A charming book that pulls you into the mystery from its first page, and does not let you go until the end.
Young Adult literature can be a very hit and miss game. Authors who write for teenagers either get it very right or tend to miss the mark, largely due to the fact that most of them aren’t teenagers themselves. In the case of Rosemary Hayes’ latest novel Taken, I think it’s safe to say that she’s landed on the side of success. A gripping mystery with authentic characters and the exploration of themes not often covered by the genre; it’s well worth your time.
The novel starts with Kelly Wilson walking through her local park, and being caught offguard by the sight of her Dad between the trees. Doesn’t sound like something that should be rattling, until you learn that Kelly’s Dad disappeared four years ago. Not only that, but his clothes had been found left with a note that implied he had committed suicide. However, given the fact that they never actually found the body, Kelly begins to think that all maybe not be as it seems. And so begins the start of the mystery.
As the novel continues, Kelly finds herself being drawn more and more in to the investigation of what happened to Steve Wilson, our intrigue only increasing as the narrative goes on. Kelly is joined by Jack, a boy a few years her senior with a taste for investigative journalism and an affection for Kelly that makes him want to know more. As they find out more about the case, and things seem to get more murky and confusing, the action heats up at an exciting pace.
Taken is an exciting novel, and an absolute delight to read. The characters are all great, and I found myself at ease with the narrator’s steady voice. Kelly herself as a protagonist is nothing special, but there was an authenticity about her that made her very believable, and subsequently likeable. Hayes captures the essence of a fifteen year old girl’s struggles, whilst also tackling her response to her situation in a sensitive and poignant way. This, with various other responses to the disappearance, poses interesting questions about the ways in which grief is perceived. When Kelly initially states to her friend Lizzie that she thinks she saw her Dad, Lizzie immediately suggests going back to counselling – demonstrating a lack of understanding of how to deal with others’ grief. As well as Kelly, there are other characters who are well fleshed out, such as love interest Jack, and Kelly’s Gran. The latter especially provokes the reader to fill in the gaps themselves: we’re constantly wondering what her story is.
Although of course our attention is on the main narrative and the case of the disappearance, Hayes also adds in subplots that fully flesh out the teenage experience. From Lizzie starring in the school production with school heartthrob Mark Ryley, to the blossoming romance between Kelly and Jack, and the rivalry between Kelly and her cousins, it includes the tropes that fulfill it as a YA novel. It could be easy for these to feel forced into the story for the sake of it, but this isn’t the case in Taken. Instead, even though they don’t necessarily add to the narrative, they paint a more detailed picture of the world in which the story resides. I was particularly a fan of the Kelly and Jack relationship. Their dynamic was natural and sweet, and made the process of going through the troubles that the mystery places them in, a little lighter.
The only thing that lessened the book’s impact for me was the reveal of the twist. Don’t get me wrong, the plot twist itself was a great one, and I felt that it was a fitting climax in lieu of the suspense that had been built up. However, the reveal of it just felt a bit abrupt; juxtaposing the consistent flow of the writer’s style in the rest of the book.
Despite this small qualm, I really enjoyed Taken. It’s a book that I would definitely read again and would definitely recommend. It had me hooked from the very first chapter, but remains consistently good throughout. I really empathised with the characters, largely due to the effective writing, and although it was very clearly a YA fiction, it was different enough from generic YA for me to sit up and take notice.
Taken by Rosemary Hayes, is published by Raven Books and is out now.