I’ve been rattling through a clutch of young adult novels in the last few months, Betrayal being the latest and it’s right up there with My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece, Saving June and Maggot Moon/I, Coriander – all books with much to commend them to adult readers and reading groups. Like Mantelpiece and June the setting is contemporary, addressing issues that beset modern day youth – life the universe and everything, as someone once said. In fact, there’s also a set of twins and even an urn on a mantelpiece in Betrayal which, you’ve guessed it . . .
More importantly for me was the way Mr Olsen captures the self-absorbed tone of adolescent life in America. There’s a murder at the end of the first chapter which is always a good way to grab attention and from there on he doesn’t let up. My ‘favourite’ is Brianna – in quotation marks because she’s not very nice at all but things just keep on happening to her. Poor little rich girl with blonde hair and boys falling at her feet, who lives in the big house that every other kid in town would love to live in – which just happens to be the scene of the crime. Brianna lives her life via twitter and facebook to the frustration of Chief of Police, Annie Garnett, who, of course, has a heart of gold and endless patience in dealing with the problems of her hometown.
Meanwhile, the twins – Hayley and Taylor – have that secret means of communication going on that every pair of twins has, right? It’s a long, long time since I read the Bobbsey Twins and Hay-Tay (sorry) are older but a definite chord was struck. Plus, there’s a father who writes crime thrillers but seems less than keen to get involved in this death on his doorstep and a mum who has a secret she won’t talk to, like, anybody about. And that’s just one family.
The dialogue made me laugh out loud as I could hear the annoying whine and the posturing of who really was the dead girl’s best friend. There’s also those teenage answers that find the one loophole when asked to actually do something by an adult. Brand names are littered through the pages as reference points to help identify trends and how cool or otherwise these kids are. It’s also pretty topical - the Kate and Will wedding gets referenced. All of which makes for good entertainment but wait, there’s more – an underlying theme, in fact.
Betrayal is the second Empty Coffin story (even that makes me smile!) the first being focused on the issue of cyber-bullying. This time around the inspiration is the Amanda Knox case and although my knowledge of what happened is slight, some telling points are made when the British media make sloppy work of reporting the death of Olivia Grant, an English girl on a year long exchange.
Dammit, I enjoyed Betrayal and that’s more than I can say for the book I’m ploughing through at the moment, hoping it will get better. If you’re looking for a fun read and a conversational point with teenagers you could do a lot worse.