The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die, by April Henry
I read a fair number of YA books, sometimes intentionally and sometimes because they’re not well marked when I pick them up from Amazon. Some of them are very high quality and most are willing to follow some basic rules of good writing and storytelling.
This book by April Henry misses the mark. It starts well enough, if with an old trope: A person wakes up somewhere and realizes she has amnesia. In this case the person is a girl of about 16 named Cady. She not only has amnesia but she realizes that she’s been tortured (two of her fingernails are still on the table) and one of the captors has just been given orders to take her out into the woods to kill her.
She manages to survive using some kick ass martial arts skills that she didn’t know she had, swipes a car, and makes a run to a the nearest law enforcement she can find by searching on her phone. But the security officer tells her that he’s received a call that she’s been reported as having escaped from a mental facility for teens. She manages another escape, makes her way to town, and at a McDonald’s manages to link up with a slightly older boy named Ty. Together they head north to Cady’s home town of Portland, Oregon to try to figure out the truth and restore Cady’s memory.
There are some just downright goofy twists in the plot, including somehow managing to convince her that her brother is dead while she’s blindfolded by conveniently having a dead chimp in a bag. She manages to contact her parents through a convoluted code, has to retrieve some serum, and manages to save the day. Meanwhile, seemingly to keep a reasonable page count, people stop and take the time to explain various situations because it’s so much easier to write than incorporating that information into the body of the story. Even the bad guys get talkative, as if the writer was bored with the story herself and just wanted to get it over with. The author even gets around to disclosing that the phenomenal martial arts skills come from a few months of training when her parents began to catch on to the conspiracy from which they’re trying to escape. Even for a teen reader this would have to seem preposterous.
For all that, it wouldn’t have taken a lot of fancy writing to avoid the tired device of amnesia in the first place. The basic plot of a teen torn from parents, tortured, and trying to return would have been strong enough on its own without having to bend the narrative around an already worn-out plot trick.
YA readers deserve better than this, as do the teachers, librarians, parents, and readers who buy books rather than skirting around the YA section at the library.