A Twisted, Gripping, Disturbing Thriller: Dangerous Boys by Abigail Haas
I don't think a book has left me feeling so intensely uneasy as Abigail Haas' newest, Dangerous Boys, did.
Like in Dangerous Girls, Haas takes readers on a time-shifting journey, shifting between the present and the events leading up to a tragedy. In this case, three teenagers--narrator Chloe, her boyfriend Ethan and his brother Oliver--enter an empty home but only two emerge from that house as it burns to the ground.
The reader is left wondering which brother survived the fire? Whose at fault? Was it self-defense? An accident? Or something more insidious?
Chloe's a girl on the way out of her small town, with no plans to look back. That is, those are her plans until her father leaves her mother for his new family. Chloe's mom sinks into a deep depression and loses her job, leaving Chloe to hold all the pieces of their lives together, making ends meet at her summer job at the dinner, where she meets Ethan, the charming new guy in town.
As her life starts to unravel around her, Ethan is something of a rock, maybe too eager, but he gets an A for enthusiasm. Their relationship comforts Chloe as she's forced to postpone college and care for her mother. Shortly thereafter, Ethan's brother Oliver returns from college. He's charismatic and seems fascinated by Chloe.
Yes, this is a "love triangle."
Get over any issues you have with that trope--this is yet another example in which it not only works, it makes the story. (Check out some other examples here.)
Now, this is where I can't talk plot points anymore. While I was more certain of the outcome in this novel than in Dangerous Girls, that didn't make it any less gripping. This is really due to Haas's phenomenal skill and the then and now-storytelling style.
I've read who knows how many books that attempt to weave together different timelines, and they're largely hit or miss for me. (Notable exceptions: A Northern Light, All Our Yesterdays, the aforementioned Dangerous Girls.) Haas, however, deftly weaves the plot lines together, letting the mystery unfurl in unexpected, often shocking ways. She pulls the reader under a spell not unlike what her sociopath characters do--and that's a compliment.
I found myself rooting for people whose motivations I knew had to be suspect, who my gut told me were deceiving me.
The entire experience didn't leave me feeling particularly good, more uneasy and uncomfortable than anything, but it also made me wish that everyone would read Dangerous Boys so we can all talk about it.
A few odd factual elements keep me from endorsing Dangerous Boys at the level of Dangerous girls, particularly in relation to how college admissions and financial aid work. These are small elements, but are important in moving the plot forward and were somewhat inaccurate or incomplete. I see this a lot in fiction, young adult fiction in particular and it makes me crazy.
Authors: If you have any questions about how college works, email me and I will connect you with people who can make your wrong ring authentically (this is a serious offer).
Regardless of those nitpicks, it's exciting to see psychological thrillers in YA--there's something particularly diabolical about the teen years, so it seems like a natural fit.
Dangerous Boys is out today, available as an ebook only in the U.S. and in print in the U.K.
Disclosure: Review copy provided by the author.