I was looking for a bit of a change of pace when I picked up the new Kelley Armstrong book. And you don’t get too much farther than the usual teen fiction plots that the Masked Truth.
Seriously, kids suffering from mental illness going to group therapy get held hostage by masked intruders and put up for ransom?
- A book about kids with mental illness is sadly uncommon.
- A book about kids being held for ransom. That happens almost never.
It reads like Die Hard meets A Beautiful Mind.
The Masked Truth has a beginning that rivals the gut-punching opening of Afterworlds.
Riley’s babysitting job goes horribly wrong. I mean what could be worse than cancelling a date with your crush to babysit? Well, having your employers brutally murdered while you hide under the bed upstairs for one thing. Riley survives this traumatizing event and comes out a hero. Diagnosed with PTSD, she ends up in group therapy on a weekend retreat to an office building under construction where her bad luck strikes again. Intruders wearing alien masks burst in and take them hostage. The Aliens are set on ransoming Aaron, the rich jerk in their group, for a ton of money.
All Riley and the other therapy kids have to do is sit tight while Aaron’s father and the SWAT team negotiate with the kidnappers and they’ll all be released. Or, at least, that’s what they’re told. Things go south, and by that I mean: people panic, people get shot, and Riley and her friend Max escape into the building.
Did I mention Max? He’s one of the guys in group therapy, and he has a giant crush on Riley. He is in therapy because he has recently been diagnosed with schizophrenia. (See, the Beautiful Mind thing, without all the math and secret government conspiracies.) Max is well aware that he is potentially as much a danger to Riley as the gunmen if he has an episode, but he does his best to keep Riley alive without telling her about his condition.
So when the dynamic duo get a chance they run into the windowless office building and try to signal the SWAT team for help, but both the front and back doors are locked. Thus begins half a book of running down corridors, and hiding, and running down more corridors, and hiding. And more freaking running. It’s not like they’re running past anything interesting either because and there is almost nothing in the building. It is still under construction meaning that inside there are no desks, no papers, no real kitchen, no phones, no elevators, no fire alarms. The desert has more features than this place.
Granted, the setting might suck and keep the action fairly homogenous, but the story does use its action quota on gun violence. Holy crap, the gun violence. The body count in this story is off the charts. 7 characters are shot to death, and that’s only counting the characters that were shot TO DEATH.
The violence does do a lot to help you feel the horror of the situation. I mean, the stakes are a gun to the head. Half the time in YA novels characters don’t even stay dead and they almost never die in a such a graphically violent way. I want to say it’s a nice chance without sounding like a psychopath, but that’s pretty hard to do.
I have a hard time describing my relationship to the Riley and Max. I just don’t feel attached to them. They are everything that they should be: well developed, flawed, capable, the romance was believable, but I don’t really feel anything for them. Nothing.
Armstrong uses pretty dry language to describe the characters emotions; more fanciful language could have created more of a connection. You can also tell that their mental illnesses, PTSD & schizophrenia, were well researched, and that’s a problem as well. The characters spend a lot of time debunking myths about their own mental illness in their inner monologues. Who actually does that? Riley and Max read like a clinically correct textbook and it keeps their emotions and thought processes from feeling natural.
Max and Riley do both have very distinct voices, which is a plus. Riley’s mind is a lot more straightforward and peppered with flashbacks, while Max’s mind is like watching a boulder shatter as it rolls down a hill. Max’s inner voice is so scattered because that is literally how his mind works, and that is an example of clever writing. That’s why I feel really guilty when I say that sometimes I just wish he would get to the point.
But Die Hard…
The amount of time I spent having flashbacks to Die Hard… Like when Max and Riley took their shoes off to be stealthier. Then there is me yelling “do you know what happened to John McClane when he took off his shoes?! It was not pretty, put your goddamn shoes back on!”
The Masked Truth was just ok. If you want a fun way to learn about schizophrenia or PTSD, then this is your teaching aid. But if you’re looking for something loaded with action and tension, this is not your book.
The characters were decent, but no one was very memorable. The setting was extremely dull. And the villains, while scary for their ruthless killing power, are not exceptionally memorable either. But if you’re looking for a teen fiction version of Die Hard… you know what, just go watch Die Hard.