Thursday, May 2, 2013

I've Got A Game For You

Mind Games
~Mind Games~
Mind Games
Book 1

By Kiersten White
Amazon ~ Powell's ~ Jan's Paperbacks

Fia and Annie are as close as two sisters can be. They look out for each other. Protect each other. And most importantly, they keep each other’s secrets, even the most dangerous ones:

Fia was born with flawless instincts. Her first impulse, her gut feeling, is always exactly right. Annie is blind to the world around her—except when her mind is gripped by strange visions of the future.

When the sisters are offered a place at an elite boarding school, Fia realizes that something is wrong . . . but she doesn’t grasp just how wrong. The Keane Institute is no ordinary school, and Fia is soon used for everything from picking stocks to planting bombs. If she tries to refuse, they threaten her with Annie’s life. Over and over again the sisters are forced to choose between using their abilities in twisted, unthinkable ways…or risking each other’s lives by refusing to obey.

If the title and summary weren't enough of an indication, this book deals with some heavy stuff. We're talking kidnapping, assassinations, blackmail, espionage, and mental breakdowns — and the characters caught up in the middle of all this are both in their mid-to-late teens when this is happening. As much as this may seem like a relatively short, kick-ass heroine action story, it's actually quite the dark character study.

Fia, arguably the main heroine of the book, is a sassy, kick-ass assassin who does things in the spur of the moment. She acts and thinks a bit strangely at first, but everything moves so fast it's hard to get a real read on her. It's not until the story progresses (mostly through flashbacks, ironically) that it's revealed exactly how and why she's become this fidgety, self-deprecating, fighter chick at the ripe young age of seventeen.

Some might find her hard to relate to at first, but I was hooked instantly by her lack of hesitation in every situation. I envied that about her. I've noticed that I tend to live primarily in the past, second-guessing most of my decisions and actions, and am often so worried about not messing up that I generally remain in the background. Fia was the exact opposite, and while not exactly someone I would pin up as a role-model, it was enough to get me invested in the rest of her story.

Annie, Fia's older sister and our other narrator, was a character I related to immediately. Being blind, she is often seen by others as completely helpless and innocent. Fia feels protective of her and wants to shield her from as much evil as she can. The Keane Institute sees her as an obedient tool who they can easily control because of her disability. Annie, meanwhile, uses her mental gifts—including the ability to see the future—to outwit the Institute keeping her captive and keep her sister safe.

I did enjoy the sister/sibling bond that came across between these two. Both are very protective of each other, almost at the detriment to their own safety, but their relationship isn't all sunshine and rainbows. They still fight, they still argue, they have misunderstandings, they have trust issues. It's a very hard look at what one is willing to do for someone you love the most. Are you willing to kill for them? To die for them? To live without them? It was both heartwarming and heart-wrenching to read sometimes, especially coming from inside each of their heads.

The book is told in from the POV of each of the sisters, and I'll admit I did have trouble telling who was narrating at each switch. Each chapter starts off with the narrator's name in large bold letters, and yet I still had to look back up and make sure I was in the right person's head. It's not like I expected Annie to start describing being blind at the start of every sequence, but I would have liked a little more differentiation between the two at times, especially in the flashbacks.

Yeah, that's right, there are A LOT of timeline shifts. If you get right down to it, only three days total were covered in the present. Flashbacks spanning ten years make up the other half (maybe more?) of the novel, giving us insight into the characters' troubled pasts. It was a cool way to introduce them and their stories, and I think it worked, but I can also see some people having problems following the very non-linear path. Each chapter indicates exactly when in time we are, so it's not all that hard to figure out, but I know non-linear storylines are a bane to some readers, so they'll most likely want to steer clear.

Another style people might have issue with is the fact this story is told in first-person, present-tense, stream-of-consciousness. Some people will not enjoy it. They don't relate to the characters, making the story impossible to become immersed in, or they simply don't enjoy reading stream-of-consciousness. I thought the whole thing was very easily read, nervous ticks (Fia has a tic of repeating something three times) and all, and that the present-tense made the story very fast-paced and action-oriented. But again I acknowledge that, like with 3D movies, there are people who won't enjoy the book because of the medium in which it is presented.

But speaking of mediums, let's delve into world Mind Games presents. Partly sci-fi, partly paranormal, in this world there are some select women gifted with psychic abilities. Readers can read thoughts, Seers can see glimpses of the future, Feelers can sense the emotions of people around them. The chemical makeup/genes for these abilities are limited to females, but that doesn't mean men can't use their powers for personal gain. Mr. Keane, mysterious head of the Keane Institute, is doing just that; recruiting young girls, bribing them with special treatment and promises of power, then using their abilities to make his company profit and power. But Fia is a unique case. She not only doesn't fit the normal branches of abilities, but her impulsiveness makes it harder for any other psychics to track her. He merely has to figure out a way to control her.

Which brings us to our male supporting cast. James Keane, son of the big boss and newly instituted head of the Psychic School, has had Fia's eye for a while. He's good looking, witty, has a dark sense of humor (that matches Fia's perfectly), but Fia's always-right internal compass has him pegged at wrong, wrong, WRONG! Adam, on the other hand, is innocent, kind, and not bad-looking either, but there's something he's hiding that could spell doom for Fia, Annie, and all girls like them.

Depending on which book summary you read, there either is a romance, or there's no mention of one whatsoever. I kind of feel this way about the book. If you're looking for a romance, there's one to find. But if you're not looking for one, or don't hold it as the most important element, then it's easily overlooked in the grand scheme of things. I think there are romance elements that will carry forward in the series, but in terms of this book alone, there's not much substance beyond some on-again-off-again crushing.

As a book, I thought Mind Games hit all the targets. In terms of the series, it has me excited to see what's coming up. The ending has closure in as much as it solves an issue that we're introduced to, but there is still a lot to do before the series/trilogy is finished. Toward the end, I thought I knew exactly what was going to happen, but there was enough of a twist there that I was still kept on-edge through the last page. Ultimately, it did what a first book should do: introduce the world, the characters, and the goal. And I'm excited to return for a deeper dive into this fascinating world.

Overall, Mind Games had me hanging on every word even after I was done. A psychological thriller masterfully wound around two realistic sisters, I'd recommend it for YA fans looking for a darker sci-fi or paranormal action story. No language that I can remember, nor sexual situations, but violence and some heavy themes have me rating this at high school and up. It's definitely one that gives you pieces of the puzzle before showing you the picture they make, but I think its quick pace nicely relieves the stress of not knowing. And making it through the scant 237 pages isn't that long to wait for the final piece. So if you're in the mood for something that will have you questioning what you know, what you think you know, and what that lady across the room giving you the weird stare knows, then look no further than White's latest offering, Mind Games.

Approximate Reading Time: 5 Hours