What do the queen bee, star athlete, valedictorian, stoner, loner, and music geek all have in common? They were all invited to a scholarship dinner, only to discover it’s a trap. Someone has locked them into a room with a bomb, a syringe filled with poison, and a note saying they have an hour to pick someone to kill . . . or else everyone dies.
Advertised as reminiscent of classic Agatha Christie novels and blurbed as being like the cast of The Breakfast Club meets murder mystery, this book set up expectations of unexpected twists and notable characters . . . and ultimately disappoints. All Your Twisted Secrets takes the cast (or core concept) of Breakfast Club and reduces everyone to a caricature. There’s the bitchy queen bee, the jock, the classic stoner, et cetera; however, each of these characters is so tightly type cast that the end result is a lack of personality. Breakfast Club is one of my favorite classic movies, so perhaps my initial expectations for this read were too high, but aside from the lackluster personalities, the overall writing of this novel fell flat in quality. A lot of YA skews towards simpler language and clearer telling rather than showing, but I often found myself rolling my eyes at the way many of the characters’ behavior or emotional actions were rationalized. Amber wants to see the best in everyone, but she often comes off as dense because of that, steadfastly refusing to accept that sometimes people are cruel just to be cruel.
Amber and her classmates are invited to a scholarship dinner at a local restaurant. Each of the invitees receives their letter in the mail. When Amber and her boyfriend, who also received an invitation, arrive, the place is empty, but there is a sign on the welcome podium directing them to the private room. After everyone arrives, things go south fast. The doors slam shut, the guests discover what looks like a homemade bomb alongside a syringe filled with a liquid the accompanying note informs them is poison. The goal: kill one person in the room within the hour, or they will all die when the bomb timer reaches zero.
The premise of the novel was enticing, and I admit I read the entire book because I wanted to discover the end twist. The book may have maintained some of the urgency and momentum of the opening situation, but the majority of the novel consists of flashbacks to months prior in school. The flashbacks coincide with small reveals in the dialogue in an attempt to elaborate on a character’s personality or past action(s) or to illuminate a certain comment or barb for the reader. This set-up makes sense, but then 85% of the novel winds up taking place in the past so that the real-time action loses its importance and I quickly found myself unable to care about why the queen bee has dirt on the stoner, for example, let alone what that dirt may be. It became a gossipy reality TV show of hashing out past grievances, and the only thing making the situation high stakes was the confinement and the possibility of someone being rash and jumping the gun.
I was greatly disappointed in this book, and while it wasn’t a complete and utter flop, I don’t think it was worth the read. Of the fellow reviews I’ve read, people either hated the book or appreciated the final twist. Some felt the twist ruined the book, so to each their own experience. My thoughts are the final twist felt contrived. Yes, it was hinted at, and yes, I picked up on it, but it still felt unbelievable.
PUBLICATION DEETS: HarperTeen, March 17, 2020, 390 pages
CATEGORY: YA, thriller