Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Girl in the Wall

By Daphne Benedis-Grab
Avon, MA, Merit Press, 2012
186 p.     YA
Other than Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, I have read very little YA fiction over the past few years. Wait! That’s not completely true. I read quite a bit of classic YA literature while I was working last year for Scholastic Books. Yet, I know that YA fiction is currently a very big part of publishing, so when the publicist asked me to read a few YA books, I agreed. I had few expectations.

The Girl in the Wall was typical and unusual all at the same time. Two teenage girls alternate in telling the story of a hostage crisis. Sera is the former BFF of Ariel, a poor little rich girl, who feels that she has been betrayed by Sera. In typical high school fashion, she has turned everyone in their elite private high school against Sera. When the entire class is invited to Ariel’s house for her birthday, Sera’s parents insist that she attend the party. Besides, the current pop idol, Hudson Winters, is going to be singing at the party, and who would want to be left out of an event like that.

So far, so typical. But we are no more than two chapters in the book when, excuse the expression, “all hell” breaks loose at Ariel’s house; there are dead bodies everywhere, and the party ends up in a hostage crisis. The plot moves into the thriller-mystery genre with only twinges of teenage angst. And as far as thrillers go, it is pretty good. Sera tells her part of the story as one of the hostages; Ariel tells the story from her viewpoint hiding from the gunmen in the secret passageways of the family mansion. It takes a while to figure out who the mastermind of the entire crisis is and why he has decided to stage this bloody coup. 

Daphne Benedis-Grab is a good story teller and this is a very satisfying, albeit very bloody story. Even though the protagonists are teenagers, there are way too many deaths, and the people getting shot aren’t vampires, they are real friends, fathers, and allies. It would make it a bit difficult for a young teenager girl to read. I think that teenage boys could read through the father and the BFF and the boyfriend getting killed, but they will not pick up the book because of the cover, which has a beautiful teenage girl on it.

But then again, perhaps I am being overly sensitive. I took my grandsons to see Jack Reacher last week with Tom Cruise. In the movie, a sniper killed several people in the first few minutes. The boys were unfazed while I kept thinking about Sandy Hook. Today, I read an essay by Charles Honey in our local newspaper about the mystery of evil, and I realized that the villain in The Girl in the Wall could be considered evil personified. What makes him all the more evil is that he was a trusted member of Ariel’s life (and I don’t think that I am giving any plot away by saying that.) The essayist says, “America is awash is violence, from the weapons we wield to the games we play and the movies we watch.”

When the kids at Ariel’s party finally take action, they use every weapon they can think of, from hairspray to shaving cream to luxury cars in an attempt to overcome their captors. That part of the story reads like a movie script. I could see it unfolding on the screen. There are little tweeks of humor in the assault, and glimpses of romance. It was fun to read. As Ariel says, “It turns out its fun to scavenge for weapons. I am looking at the stuff in my house in this whole new, totally insane way, wondering what kind of damage it could inflict.” I just kept thinking as the mutiny occurs…was there a way that the plot could unfold without their being so many deaths? At the same time, I counted a lot of deaths in The Hunger Games, so I know this is the trend, and I read The Hunger Games with interest without it bothering me. Not sure, at this point, what the difference is. Perhaps it is the national discussion that is evolving on violence, but also we understand The Hunger Games because it is part of the dystopian genre of YA fiction; The Girl in the Wall may be too close to real life.

It will be interesting to see how Benedis-Grab evolves as a writer. This is her second book. The first is Alive and Well in Prague, New York. I will look forward to her next book.
Daphne Benedis-Grab’s website:

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