by Michael Northrop
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Trapped / 978-0-545-21012-6
I like "survival horror" style books and movies, and was really looking forward to "Trapped". Even the timing was great - I received the book right before the worst snowstorm in 15 years dumped right onto our house! So I was really looking forward to wrapping up with some fluffy blankets and vicariously experiencing the terror that comes with being cold, alone, and utterly trapped in a snowstorm. Unfortunately, I ended up disappointed. This slim, 230-page book that would normally take me only a few hours to read, actually took me days to finish because it was so consistently dull and frustrating that I couldn't read for more than a few short pages at a time.
Things started off badly when the narrator kept hyping up the incredible tale that he was going to tell us - a harrowing snowstorm that he barely survived! - but then kept veering off from the tantalizing tale to tell us a little more about his high school, or about the basketball team, or where he and his best friend used to ride their bikes together, or their interests and hobbies and obsessions, etc. In my experience, it's not a good idea to keep dangling an interesting story in front of your readers, only to keep yanking it back to introduce more stock high school stereotypes - especially when most of this exposition could have been revealed throughout the narrative instead of all at the beginning.
There's an overall problem, really, with this "retrospective" narrative voice; the story teller is supposed to be a teenage boy, but the voice frequently feels noticeably "off", like when he uses old idioms like "come on like gangbusters" and talks nostalgically about how it is when your hormones are taking control of you all the time. Indeed, far more attention is paid to "hormones" than the actual snowstorm: the narrator constantly refers to the girls stuck with them as "chicks" (who are really only fleshed out as the "hot love interest" and the "plain friend"), theorizes at length that hot chicks shouldn't be "allowed" to mingle in general public because of the havoc wreaked on hormonal boys, and frets frequently that 5 boys stuck in an extended snowstorm with 2 girls will lead to all kinds of trouble because the testosterone-filled boys will be compelled to fight each other for the attention of the girls, or something of that nature. It's all very melodramatic and not very interesting, at least it wasn't for me. Other narrative details are outright odd - the narrator goes into lavish detail about three different "prayer sessions" that the kids hold, and makes a big point of saying that "prayer in schools" would offend most people, which seems like a strange thing to mention under the circumstances, and it just doesn't flow naturally at all.
There's very little conflict or action in this book; most of the plot involves the kids sitting around waiting and being surprised by everything that happens. This seems odd - this is a northern school, and snowstorms are a way of life for the kids in the book, yet they seem to know next to nothing about cold weather! Roughly half of the book has the kids alternating between lamenting that no one knows they're trapped in the school and complaining that they can't get a cell phone signal in the storm. The kids are trapped in the school for *days*, and yet no one - not a single person - thinks to look for a land line phone in a nurse's or principal's office. I don't understand this - where I live, the phone wires are buried and the phone company has an extremely powerful generator to power the land lines, and I understood that even as a kid: when the power goes out in an emergency, get to a land line phone. These kids never even think of it; heck, they're shocked when the bathroom pipes finally freeze up - something that even happens in the southern states where I live. More often than not, it feels like the kids are deliberately stupid because then there wouldn't be as much story-time with them standing around complaining.
Overall, I just found this novel to be terribly disappointing. The characters seemed like stock stereotypes, and never really developed outside of their introductory info-dumps at the beginning. The bulk of the narrative seemed to contain complaining about things that most teenagers would understand; pipes freeze in winter, cell phones don't work in storms, your cell phone battery will run down if you keep playing graphics-intensive games on it during a power outage, and so on. All the macho posturing about being a hormone-ridden teenager didn't help the narrative, nor did it help define the narrator; it just seemed boring and distracting. The ending is *incredibly* abrupt and had I cared at all about the characters, I would have been furious, but as it was, I just felt relief that the book was finally over. I wouldn't recommend this book.
NOTE: This review is based on a free Advance Review Copy of this book provided through Amazon Vine.
~ Ana Mardoll
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