time at Keaton when she felt like someone else really understood her. As the secrets and confessions pile up in her sessions, Devon comes to a startling conclusion: Hutch couldn’t have taken his own life. Bound by her oath of confidentiality—and tortured by her unrequited love—Devon embarks on a solitary mission to get to the bottom of Hutch’s death, and the stakes are higher than she ever could have imagined.
I’m a big fan of young-adult lit and was so excited to read Escape Theory. Unfortunately, I didn’t love it. The plot seemed somewhat contrived: main character, Devon, is the only student to volunteer for a pilot peer counseling program and becomes involved with the investigation of the apparent suicide of the school’s Golden Boy (who Devon has had a few special moments with over the year). The constant jumping back and forth in time was choppy and there were some plot holes that went unfilled. The entire story was too complicated to be tied up with a pretty bow by the end, yet somehow it was, albeit without any satisfaction. I also don’t know what life would be like in a private, pricey boarding school but again, the whole scenario seemed contrived and unrealistic. Another annoyance: Devon and her friend insulted each other with bizarre play on words with English literature and movies (“Drew Barry-whore” or “All Quiet on the Western Slut”) which I think was meant to be clever but was really not. By the end, I still felt no real connection to the characters, nor was really interested in finding out the solution to the mystery. I definitely finished feeling disappointed.
Mary Liz Bio
Escape Theory left me wishing for something more and while I didn’t love this book it did have redeeming qualities. The story and characters were detailed and interesting enough to compel you to continue tagging along with Devon, the main character, while she slowly put the pieces of a mystery together. By interspersing bits of Devon’s memories of Hutch, the boy whose death the story revolves around, Margaux Froley kept the pace from dragging and grabbed the reader’s attention at the right moments. Unfortunately, after all the time the story invested in unearthing hidden secrets the ending arrived suddenly and without satisfaction. Young adult readers may enjoy this as an easy mystery read but the story was not successful as a crossover title.
Read Instead: If you are interested in a Young Adult book that revolves around a mystery and takes place in a school setting I would highly recommend On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta. It beautifully accomplishes what Escape Theory attempts to do, but does not.
I found this book a little too boring for my taste. Sure, it had some elements of mystery and intrigue, but there was WAY too much giveaway early on in the book and it left me unsurprised when it all came to a head. I realize I’m an adult woman reading YA fiction, but the resolution is so blatantly obvious that it’s almost an insult to the actual YA crowd.
I liked the format of the book, the structure and the flashbacks all worked very well and it was a fast read. However, the main character, Devon (a modern-day Nancy Drew wannabe), seemed entirely too naive for someone who is supposed to be so smart. Every minute and seemingly unimportant plot twist threw her for a loop and sent the storyline off on a tangent.
If there weren’t so much drug use and promiscuity going on in the book, I would recommend it for younger YA readers, as intellect isn’t a requirement to follow the storyline. It isn’t by any means graphic, but the references are frequent.
This book seems to be the first in a series. It will probably have a decent following of readers, but it definitely doesn’t live in the same atmosphere as some of the more popular YA series.
Julie S. Bio
Escape Theory follows senior Devon Macintosh as she leads a peer counseling program in which she is assigned to meet with those closest to Hutch, a classmate who recently died. Devon has a clear conflict of interest as she seems to be in love with him, despite the fact that they only really spent one day together. She refuses to believe that he killed himself and sets off trying to prove it was murder. The book is fairly entertaining, albeit slow in places. It is also fairly unrealistic, but does provide a good bit of escapism. As an adult, I didn’t find myself particularly interested in the story line, but I can see how teenagers would really enjoy it.
While this book begins with deep emotion and struggle for the characters, it quickly fizzles into a under-motivated murder mystery. The narrator is relatable and believable; however, in a book that is supposed to run on emotion, she seems to ignore hers. As a reader I found this book to be a good read for something to do, but there was nothing notable about it. I did not find parts to love or to hate. While I did want the narrator to solve the mystery, there was nothing really to motivate me to read the book. As I was reading I felt I could easily skip to the end and not miss much, if anything. Now that I have finished, I could have skipped to the end and have the read be just as good.
Grade: C Not good, but not bad either. (A shrug and a “meh”.)
Read Instead: For mystery, I particularly enjoyed the Young Sherlock Holmes series by Andrew Lane, these books are for young readers and are good reads.