by Erin Jade Lange
To be published by Bloomsbury
on February 16, 2016
Source: ARC for review from publisher
Synopsis from Goodreads: The Rebel: Once popular, Andi is now a dreadlocked, tattooed wild child.
The Bully: York torments everyone who crosses his path, especially his younger brother. The Geek: Tired of being bullied, Boston is obsessed with getting into an Ivy League college. The Pariah: Choosing to be invisible has always worked for Sam . . . until tonight. When Andi, York, Boston, and Sam find themselves hiding in the woods after a party gets busted by the cops, they hop into the nearest car they see and take off—the first decision of many in a night that will change their lives forever. By the light of day, these four would never be caught dead together, but when their getaway takes a dangerously unpredictable turn, sticking together could be the only way to survive.
Rebel Bully Geek Pariah had some good points, like a great cover, a sympathetic main character, and an unexpected (in a good way!) ending. But overall, I thought it was a stretch to try to cram both a heartwarming story of unlikely friendship (which necessitates a lot of character development/backstory) AND a suspenseful thriller into a few hundred pages.
The story is narrated by Sam, a girl with a tough home life, and her narrative uses a before/after format that I found confusing and unnecessary given all the other stuff that was going on. Besides Sam, the book features three other main characters: Andi (rebel), Boston (geek) and York (bully). The four of them wind up at the same party, and when that party is raided by the cops, they end up on the run in a stolen car that's hiding a big surprise in the back. This part of the story necessitated a huge amount of suspension of disbelief for me - I just wasn't buying the fact that all these kids who didn't know each other would agree to steal a car and flee (hello, felony!) rather than take their punishment for being at a party where there was drinking. And as they speed away, things go way downhill for them from there. But hey, I guess teens have that undeveloped prefrontal cortex...
While they are on the run, these four characters get to know each other a little better (yes, the magical Breakfast Club formula!) But it seemed to me that the unlikely friendship aspect of Rebel Bully Geek Pariah was often at odds with the book's desire to be a thriller. Because there were four characters to get to know, the story alternated between a road trip feel with chunks of dialogue-heavy narrative (to further character development) punctuated with some very suspenseful scenes. That issue, along with the before/after technique I mentioned before, gave this book an inconsistency of pacing. There's little to no romance (which I thought was a good choice given all the other stuff going on). For me, this story might have worked better with just two main characters (you know, the classic Odd Couple Thriller, like Speed or Romancing the Stone.) In those types of stories, the relationship and the thriller elements go hand in hand.
I've read and really liked other books by this author (I'm a big fan of Butter!) but for me, Rebel Bully Geek Pariah didn't quite gel together as either a thriller or a story of unlikely teen friendship.