Author: Susanne Winnacker
Genre: Teen/YA, Fantasy, Suspense, Romance, Paranormal, Thriller
Rating: 3 Stars (3.5?)
Tessa is a Variant with extraordinary abilities. She could be a hero, but all she wants to do is fall in love …
Tessa is a Variant, able to absorb the DNA of anyone she touches and mimic their appearance. Shunned by her family, she’s spent the last two years with the Forces with Extraordinary Abilities, a secret branch of the FBI. There she trains with other Variants, such as long-term crush Alec, who each have their own extraordinary ability.
When a serial killer rocks a small town in Oregon, Tessa is given a mission: she must impersonate Madison, a local teen, to find the killer before he strikes again. Tessa hates everything about being an impostor – the stress, the danger, the deceit – but loves playing the role of a normal girl. As Madison, she finds friends, romance, and the kind of loving family she’d do anything to keep.
Amid action, suspense, and a ticking clock, this super-human comes to a very human conclusion: even a girl who can look like anyone struggles the most with being herself.
WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW
I got into this book not really knowing what I was getting into. I didn’t read the synopsis or any previous reviews. I only saw the cover and the genre, and said “why not?” Sometimes I like to do that – and sometimes it doesn’t turn out how I expect. This book certainly didn’t.
Approaching this book I was hesitant—I’ve been in the middle of a review slump lately where most of the books I’ve been reading have been rather lack-luster in the writing department, and hopping into this book, the writing was probably some of the worst I’ve come across in a batch of five or six books I’ve been attempting to read. I mean, awful.
At the beginning of the story I was introduced to the character of Tess, a young teenage girl who has the ability to shape shift into any person she comes into contact with… sort of like Mystique from X-men. It wasn’t a horribly new and ingenious ability to give a character, but I felt the author pulled off the introduction to this power of hers in a really fantastic way. (I’ll not spoil it for you, but I really appreciated that beginning scene). Unfortunately, from there my feelings towards Tess took a nosedive.
For perhaps the first four chapters of this book I hated Tess with a passion—and that is never something you want your readers to feel towards your main character. The writing was overblown and dramatic, pocked with poor grammar, missing punctuation, and even a missing word or two – rendering bits of the narrative eye-roll worthy, and sometimes, hard to read. Even the formatting was off, sometimes leaving half the page full of text and all the dialogue lines smashed into one sentence. Tess spent the entire first four chapters lamenting over a boy (who already had a girlfriend by the way) and coming up with some pretty hate-worthy plans of manipulating him.
Spoiler: In one particular scene, despite the fact that there are rules put into place that state she isn’t allowed to use her variant powers against anyone else in the organization for which she works, Tess purposefully conspires to steal the identity of another student, and then uses that identity against the boy she likes in order to make out with him – and have him none the wiser. I was disgusted. I even wrote myself the following note:
I hate this character and her stupidity from this moment forward. UGH.
Tess came off as a needy, stupid, selfish girl. I didn’t like her, and I didn’t particularly like her best friend, the boy she liked, or the girl who was dating him either. The whole romance sub-plot between Alec and Tess made me want to punch her in the face to be quite honest. The author constantly gave hints that there was a reason for Alec to be dating the other girl (and why he couldn’t date Tess)…. but whatever that reason was, it was never divulged. In fact, in the end, the only explanation we are given is that he honestly didn’t know why he was still with her.
There was another romance sub-plot.. almost.. I thought—and that was between Tess and Devon. I really desperately wanted Tess to date Devon – even given the fact that Tess was pretending to be Devon’s sister for 3/4ths of the story. Unfortunately, the small hints that were given towards that being a possibility were squashed, and nothing ever came of the relationship. Color me disappointed.
So why did I give the story a hesitant 3 (3.5!) rating? Because after the terrible beginning, the story actually got quite interesting. After the initial push of the first four chapters, Tess sunk into her role pretending to be the recent murder victim, Madison. Despite my initial hatred of Tess and the few little blips of anger that spurted up every time the romance subplots were mentioned, the core of the plot was interesting. It was a fascinating and tragic dynamic to watch Tess struggle to become this girl she really knew nothing about, and subsequently start to lose herself in the role of playing Madison. I truly enjoyed watching her struggle to find the line between who Tess and Madison were once those lines began to blur and she started to truly become a part of that life.
It was amazingly well done, and I applaud the author for being able to keep my interest all the way to the end of the book despite the shaky beginning. I’m forced to wonder if perhaps the horrible beginning was a case of the author staring at the first few chapters so often that the mistakes were easy to look over, or perhaps a case of over editing. Either way, I’d love to see the first four chapters cleaned up and re-edited. For now, I think if you can push past those first few chapters, the rest of the book is a really enjoyable read for anyone who loves YA Paranormal fiction with a bit of a murder mystery thrown in.
Will I be reading more from this series? If there are subsequent books… Yes. Capital Y. In the end I liked the book despite it’s flaws, and I think it’s possible that a second book would perhaps be written a bit better now that the author has some experience under her belt. I’d be happy to recommend the book out to any YA readers with the caveat that you have to understand the first four chapters are going to make you want to throw the book at a wall.