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PB, 429 pages, Corgi



In the UK of the near future, the country is kept in a stranglehold by the brutal ACID, the Agency for Crime Investigation and Defence. Every aspect of daily life is tightly controlled, and the citizens are under constant surveillance. Even minor crimes are brutally clamped down on, and the model city of London is divided into strictly segregated class zones.

Jenna Strong is incarcerated for life in the brutal prison of Mileway. Fifteen years old, she has been accused of murdering her parents. When she escapes, she is forced to go on the run, forced underground. How will she survive, with ACID agents on every corner, hunting her down?

This is a fast paced, punchy YA debut, not short on thrills and shocks. Jenna Strong more than lives up to her name, the girl is a tough nut (maybe a bit too tough – she’s so hardened, right from the beginning, that there’s little doubt she will win all her fights, and in a way her character development is reduced), and she takes no nonsense from anyone, from her fellow prisoners at Mileway to armed ACID agents. Even when she lets her vulnerable side show, she’s still guarded and wary.

There are a few issues with the book. The story is told in first person present tense, something I’ve never got on well with, but that’s my personal issue and there’s nothing wrong with the way it’s presented if that’s a style you like.

Jenna is treated as if she is much older than her age by most of the people around here, and it’s easy to forget that she’s only 15, and the fact that she’s locked up in an all-male prison seemed implausible, and smacked of titillation – are there no female prisons or prisoners under the ACID regime? The sense of threat from the other prisoners could just as easily have come from prisoners in a mixed jail; without losing any of the tension in the story.

But these are minor gripes. The story hurtles on, via a bomb plot and a kidnapping, to a dramatic revelation and a gripping climax set in an artificial island prison off the Scottish coast. I doubt you’ll read a harder, faster or more gripping YA debut all year.