Minder is an engaging psychological thriller with a streak of science fiction for good measure. The world Kate Kaynak creates is dark and twisted, full of intense young adult issues as well as looming supernatural threats. There is an interesting balance in the novel between science and romance, action and sentiment, logic and passion. The brusque pacing and tone fit well with the almost clinical feel of the Ganzfield institution and yet, as a minder, Maddie has profound insight into the hopes, fears and dreams of everyone around her -- especially Trevor, with whom she has an impossibly powerful connection. Through her heroine's ability, Kaynak gives color to emotions: dazzling silver love, sickly yellow anxiety, tingly red passion. This fascinating aspect of telepathy is a wonderfully effective narrative strategy, evoking strong sympathy in the reader as they envision and experience the emotion alongside the characters. Maddie's ability also allows unusually deep insight into those around her - their true nature, hopes and fears. Two characters are especially captivating -- Dr. Williamson, who becomes like a father-figure to Maddie though he harbors a sad secret of his own, and Drew, the playful friend who is like the brother everyone wishes they had. Williamson is especially complex and promises to develop into a truly thought-provoking and multifaceted character as the series progresses.
However, the best and most refreshing aspect of this paranormal YA romance is the heroine herself. Maddie is strong, powerful and willing to stop at nothing to protect herself and the people she loves. Rather than having Trevor fight her battles, Maddie is the one protecting him (admittedly to his chagrin), as well as all the other outcasts of Ganzfield. The familiar social hierarchy of high school is given a novel layer with the inclusion of such powerful and malicious beings as "charms" -- students who are able to compel others to do their will with a simple spoken command. This ability is used for some truly sadistic purposes that will raise bile in readers' throats. Until now, this unpardonable behavior has been tolerated or overlooked by the administration of Ganzfield, but Maddie isn't the kind of person to take injustice lying down and she blows into the school like an avenging angel, much to the glee of the heretofore tormented and humiliated students.
Though the overwhelming teenage love between Maddie and Trevor can be a little exasperating, they have an amazingly profound connection born out of Maddie's ability to see straight into his soul. This spiritual connection also has some imaginative side effects that readers will find intriguing. Their mental conversations (since Maddie can also project her thoughts into others' minds) are an enjoyable and quirky alternative to dialogue. Throughout the novel, Kaynak judiciously uses Maddie's abilities for innovative and effective methods of narration. Sprinkled across the pages are one-word apostrophes from Maddie's mind that give more insight and evoke more feeling than pages of laborious description could, especially with respect to Maddie's conflicted feelings about her own terrifying powers.
Maddie isn't an innocent bystander in this eerie and horrifying world. Not only can the teenager read others' minds, she can inflict serious damage with her own. Perhaps counter-intuitively, this shadow only makes for a more compelling heroine. Minder is full of the provocative philosophical and ethical questions that naturally arise from such scientific advances and make this more than just a teenage love story. There are certainly some aspects of this story that are not for the faint-hearted, but the overall effect produces a mesmerizing and heart-pounding race against time to save everything Maddie holds dear. The threat doesn't end in this book, however; the future installments promise an escalation to full-out war between the talented inhabitants of Ganzfield and the mysterious, powerful enemies who want to eradicate their kind.
Disclosure: I received a review copy of this novel from the author. This did not affect my review in any way.
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