Source: DRC via NetGalley (Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Del Rey) in exchange for an honest review
Pub. Date: May 24, 2022
Synopsis: Goodreads

Why did I choose to read this book?

Aside from her Camelot books, which I felt were too young for me, I will read anything Kiersten White writes. I was a huge fan of her Conqueror’s Saga trilogy (And I Darken, Now I Rise, Bright We Burn) and her Frankenstein retelling (The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein) so when she announced an adult novel I shrieked with joy and immediately requested an advance copy (when I received the approval for said copy, I shrieked again!). Many excellent YA authors are dipping their toes into the adult market and I am 100% here for that.

What is this book about?

A broken down amusement park is the site of a Hide and Seek tournament. A random assortment of people from all walks of life, all a bit downtrodden, have been invited to compete for a cash prize of $50,000. Slowly the contestants realize that something is very wrong and that the contest isn’t what it seems.

What is notable about the story?

The setting of the overgrown, broken down amusement park was really awesome. It felt like the arenas in the Hunger Games: these people have been chosen to compete but instead of fighting each other, they have to hide from unknown pursuers. Reading about their exploration of the park, strategizing about where to hide, and fantasizing about how the prize money might change their lives was really engrossing. I could see and hear everything – White’s language will envelop you in trees, dirt paths, and years of rust and decay on carousels, ferris wheels, and rollercoaster tracks. The best thing about this book was its setting, and all the other mediocre parts: the characters, the “message,” the twist – were bearable because they were happening in this fucking amazing place. It was inspired, truly.

Was anything not so great?

The hype online made this book sound absolutely terrifying, but it lacked the usual passion and sharpness that other White books have had. It felt like she was shying away from full on adult content, to the point that I would still be okay with shelving this as YA. Everything felt a little too easy, a little too obvious, and the message behind it all just sort of slaps you across the face for the final third of the story like a wet lady’s glove being swatted to demand satisfaction before a duel. The Seeker in the park wasn’t even that scary. An adult novel can be longer, can have more information, can dig deeper and unearth more trauma and emotion and pain. This was a YA novel masquerading as adult, and so the expectations I had for it were not fulfilled. It wasn’t even satisfying as a horror novel.

You know the characters for about 5 minutes before the book ends, so you don’t have a lot of time to come to care for them, which is a bit essential in a story like this. I’m sorry to make the Hunger Games comparison again, but this book felt so much like it. We care about Katniss because we see her life long enough in the beginning of the book to care about what happens to her. There are stakes. In Hide, all the contestants are basically nobodies, no one would even notice if they fell off the face of the earth. Bad things happening to them in this park aren’t suspenseful because “Who cares?” You get pieces of their backstories as flashbacks or shared stories at the base camp, but all of it is so surface level that it’s just not meaningful for investment in what is happening. The only character I cared about a little bit was Brandon and…well…if you read it you’ll see.

The message is that we should care about people we might never meet, that we shouldn’t prosper off the blood of nobodies, off the existence of those at the edges of society, but White’s delivery of this message runs shallow. The act of leeching wealth from the young, from the poor, from the forgotten is so much more sinister than this, and so much more unstoppable, that to throw down a book that can be read in less than 24 hours with an “I’m sorry guys, life sucks amirite?” as a tag dedication at the end felt almost insulting to this late-thirties, drowning in student loan debt, struggling to keep her family’s head out of water enough to breathe reviewer.

If this was what White wanted to say, I know she can do better. There was not enough suffering, not enough vengeance, not enough depth of language and emotion in this particular book to do any kind of justice to the absolute catastrophe that is our current state of affairs. It’s immediately forgettable, I would not want to read this again, and I’ve canceled my preorder because it’s not worth owning.

What’s the verdict?

2 stars on Goodreads, and that’s only because the concept was so cool and the story was good enough to keep me reading until the end, but left me wanting more/disappointed. If you are a Kiersten White fan like I am, you’ll probably want to read it to form your own conclusion, but get it from your library instead of buying it so if you are disappointed like I was, you won’t be out any money.

Sorry guys, this wasn’t the review I wanted to write, but it’s honest and that’s what I promised.


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