Sixteen-year-old Tess Kendrick has spent her entire life on her grandfather’s ranch. But when her estranged sister Ivy uproots her to D.C., Tess is thrown into a world that revolves around politics and power. She also starts at Hardwicke Academy, the D.C. school for the children of the rich and powerful, where she unwittingly becomes a fixer for the high school set, fixing teens’ problems the way her sister fixes their parents’ problems.
And when a conspiracy surfaces that involves the family member of one of Tess’s classmates, love triangles and unbelievable family secrets come to light and life gets even more interesting—and complicated—for Tess.
Sometimes I can only describe reading books in food terms. When a book is good enough, I can feel my hunger to keep reading in the back of my throat like a gulp of hot chocolate. When a book is good enough, my inability to quit is like eating only one kernel of popcorn—impossible. That’s what this book was like. I read the entire thing, from beginning to end, in less than one work day, because I just couldn’t stop.
I think “fixer” might be my new favorite character occupation, right alongside thief, con artist, and spy. Tess and Ivy are freaking cool at what they do. The logical leaps that they make are astounding. I love characters that can quickly fit together mental pieces. I also love manipulative characters, especially those that manipulate toward the greater good. Best of all, Tess and Ivy have ovaries of steel. I think I was sold on Tess the moment she threatened to castrate a bully who was attempting to ruin a fellow classmate, and Ivy can twist any situation to come out how she wants it to.
Really, all of the female characters rock. Tessa and Ivy are great, but they’re supported by some wonderful secondary characters. The First Lady is a classy Georgia peach of a woman who’s sweet as pie and hard as nails. Never underestimate the power of a Southern woman with a goal in mind, y’all. Tessa also becomes friends with two girls from school, the sweet and wonderful Vivvie and the forceful Emilia. I loved both of these girls for different but equally wonderful reasons and overall enjoyed that none of the female characters were forced to model one aspect of femininity over another. (I’d love to see more from Di in the next book, though.)
Also nice? The male characters! Specifically, I want to talk about the potential love interests. Gloriously, there’s no actual romance in this book. Neither Tess nor Ivy have time to be making goo-goo eyes at some dude. However, both ladies do have two highly respectable hunks floating in their orbit. For Tess, there’s the serious, studious Henry Marquette and the talkative and charming Asher Rhodes, two best friends who join Tess’s little crew. For Ivy, there’s her bodyguard Brodie (he refers to Ivy as “HRH!” Squee!) and her friend “Captain Pentagon” Adam. Again, there’s no actual romance in this book. There are no love triangles. But the potential is there. Best of all, I’m almost exactly between Tess and Ivy in age, so while Henry and Asher are a bit young, my active reader brain tallies up two boys for Tess, two boys for Ivy, and four boys for Shae! Hooray!
I could go on about this book for days. The writing is perfect—not too flowery but so solid that it went by unnoticed, allowing me to be fully immersed in Tess’s world. The twists were legitimately surprising, too, which is a rare treat. Even the ending was perfect, the way it wrapped up the mystery but left a larger thread dangling, allowing for both satisfaction and anticipation. My main problem now is how badly I want the sequel.
Favorite Non-Spoilery Quotes:
“There are a lot of ways to castrate a bull,” I said, my words deliberate and slow. “You can band the balls off, so they shrivel up and die. Or you can take a knife, and slide it just so.” I demonstrated with my free hand. “I grew up on a ranch. I know a lot about castrating bulls.”
“What are we doing?” Asher helped himself to a seat at my table.
“We aren’t doing anything,” I told him bluntly.
“My mistake. I thought we were brooding in Henry’s general direction. Like so.” He adopted stormy countenance, then gestured to me. “Yours is better.”
“Go away, Asher.”
“You say go away, I hear be my bosom buddy.” He gave an elaborate shrug. “Seriously, though: friendship bracelets—yea or nay?”
“I have a passing fondness for explosions.”
That was concerning on so many levels.
“It’s your favorite person.”
“No. You’re not.”
“I won’t embarrass you by proving I am.”
Points Added For: Tess, Ivy, family feels, awesome female friends, hot guys, the castration threat, the tricksy manipulation, the realism (Tess kicking butt but also relying on adults when she had to), Tess not being a talker, Emilia and Asher’s dynamic, that the book was all about politics but didn’t once use a party name or description), and so much more.
Points Subtracted For: Not a dang thing.
Good For Fans Of: Scandal, Bruce Willis’s job in The Kid, manipulative MCs, politics (but without the parties), twisty webs, solid psychology, The Naturals.
Notes For Parents: Murder, suicide, domestic abuse, underage drinking, kidnapping.
Note: I work for the company that published this book, but my views are my own.