The one secret she cares about keeping—her identity—is about to be exposed. Unless Lauren “Panda” Daniels—an anonymous photoblogger who specializes in busting classmates and teachers in compromising positions—plays along with her blackmailer’s little game of Dare or . . . Dare.
But when the game turns deadly, Panda doesn’t know what to do. And she may need to step out of the shadows to save herself . . . and everyone else on the Admirer’s hit list.
Some of you may remember that I read Mr. Giles’s Fake ID a year or two ago and wasn’t too pleased. There were a good number of things I liked, which is why I picked up Endangered, but I was still wary over my disappointment in the female characters. Hooooo-ly cow, does Mr. Giles take care of that concern in Endangered.
Lauren Daniels goes by many names. Most of her classmates know her as Panda, thanks to a very embarrassing rumor that went around a few years back. That is, that’s how they know her if they bother to think of her at all. Panda refers to herself as the Hall Ghost, thanks to years of perfecting the art of social invisibility. She likes to stay under the radar. It’s less embarrassing that way, but she also needs her invisibility to pull off her other monicker—Gray, as in the anonymous creator of Gray Scales, a photoblog that records the dirty and often illegal deeds of the school’s most notorious bullies. As Gray, Panda’s a celebrity for her vigilante justice, but she’s not stupid. She keeps her identity hidden for her own protection, so when an Admirer threatens to expose her unless she plays their game, Panda is forced to oblige.
And that’s… the first half or so of the book, give or take. Just half. Panda’s back and forth with the Admirer is pretty creepy and tense, but the story just explodes outward from there. The source of the tension shifts from “Oh dear, this Admirer chap may expose Panda’s secret” to “THE ADMIRER IS A STALKING, MURDERING LUNATIC WHO WILL BURN YOUR LIFE TO THE GROUND RUN PANDA RUUUUUUUUN!!!” Seriously, few things are scarier than an obsessive person with photography and tech skills.
Part of the tension also comes from the fresh turns in the story. Some books build suspense despite the elements of their storyline that are shored up by the expected tropes. Endangered doesn’t do that. Just the fact that the Admirer’s blackmail dares are in full force in only the first half of the story is a departure from what I expected. Both Panda and her Admirer do things that I flat-out didn’t expect. (I covered my mouth at one point, I was so shocked.) And, even more exciting, (this part goes in spoiler tags just so no one will yell at me)I just about died, I was so happy/relieved.
The thing that has fueled my everlasting love for this book, though, is how unexpected the character treatment was. Take Panda, for instance. As our protagonist, Panda is supposed to be the one we root for, and we do. However, in the land of YA lit, protagonists are often portrayed as heroes whose only flaws are minor and excusable. Panda, on the other hand, starts as a savior for oppressed underdogs everywhere, only to become something else. No, that’s not right. What Panda does as Gray doesn’t change, but how she’s portrayed does. I had some issues with Panda’s methods early on in the story and was worried about how they would be dealt with, but the way the overall story chooses to address Panda’s actions and attitudes went beyond my wildest dreams.
Endangered takes all its talk of shades of gray to a new level. It tackles behavior and motive, intent and consequence. Over the course of the plot, Panda must face what part she’s had to play in the Admirer’s games and the damage she’s caused. Panda, as the protagonist, gets hit the hardest, but we get to look at the other characters as well. Is Keachin Myers, the subject of Panda’s latest Gray Scales entry, a “soulless skank” and bully, a victim, the target of abuse, all of the above, or none of them? What about Panda’s best friend, Ocie? Is she a loyal supporter? An enabler? A traitor for consorting with the enemy, a.k.a. Panda’s ex-boyfriend Taylor? And IS Taylor the enemy? Or is he a kid who made an awful mistake? So many wonderful shades of gray, and Endangered doesn’t give any easy answers, nor does it give any happily ever afters. There’s no bippity-boppity-booing a magical fix in the conclusion. Bad things happen, some of which Panda is directly responsible for and some of which she isn’t, and she has to live with the consequences that spin out from them. (I can’t stress that last part enough.)
This is such a wonderful, engaging, harrowing book. Almost a month after finishing, I’m still caught between awe and wanting to side-eye Mr. Giles for packing that much horror and suspense into one book. You better believe I’m going to snatch up whatever story he offers next.
Favorite Non-Spoilery Quotes:
“I didn’t make you do it. The devil didn’t either. It’s all you, Panda.”
With the edge of my spoon I shave layers off a swirling cake-batter-flavored peak, cause a chocolate-chip avalanche, and imagine the poor people at the melted base of Mount Yogurt screaming in terror at the wrath of their god.
She is displeased.
“Am I radiating openness? Do you feel the warmth of the springtime sun when I’m near? If so, please understand that sensation is actually my fiery disdain.”
Once the beast’s breath fogs your lens, it’s too late to run!
Points Added For: Panda’s and Ocie’s mixed heritage, Panda’s parents, the bit I screamed about in the spoiler tags, Nina Appleton, Taylor and his siblings, Panda’s love of photography, the subtle shift in Panda’s tale from hero to… not, Taylor’s casual indictment of white privilege, the brilliant lack of romance (especially a “saving” romance), CONSEQUENCES.
Points Subtracted For: I wish there had been more clarification about Coach Bottin and how the worst perverts aren’t the obvious ones.
Good For Fans Of: Real-life consequences in fiction, nuanced morality, thrilling mysteries (think Hitchcock).
Notes For Parents: Language, sex (on page but out of view), student/teacher relationship, murder, bullying, suicide.
Note: I received a review copy of this title from the publisher for review consideration.