I take a sip of my Diet Coke and turn to Ryan. “What’s the biggest lie that Tanner’s ever told?”
Ryan’s face goes whiter than it already is. His eyes dart nervously to Tanner and back again. I almost feel bad for the guy, but I don’t come to his rescue. I want to know the answer.
Ryan laughs and looks right at Tanner with a gleam in his eyes, before he turns his grin at me. “That you’re not amazing.”
(from Spies and Prejudice)
Talia Vance’s new novel Spies and Prejudice is a modern-day spin on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice for young adult readers. Our heroine on this adventure is Strawberry Fields, known as Berry, a 16-year-old who spends much of her free time spying on various marks for her father’s investigation firm. When she’s not taking advantage of her age to follow around unsuspecting individuals engaging in unscrupulous activities, she’s hanging out with her best friends, Mary Chris Moss (yes, that’s her name!), who enjoys building various spy gadgets for Berry, and Jason Yakamoto, their gay drama- and fashion-loving sidekick.
Berry and Mary Chris meet the arrogant Tanner Halston and his much friendlier stepbrother, Ryan, on a stakeout. Mary Chris and Ryan immediately become inseparable, but Berry — who would rather use Judo and her bold personality to keep boys at arm’s length — overhears Tanner call her “nothing amazing.” As much as she wants to resist Tanner’s striking good looks, she does her best to avoid him, though it appears that he follows her everywhere. She’s got a lot on her mind, though; after catching Mary Chris’ father with a letter on her dead mother’s letterhead, Berry starts digging up secrets some people, especially her father, wish she would keep buried. In the eight years since her mother’s death, Berry has struggled with the knowledge that it might have been a suicide, so it’s understandable that she needs to follow the leads indicating that it might have been murder, that her mother didn’t willingly abandon her.
Berry agrees to let Drew Mattingly, a loner who spends most of his time avoiding other students as he coasts toward graduation, help her delve into the circumstances surrounding her mother’s death. She doesn’t listen to Tanner’s warnings not to trust Drew, and as the facts come to light, she’s even more confused about Tanner’s involvement in the case — especially after she’s started thinking he might not be so bad after all.
As the mother of a 13-year-old girl, I found much to like in Berry. She seemed to have a strong head on her shoulders, and given her father’s depression following his wife’s death, she learned to take care of herself and not rely on anyone else for her happiness — and she could easily defend herself when relentlessly pursued by the sleazy, never-give-up Collin Waterson. But she also learns to open herself up to the prospect of finding love, and despite some very passionate scenes, there was nothing too grown up for younger teens to read.
Spies and Prejudice was a fun take on the Austen classic, and Vance does a good job turning Elizabeth and Darcy into teenage James Bonds. Vance makes the characters believable, with all the drama, romantic tension, and angst expected in a novel about teenagers, and she makes it exciting with the addition of a death investigation, corporate espionage, and descriptions of high-tech spy gadgets. The plot insofar as the murder mystery was intriguing, and best of all, I didn’t have it all figured out early on. I like how Vance kept me guessing and how even though I thought Berry was annoying at times, she kept me rooting for her throughout the novel. I hope Vance revisits these characters at some point because despite the satisfying ending, there’s enough left over to make a decent sequel.
Disclosure: I received Spies and Prejudice from Egmont for review.
© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.