LitStack Review: Truth or Dare by Jacqueline Green

Truth or DareTruth or Dare
Jacqueline Green
Poppy/Little Brown and Company
First Edition: May 14, 2013
ISBN 978-0-316-22036-1

Beautiful spitfire Tenley Reed has returned to Echo Bay, Massachusetts just in time for the start of her senior year.  Her mother has remarried – this time to insanely rich Lanson Reed, who just happens to own much of Echo Bay – making Tenley’s  three year relocation to Nevada blessedly behind her.  While being the reigning Miss Teen Nevada was nice, reckless wild child Tenley can’t wait to regain her social status of party queen of exclusive Winslow Academy, and to re-establish herself at the top of the popular girls pecking order – and a magnet for any boy that catches her fancy (or serves her needs), available or not.

Caitlin Thomas, with her long blond hair, tall, willowy frame and large green eyes, seems to be a perfect angel.  Hardworking, studious, volunteer at the local animal shelter, a Harvard hopeful, cheerleader candidate and running for senior class president, she was Tenley’s best friend and is excited to have “the Perfect Ten” back again (although her current “bestie,” the beautiful Emerson – who already has embarked on a fledgling modeling career – is not quite as enthusiastic at Tenley’s return).  But Caitlin has experienced trauma in her short life, having been kidnapped in 6th grade.  The crime failed and the man who had been suspected of being the perpetrator committed suicide on the eve of his trial, but even with her memories of that time being deeply repressed five years later, Caitlin still has nightmares.

Sydney Morgan also attends Winslow Academy, and with her long brown hair, slim figure and turquoise blue eyes, she looks the part, even without the designer clothes.  Sydney is a loner, more comfortable behind the lens of her camera than in the spotlight.  Coming from a broken working class family, living in the seedier part of town known as “the Dread”, she works at the club where her classmates lounge in leisure (where their designer bikinis cost more than her car).  Sidney would have normally attended public school, but had been granted a scholarship to Winslow since second grade.  As the years passed she would have been happy to leave the academy, yet its superior resources and state of the art darkroom gave her a chance at realizing her dream: admittance to the Rhode Island School of Design.

Yet for these girls and their classmates (including Tenley’s new, hot stepbrother, Guinness, who also just happens to be Sydney’s clandestine on again/off again boyfriend), the start of senior year is not the only excitement in town.  For the first time in years, Echo Bay is hosting their historic Fall Festival and the entire community is buzzing.  The festival had been suspended when a third beautiful local girl died in the ocean water near Phantom Rock during the celebration.  Now known as the Lost Girls, the mystique of the drownings had cast an unwelcome tourist spotlight on the reclusive town.  To add fuel to the fire, the most recent death had been deemed foul play, and a verdict in the murder trial was expected any day.  Rumors of ghost lights and talk of a curse persisted; the return of the festival was expected to not only put them to rest, but also to allow the town of Echo Bay to move on.

So just at this point, back into town waltzes Tenley, and she intends to return with a bang.  Word of mouth has it that she is throwing a pool party to end all parties: a rumor that Tenley herself has initiated, and intends to make good on.  Anyone who had forgotten Tenley was certainly going to remember her now!

She looked around the room, surveying the scene.  It was a good party, but she didn’t want good.  She wanted legendary.  Come Tuesday, she wanted everyone to be talking about the party… and her.

She elbowed Caitlin in the side.  “What do you say,” she said teasingly, “to a little game of truth or dare?”

Tenley and Cait’s outrageous games of truth or dare were indeed legendary.  From mis-matched kisses to thongs stuffed in mailboxes, former games had started with hijinx and ended up truly daring, including a flirtation with the Lost Girls curse.

The pool party, drenched in booze and hormones and egged on by dares that started out spiteful and ended up mean spirited, was – at least for Tenley – a huge success.  But the next day, Caitlin, Tenley and Sydney, separately and unknown to each other, receive mysterious typewritten notes; an anonymous continuation of the truth or dare game.  The hateful demands in the notes cannot be ignored, for the threat of not playing along means embarrassment, ostracism, and the baring of their deepest, darkest secrets.  The “game” doesn’t stop with a single note; the dares keep coming, each one escalating the stakes if the ever increasing demands are ignored.  Each girl gets caught up in a web of lies, deceit, paranoia and fear as the dares get more and more dangerous; not only their lives, but the lives of those they love are threatened by some elusive mastermind who always seems to be a step ahead of their various attempts at discovery.

Truth or Dare is a suspense filled book aimed at young adult readers, full of easily rendered exposition, and it certainly had me guessing until the very end as to the identity and motivation behind the cutthroat game.  There were enough side stories to keep me wondering “if…,” and “perhaps…,” and “could it be…,” not so much red herrings as a sense of worlds unraveling when characters are unsure of whom to trust and if friendship really holds up as deeply as assumed.  The despair that comes when a buried secret or hidden fear is threatened with exposure is devastating.  We as readers are just as lost as Sydney, Caitlin and Tenley, and we, too, cringe when the next paper that holds a new dare is unfolded.  The magnitude of the psychological cruelty is truly wrenching.

However, as well done as the suspense was, I wasn’t particularly enamored with this book; not only was the phrasing, at times, repetitious and vacuous (is there not another word in the English language to describe “good looking” other than “hot”?), but I never felt any real connection with any of the characters.  Although the girls certainly did not deserve what happened to them, it was hard to get beyond the life of privilege and carelessness that they, and everyone in this story moved in; the lack of accountability and the recklessness that made them targets in the first place.  Spoiled, advantaged, and lost in their own lives, they refused to make any connection with their own selfishness and the events that shake their lives.  While author Green did inject some struggle in each girl’s life – well, Caitlin and Sydney’s, anyway – there still was no real connectedness with anything outside of their little hamlet town.   (Unless it was sneaking out for a wild weekend in Las Vegas, complete with booze and cocaine and a celebrity male model.  I don’t know about you guys, but sneaking out for an out of control weekend in Las Vegas as an underclassman in high school is just not something I can really relate to, let alone not having any remorse about; Tenley actually flashes an incriminating photo of herself and Cait around to supposedly accentuate her attractiveness – and supposedly it does.)  Any attempt at moralizing or understanding is thin and ineffective, as are characterizations of adults, teachers, bosses, or any authority figures.

I read through this book because I wanted to know the end game, but once it was revealed, I felt very little remorse for the outcome, for even with assumed tragedy, it felt like Tenley, Caitlin and Sydney were already lost even before any game began.  Without giving much away, the final pages of the book make it clear that there is going to be more volumes in this series, although I have no idea how that might play out.  Then again, I won’t be one of those waiting with bated breath to know what might unfold in Echo Bay next.