As part of our ongoing collaboration with the Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, our writers have accepted the challenge of reading and reviewing pre-publication review copies of highly anticipated young adult literature. The reviews are posted here for our readers, but also will be sent to the Book House where they will hopefully be used to inform customers about the books they may want to purchase.We will try to publish one review a week for the spring.
The reviews contain spoilers, so be forewarned!
The Incident on the Bridge
By Laura McNeal
Published April, 2016
326 pp. Random House
Did Thisbe Locke commit suicide? This is the initial mystery that Laura McNeal presents in her thriller The Incident on the Bridge. Told from the perspective of over ten characters, the savvy reader will piece together the answer before it is officially revealed on page 83. It is left to the reader to determine through various accounts and broken scenes if Thisbe Locke, a truly brilliant girl in pink rain boots who has recently made some mistakes, jumped off a California bridge and knowingly plunged to her death. Nope, no she didn’t. She was kidnapped by a psycho who shot her, thinking she was his reincarnated sister, and is holding her captive on a boat.
When the police deliver the news of Thisbe’s apparent death, her mother and father figure have unrealistic emotional responses. Neither is consumed with grief, nobody seems particularly upset, and nobody asks any questions–which is extremely odd considering there is a significant lack of proof. The only character that responds appropriately is Thisbe’s younger sister, Ted. After trying to spur her family into action and failing, Ted takes matters into her own hands. She and Thisbe’s potential new love interest make “missing” posters, search, and try to figure out what happened to Thisbe. These actions are scolded by her parents, who are still underacting about the DISAPPEARANCE OF THEIR DAUGHTER. Even Ted’s thought process is a little off: her sister couldn’t have jumped off the bridge because “she couldn’t even jump off the high dive!” (201). Despite shaky foundations, Ted’s intentions are good and miraculously successful.
The premise and plot twist of Laura McNeal’s thriller is great. Her “thriller” aspect has minimal suspense but plenty of creepy details. As an added bonus, unlike other “thrillers” I’ve read, this story has plenty of closure. Though at first glance this book may be profiled as a tearjerker, do not be fooled. Thisbe’s account is not a sob story. While Thisbe’s incident is realistic and harrowing, there is little panic from her family and a weak response from the fictional law enforcement in this town. Thisbe’s “victim” side of the story was so realistic and easy to get lost in, but empty emotions and lack of pursuit from the typical “good guys” eliminated any potential suspense.
Additionally, for the size of the book (only 326 pages) there were a few too many characters. Many characters had little impact on the overall plot of the story and often were distracting from the plot. For example, there were two police officers involved in the investigation who had little impact on the plot. It would have sufficed just to include one police officer to eliminate yet another unimportant name. The story could have benefitted as a whole if these small characters were removed and more focus was given to the central characters. Thisbe was the central character, or main focus in this story. The reader was really able to get a good idea of what she was like since the story was told from so many perspectives.
There are noteworthy symbols that reappear throughout the novel that are unique and really add something to the story. One of these symbols is Thisbe’s pink rain boots. These rainboots help to develop Thisbe’s character deeper than any other character in the novel. Thisbe wore her pink rain boots on the night of her apparent suicide and they become an important clue. The rain boots are also an important part of Thisbe’s identity and how other characters view her. Her sister calls the boots “nerdaloshes” (13) and says the boots are “so dorky,” (206), but even with their “dorkiness” they fit Thisbe’s character.
Another important symbol is the die. A minor character, Fen, whose initial (and unfortunately not only) purpose was a witness to Thisbe’s apparent suicide is always discussing dice from board games. The author tried to have it be a large part of Fen’s identity and the story, just like the pink rain boots are so important to Thisbe. Fen is obsessed with trying to roll “six” on the die but never can (until at one point, not to be revealed here). The result is a weak character who has little connection to the central plot. Fen is just a boy moving “to the island where he’d always wanted to live.” (28). Despite the noble effort, Fen, dice, and “sixes” are tacky and more like a satanic ritual than the “profound” philosophy the author tried to associate with it.
One concern is that Random House publishing has categorized this as a book for ages twelve and up. Considering this book deals with some more young adult to adult themes such as the contemplation of suicide, bad relationships, and kidnapping, it is not appropriate for a twelve year old. Not only would this story not be appropriate, it would not be enjoyable for a twelve year old despite being a very “readable” story. Although the language was simple, the story was engaging enough to keep me up late to finish it. An older target audience would likely lead to a greater success for the book.
Overall, this is an average young adult book. It is not a standout by any means, but it is not awful either. It falls at hopelessly mediocre, which is disappointing for an avid reader of the young adult genre. Characters and their lack of emotions felt unrealistic at times, which took away from the interesting plot. Additionally, there were too many of these shallow characters, which distracted from the promising premise. Laura McNeal is a National Book Award Finalist, so although I have not read any of her other books, it is safe to bet that this is not her finest work. Laura’s husband, Tom McNeal, is also an author and they have co-written books. It might be worth giving some of their other books a chance.