Monday, September 16, 2013

Can a Newbie Author Pull Off Such an Ambitious Plot? Well, No, Not Really.

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

School and 17-year-old Tyler MacCandless don't get along very well.  It's not that he doesn't try.  He does.  And it's not that he isn't smart enough.  He is.  It's just that his ADHD makes it difficult to sit still, impossible to concentrate.  It's a whole lot easier to pretend he doesn't care.  Blowing off class to spend quality time with his game console is more to Tyler's liking anyway.  And, if he does it well, it might even lead to a real job.  That's what Rick Anderson, an Air Force vet who's become Tyler's mentor and father figure, says.  He's given Tyler an amazing new game to test—if Tyler can reach a high enough score, he can earn his way into flight school.  At the very least, the game keeps his mind off his other problems: failing grades, his workaholic mother, and an older brother who's in rehab trying to get clean.  

Ani Bagdorian is a brilliant, 16-year-old computer programmer from L.A.  A freshman at Yale, she's feeling just a little out of place.  At least her secret job designing software for a mysterious company called Haranco pays for most of her tuition.  Even if the whole situation makes her feel a little uneasy.  Still, she doesn't dare quit, not if she wants to keep herself out of jail.  

When Tyler and Ani meet, the two are instantly attracted to each other.  Not that they're allowed to have any kind of relationship.  Haranco won't allow it.  But the more the two learn about the dangerous game they're both playing, the more sure they are of one thing:  something screwy's going on.  And they're going to get to the bottom of it, whether Haranco likes it or not.  With a powerful corporation tracking their every move, the pair will have to use every ounce of smarts, sense and courage they've got to solve the mystery before people get hurt—people who include not just themselves, but everyone they love.  

While the premise behind Playing Tyler, a debut YA thriller by T.L. Costa, sounded intriguing, it also seemed ambitious.  Maybe too ambitious for a newbie author.  Turning a plot that already sounds far-fetched into something believable—well, I just wasn't sure Costa could pull it off.  And she didn't, not really.  Still, there were things the author did right, things that surprised me, things that made the novel more entertaining than I thought it would be.  Tyler, for one—the thoughts constantly pin-balling around in his head, echoed in the stacatto rhythm of his narration, as well as his hot-tempered, half-baked ideas and actions just seemed right-on for a teenage boy with ADHD.  After reading a few chapters of the book, I actually said aloud to my husband, "Wow, no wonder [a kid we know]'s the way he is, if this is what goes on in his head all day."  So, that at least seemed authentic to me.  The rest?  Not so much.  Costa's prose definitely impressed me more than I thought it would, but Playing Tyler's still full of contrived plot twists, under-developed characters and a storyline that should have been trimmed in order to create a stronger, tighter narrative.  I ended up enjoying this one, more or less, but it's still a pretty average thriller, in my (oh, so humble) opinion.  And yet, Costa is an author on which I'll definitely be keeping me eye.  

(Readalikes:  Reminded me of The Kill Room by Jeffery Deaver)

Grade: 

If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, sexual innuendo/content, depictions of underage drinking/illegal drug use, and violence

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Playing Tyler from the generous folks at Strange Chemistry via those at BookSparks PR.  Thank you!

1 comment:

  1. I contemplated reading this one too but from reading some reviews first I learned there would be content that I'd rather not read. Yours is a great review.

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