When Anne Dowling (accidentally) burns down part of her elite New York school, her parents decide that maybe a change of scene would be ideal. So she’s shipped off to the Wheatley School, a boarding school in Massachusetts. Anne doesn’t want to be there, she doesn’t want to make friends, she doesn’t want to participate at all.
The only bright light is her roommate, Isabella. Isabella is smart, funny, and independent. Things start to look, if not good, than at least better for Anne. Isabella is the first of a few friends Anne manages to make in spite of herself. Then, on the night Anne decides to sneak out with a couple of those new friends, Isabella disappears.
Her body is found the next day.
Prep School Confidential, the first in a new series from Kara Taylor, is a fast-paced, sassy new teen mystery. Anne Dowling, while decidedly potty-mouthed, is intelligent and quick—a girl that teens can relate to. She’s a character who embraces the idea of the Queen Bee, which is refreshing in a way. Instead of shying away from the label, Anne uses it to enable her to accomplish her goals.
She’s set up to be the leader from her first day at her new school. And Taylor utilizes that most sacred of high school spaces to determine Anne’s rank in the pecking order: the cafeteria.
“I’m Remy.” The girl extends a hand and sits down across from Isabella and me. “Can we sit here?”
I look at Isabella, who nods, even though April and Kelsey have already slid into the other empty chairs. “You live on our floor,” they say, almost in unison.
“Your bag is adorable,” Remy says. “Did you get that at the Pru?”
I stare into her wide, blue Bambi eyes, because I have no idea what the Pru is. “Uh, no . . . I got it back in New York.”
All three of the girls are smiling, a little too eagerly.
“Oh. Yeah. We heard you were from New York,” Remy says with awe.
Is that code for We heard what you did and we’d like to sit here to absorb some of your street cred?
In spite of her “natural leadership tendencies” Anne isn’t a jerk about it. Perhaps if the story didn’t take such a violent and tragic turn, her attitude might be grating. However, when she’s tested, Anne rises to the occasion with a fierce, admirable determination.
While she does have an entourage, the person who means the most to Anne in her new school is Isabella. When her roommate dies, it affects Anne more than she thought possible.
Isabella’s wake is nothing like Grandpa Harold’s funeral. Everyone looks like they can’t quite believe they’re here, as if they’re walking through a dream. Or nightmare. I take a prayer card with shaking hands and gather the nerve to look at Isabella’s casket.
It’s closed, with pink and yellow roses covering the top. To the side is an enlarged school portrait of Isabella, surrounded by smaller family photos. I study them as I wait in line to pay my respects. In most of the baby pictures, Isabella is with a boy.
I feel as if I’m going to pass out as I reach the front of the line. I kneel on the cushioned riser like I saw everyone else do and close my eyes. I don’t think I can do this. I don’t even belong here, really. I only knew Isabella for a week.
I squeeze my eyes shut tighter. Thanks, I say in my head. Thanks for sharing your gummy worms and helping me find my classes and being nice to me when I really needed it. And then, almost as an afterthought: They’re going to find whoever did this to you. I promise.
The promise Anne makes to her friend is one she keeps. When the investigation stalls, presumably because of the Wheatley School’s non-cooperation and possible influence, Anne decides to go it alone, jumping into full-on Nancy Drew mode. She picks locks, breaks-and-enters, lies, steals, cheats, and does every possible thing she can to bring Isabella’s murderer to justice. Her tenacity makes her fearsome.
Taylor has created a strong leading character for a series. And she leaves a lot of the strings in Prep School Confidential unpulled so the series has somewhere to go. (I won’t tell you what those are – you have to read the book.)
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Jenny Maloney is a reader and writer in Colorado. Her short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in 42 Magazine, Shimmer, Skive, and others. She blogs about writing at Notes from Under Ground. If you like to talk books, reading, publishing, movies, or writing feel free to follow her on Twitter: @JennyEMaloney.