By Charles Benoit
Available now from Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
I first heard of Charles Benoit when I saw him at the Austin Teen Book Festival. I thought his book YOU sounded interesting, not the least because it was written in second person. I never picked it up though, but I remembered his name. His latest release is COLD CALLS, a high-tech thriller about three teens: Eric, Shelly, and Fatima.
Each of the teens has a secret that someone has found out. And that someone is calling them, blackmailing them, and forcing them to bully someone at their school. It gets them all put into an alternative program, where they meet and decide to track down their harasser. It's an intriguing plot, but COLD CALLS' biggest problem is having too much plot.
The story is driven by the fact that each of the teens is willing to bully someone else in order to have their secret kept. Their motivation is key to the story working. But each of the characters felt so shallow. The weakest is Fatima, who doesn't get a point of view chapter until halfway through COLD CALLS. It felt like Eric got the greatest focus in the novel, but he doesn't have much of a personal arc. Shelly has the strongest emotional arc, but it felt like it cut away from her at a dramatic moment and then came back to her personal story once she was over it.
The super bully is chilling, but left me a bit cold. COLD CALLS has some interesting things to say about the relationship between bullies and victims, but it felt like it went slightly over the top. Again, it seemed like a bit more character development might've made it all work better.
I did think that the plot was interesting and moved along at a good clip. There is quite a bit to discover, as the secrets unfold bit by bit and the three teens start getting closer to the antagonist. COLD CALLS does engage with interesting ideas. As I mentioned before, there is the nature of bullying. There's also themes of personal responsibility, protecting private information in a digital world, and confession. It's a decent choice for anyone looking for a quick, thrilling read.
Note: This review took me 20 minutes to write.