13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough

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13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Not the author's best, but still a strong and dramatic thriller, for and about the British teenage girl and her social networking lifestyle.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 416 Date: February 2016
Publisher: Gollancz
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781473214033

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If you think about it, you can count several things in 13s. It probably took me 13 months to find a book more emotionally satisfying than this author's previous release, The Death House. It probably took me 13 seconds to accept by email the chance to read this title. You can almost hear Andy Warhol changing his adage to '13 minutes of fame', considering that the Internet he would never have known about just makes fame even faster to achieve than ever, and one of those social media starlets – as far as the hive of Brackston Community School is concerned – Natasha Howland, was clinically dead for 13 minutes, before she was fished out of a frozen river one pre-dawn January morning. This utterly dramatic teen read is concerned with the fight for her to work out why she was in that river, although it's mostly taken from the point of view of a girl on the edge of her circle, Becca.

Point of view is paramount in the telling of this book. There are incriminating text conversations, that let us in on more than certain characters can know, there are police and newspaper reports, there are Natasha'a therapeutic diary entries bringing her first person narrative to the fore, and there is the main narration, which really does focus on Becca, her boyfriend, and her whole experience of the situation. Because this isn't entirely a book about a girl who was fished out of a frozen river; it's about class, teenage society, the hysterical attitude social media can bring about in a school environment (it's not by chance that the pupils' play is due to be The Crucible). It's about forever – the length of time teenagers say they will love people, regardless of the evidence to the contrary; the length of time death normally lasts; the length of time a social media status can remain effective, even if removed within minutes. It's about fitting in – popular is weird. It's got a serrated edge, if you know what I mean?, as someone says.

As far as the thriller side of things is concerned, things are certainly notable. There is a definite richness to the whole situation, and things bubble along nicely, especially so at roughly the two-thirds mark, where something happens that is clearly audacious – audacious enough for you to sit through the rest quite happily under Pinborough's control.

I think it's the other aspects of the book where it falls down a little. I can fully see the teenage, the social media and the school hothouse side of things are compelling to the target audience – this is Heathers meets Brick meets, oh I don't know, some wintry murder mystery film, with the emphasis on the catty, cliquey drama of the first-mentioned movie – but for me, coming off the back of The Death House it was a tiny bit of a let-down. It's not of universal interest. And those narrative approaches? They do kind of hinder things, and make them quite unnecessarily lengthy. Natasha's narrative is far too erudite – the teen narrator every author would aspire to if seldom deserve, and as for the third-person look at things through Becca's eyes… The problem there is that we look at life in her world so forensically you're almost in real time, and I itched for an omniscient narrator to step back, open the drama out, and speed things up.

So this is one of those reviews where my star rating won't be universally accepted. I had to knock a few smidgens of star off for the concentration on the social media aspect, however realistically and sensibly it was conveyed. Tiny bits went when Natasha's vocab and idiom proved just too unreasonably high-falutin', but the bigger part was lost when I realised the whole work was a little too woolly. The large teen audience for this book might agree with some of that, but I can see a lot wallowing in the way a highly dramatic and convincing thriller is positioned in a world they can fully identify with. I don't see 13 Minutes getting bad press and trolling on their social media pages.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

Dangerous Lies by Becca Fitzpatrick is one of the better teen thrillers we've seen recently.

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Buy 13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy 13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy 13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy 13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough at Amazon.com.


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