One of the hardest things about being a reviewer is not letting yourself fall into a routine. By that, I mean only reading one type of book, or only reading books you are positive you are going to like. I think it is something most reviewers struggle with when we get sent a pile of novels to read. Hmm, do I choose the Steven Erikson epic...or a novel about fairies in historical London. For me, the choice would seem obvious--Erikson. However, I think it is healthy as a reviewer to read outside your comfort zone. Often times the results are astounding. Reading outside my comfort zone is how I discovered Marie Brennan (fairies in historical London) and Robert Jackson Bennett. It's how rediscovered that elves can be OK with James Barclay, and that YA can be entertaining.
A little while ago I was sent a review copy of Janci Patterson's debut YA novel, CHASING THE SKIP. Normally I would have given this novel directly to one of my reviewers who would be more in the target audience, but I decided it was time for me to read outside my comfort zone again. Why? Because I'm always trying to broaden my reading and become a better reviewer.
Guess what happened? I ended up enjoying the novel. As a reviewer, I love when I take a risk that is rewarded like this.
CHASING THE SKIP follows the PoV of Ricki, a teenage girl who is now stuck on the road with her estranged father. Oh, and her dad is a freaking bounty hunter. As an adult guy reading a book targeted at young females, this immediately gave me a character I could root for. I cannot overstate how important this is for a new author trying to gobble up as many readers as possible.
The novel picks up with Ricki's mother having left nearly a month earlier. Her mom does this from time to time. She just leaves. Ricki will go and stay with her grandmother, but she gets abandoned on a fairly regular basis. This time though it is a lot longer than usual. Enter Ricki's dad. He has virtually stayed out of his daughter's life until recently. Now, the two are on the road together as Ricki's father is on the tail of another "skip"--the term used for parole evaders. As this is a YA novel, it comes as no surprise when the new "skip" is a teenage boy. He's easy on the eyes and slightly mysterious.
I know what you are thinking. This really doesn't seem like the type of story I would normally enjoy. You're right, of course. So let me tell you exactly why I did end up enjoying this novel.
First, CHASING THE SKIP reads extremely fast. I read it in one sitting, before bed, without much effort. It was a nice, easy read that I never felt any desire to stop reading. I think this was because Patterson's writing was very smooth. The story is told in First Person, which helps the reader understand exactly how confused and conflicted Ricki is. This is essential in a novel like this. Additionally, the ease of reading the novel can easily be attributed to how focused it was. There is no wasted space in CHASING THE SKIP. Everything is done with reason and direction--something I feel many YA novels lack.
Ultimately, CHASING THE SKIP is about the relationship between a teenage girl and her father. I think this is why I liked this novel. To me, as a reviewer and reader, the characters are what make any novel work. The setting can be a tad "meh", and the plot can be familiar...but if the characters and their relationships are interesting, then I am able to sit back and enjoy what I am reading. Over the short space of this novel, we get to see tremendous character growth both with Ricki and her father. THAT is what kept me reading. THAT is what made me glad I read this novel.
Now, I'm not going to ruin the ending for you, but I will say that it all felt natural and in-character. It was a tense moment, and paced extremely well. As a father myself, I found the resolution of the father's character arc to be satisfying in every way, and oddly found that I was picturing Ricki in much the same way her father was.
I am not the target audience of CHASING THE SKIP. Not even close. But it is easy for me to recognize and well-written, well-paced YA novel with realistic and relatable characters. What does this tell me? If a guy so far removed from the target audience and be thoroughly entertained by CHASING THE SKIP, then all those YA readers out there are really going to love it. Janci Patterson's debut is well worth your time.
Recommended Age: 12+.
Language: Hardly any.
Violence: Some tense situations, but nothing crazy.
Sex: Nope. Some crude references, but this is a clean novel.
Are you a YA reader who wants a little less genre-fiction? Want to grab this novel? Here is your link:
CHASING THE SKIP