Livvy Flynn’s reality is one most can only dream of. Having written a fandom spawning, movie adapted, multi million dollar franchise of YA books at seventeen, her life seems laid out on a silver platter. But one wrong turn can send everything off course. Suddenly Livvy finds herself trapped in a basement, held with little chance of escape by a woman and her daughter…and they have no plans of letting her go. Forced to employ all her wits if Livvy’s to have a chance of survival, she’ll walk a gamut seemingly bent on bringing a lifetime of trauma to the forefront. Two parts contemporary and thriller, S.A. Bodeen’s The Detour is an electrifying blend of horror and hope, fear and freedom. It takes a look into the psyche of a victim and a kidnapper, a blurred line where the roles can be flipped in an instant. Drawing obvious conclusions to Stephen King’s pop culture icon Misery, does this teenage remix deliver in the revulsion? Or find itself bogged down by juvenile melancholy?
In answer to the question I posed, The Detour is simultaneously worthy of its comparison…and a lackluster predecessor. I would say though, for all its faults, S.A. Bodeen crafted a novel that would make Mr. King proud of his influence on the genre. This can be owed largely to Bodeen’s strong sense of spine tingling shock and awe. Granted, that may sound a bit like a put down, as if I’m insinuating she relied on cheap tricks to terrify her audience; but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Instead Bodeen realizes that she isn’t setting out to craft a modern Frankenstein, and embraces her work as a vessel of slumber party creeps and an entertaining ride for all to be had. Her writing is enthralling in a simplistic way, gutted so bare bone that it’s hard for a reader to distrance themselves from the palpable terror threading the narrative. Every turn of a doorknob and creak of the stairs caused goosebumps on my skin to rise, and I found myself genuinely afraid at several turns. These emotions are only further exemplified by the first person perspective, and suffocatingly small setting. As readers we’re trapped just as much as Livvy in her own head, our attention never straying from two things: escape and survival. There are no sub plots, no fancy writing, just the bleakness of the situation at hand. However Bodeen didn’t lend all her artistic merit to inspiring primal fear in the minds of her readers, dually crafting characters that are perfectly imagined in such a high stakes setting. First, take Livvy. When we first meet her coasting in a Lexus convertible she’s rich, she’s arrogant, and she regards everyone in terms of where they can get her. I didn’t like her in the least, and you would be hard pressed to find a fellow readers whose opinion differed from my own. Admittedly, the first few pages from her perspective were near impossible to muddle through. I could have screamed at the self absorbed idiocity that radiates off her in waves. But gradually, things changed. We’re introduced to a vulnerable side of her brash and demanding persona, one where her current actions are perfectly aligned and explained. However I still didn’t like who she was as a person, and the distance between sympathy and genuine pleasantness are miles apart. But gradually, through occasional humor and the testament of time, Bodeen bridged the gap between merely wanting Livvy to survive and investing in the future ahead of her. One would likely imagine that as I began to care more and more about the protagonist, my despise for The Detour’s villian, Peg, only grew. To the contrary, I became increasingly tuned in to Peg’s side of the story as Livvy began to reveal more and more of her own. Like roots of a tree, their perspectives needed to entertwine in one direction instead of diverging separately in order to create a fully formed mystery. I also give props to Bodeen for taking a little traveled road in characterizing Peg. It would have been easy for her to be cast aside as a psychotic kidnapper which, though she is, is merely the tip of the iceburg in regards to her motive for terrorizing Livvy. Bodeen excelled in writing a YA that follows the classic psychological thriller formula, but has too many flaws for me to consider it a trailblazer of the growing genre.
Bodeen is a textbook example of what good writing looks like (clearly someone got an A+ for attendance in their creative lit class), but she oftentimes can’t pull the story together. Such was the case with The Detour where the most important part, the mystery, is the weakest link and the aspect that ultimately earned it a mere three stars. I doubt this would be such a glaring issue had the book been any longer than 217 pages, but in that short length there was hardly sufficient time for Bodeen to build quality red herrings and really throw me off from the truth behind The Detour. Thankfully, Bodeen still had me creeped enough to keep turning the pages, or that kiss of death in a thriller likely would have ended in a DNF. I also feel a lot of the things that happened regarding the twist were just a little too…convenient for my liking. There wasn’t a whole lot of calculation or extra levels of depth, and Bodeen releid too heavily on improbable coincidences to bring all the strings together. Despite all the extremely positive facets I mentioned above, the predictability will likely turn off a lot of readers in a major way and (I feel) lower the age demographic more towards junior high. A weak point that needed more than a little extra time at the drawing board.
All in all I enjoyed The Detour as nothing more than a lightning quick read that had me turning the pages from beginning to end. Accessible to readers of all ages, I for see this one becoming a popular pick in middle school libraries and classrooms. I can’t say whether or not I’ll be tuning in to book #2, as having read the conclusion I don’t know what’s left to write about the topic, but never say never. Not for hard core fans of mysteries and thrillers, but definitely worthwhile for those looking to enjoy a fun and creepy addition to the YA genre.