Nijkamp’s (This Is Where It Ends) psychological thriller again showcases the author’s talent in drawing readers into characters’ internal struggles. Originally brought together by a murder mystery RPG, five seemingly white teens across Stardust High’s cliques are now being pulled apart. Autistic Maddy’s car accident ended her lacrosse career; trans boy Finn, who uses crutches due to arthritis, dislikes asking for help; nonbinary and trans teen Ever experiences increasing responsibilities to their family; Carter’s family pressures him to be “more”; and Liva seeks to live up to her wealthy family’s expectations. Drawn together for one last game, the splintered group arrives at Liva’s family cabin in the Arizona mountains. What starts off as a bittersweet last hurrah in their beloved shared world quickly turns into a nightmare haunted by the mountain’s legendary ghosts and the group’s inner demons. Though the conceit is well trod and characters’ alternating voices can feel indistinct, the darkly twisted ode to self-discovery briskly whisks an intersectionally inclusive group through a reasonably stormy, emotionally charged scenario that considers the sometimes-steep price of growing up and growing apart. Ages 14–up. Agent: Jennifer Udden, New Leaf Literary & Media. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
"Immersive and captivating. From its well-drawn characters to their twisty game-turned-crime scene, Even If We Break is thrilling in every sense of the word." - Karen M. McManus, #1 New York Times bestselling author
"An engaging read, providing readers with some solid suspense, and twists to sink their teeth into." - Booklist
"The darkly twisted ode to self-discovery briskly whisks an intersectionally inclusive group through a reasonably stormy, emotionally charged scenario that considers the sometimes-steep price of growing up and growing apart." - Publishers Weekly
"Worthy of a horror movie... While the characters are distinct and unique, they are also fairly well-rounded and developed with their differences being only part of their characterization... A thriller with appeal for a variety of readers." - School Library Journal
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—With a beginning worthy of a horror movie, five teenagers arrive at a deserted cabin on a supposedly haunted mountain intending to spend the weekend enjoying their long-standing role-playing game. The five, once good friends, have drifted apart, but with graduation near they decide to get together one more time, perhaps to mend some of the brokenness. They are all "Wonder Bread white" but otherwise a varied group: Liva, the rich owner of the cabin; Carter, the one who wants to escape town and become the rich man he thinks he deserves to be; Finn, a transgender boy living with arthritis; Ever, the non-binary leader of the game; and Maddy, who is bisexual, autistic, and an injured athlete. The game starts well, at least until Liva disappears, leaving a bloody room and a finger on the windowsill. The terror continues as secrets are revealed, lives are put in danger, and those who remain must decide whether to trust each other. With movie-style pacing, the plot carefully unravels relationships and plans for the weekend as the remaining characters are targeted. While the characters are distinct and unique, they are also fairly well-rounded and developed with their differences being only part of their characterization. The fast pace of the action slows down when three of the characters escape the cabin and head back down the mountain, deep in conversation that, at times, seems a little forced and out of character. While the climax might be predictable for some readers, it does not detract from the overall atmosphere of the book. VERDICT A thriller with appeal for a variety of readers.—Janet Hilbun, University of North Texas, Denton
A murder-mystery role-playing game becomes real when its players gather in a remote mountain cabin.
In their elaborate fantasy world of Gonfalon, five disparate high schoolers can safely be themselves, solving murders and exploring new identities. But now, painful rifts threaten their friendship. As a last-ditch effort to reconcile before heading out into the world, they meet in the Arizona mountains for one last game. But soon, players start dying for real, and the killer knows their worst secrets. Are the ghost stories about the mountain true, or is the killer all too human? In alternating chapters, the teens reflect on their lives while fighting to survive. Finn, a trans boy who has arthritis and walks with forearm crutches, loathes asking for help. Ever, who’s trans and nonbinary, struggles to support their working-class family. Maddy, who’s autistic, grapples with pain and trauma after a car accident. Wealthy Liva is beholden to her family’s expectations, and Carter feels unappreciated. Author Nijkamp, who identifies as queer, disabled, and nonbinary, thoughtfully examines the intricacies of neurodivergence, chronic pain, addiction, and belonging. Unfortunately, repetitive, expository narration bogs down the pacing and diminishes suspense. Characters are distinguished more by their respective challenges than by full-fledged personalities, and dialogue is often stilted. However, Ever and Finn’s romance is touching. The teens are White.
Despite the characters’ refreshingly intersectional diversity, the thrills fall flat. (Thriller. 14-18)