Saturday, June 13, 2015

CANARY by Duane Swierczynski


I haven't read much Young Adult fiction, (or is it called New Adult fiction?), but I would definitely read more of those books if they were written by Duane Swierczynski, who seems to always try something new every time he writes a novel! Here, the author tackles a YA story and puts his own twisted spin on it. In the book we follow Sarie Holland, a young college freshman, who has the usual worries to deal with in college, like preparing for her honors finals, the attention of hormone-raging boys, and drinking too much at parties. That's already enough to deal with, but soon her life gets even more complicated when she's arrested after unknowingly taking part in a drug run, and to escape prosecution, she becomes CI #137: a snitch for an ambitious Narcotics officer.

At first, I had conflicted feelings while reading this. At times, I would shake my head at the silliness of the plot, then there would be a twist or a character moment that would suck me in, and because Swierczynski tackles the whole thing with real assurance, after a while I was just along for the ride! The story initially moves at a leisurely pace as the author puts all the pieces in place on the board, but then at a certain point, he just lets it rip, and the story rockets along, leading up to a page-turning final act! I found myself raising my eyebrows sometimes at Sarie's bizarre decisions, but I had to remind myself that Sarie is still a teenager during all of this, no matter how crazy the story got, and terrible decisions are a teenager's forté...

After recently being a bit disappointed by another book by the author, The Blonde, partly due to its lack of engaging characters, I was pleased to see such strong, relatable characters in this one (even the smaller parts), with one of the most fascinating characters being the city of Philadelphia itself (as in most of Swierczynski's work). I felt like I'd been on a great tour of the city after reading this! Sarie's character was especially well-drawn. We initially see her as this goody-two-shoes honors student that hardly even drinks, and then watch as she discovers that she has a real talent for navigating the drug underworld. She realizes that she's clever, resourceful, and can handle herself surprisingly well under pressure. Another thing I really enjoyed was, with all of the action and dark crime, at it's core the book is about a fractured family, and their struggle to connect with each other after losing the person that was their glue. That component really elevated the proceedings from being just a standard crime thriller to something with surprising heart.

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