Book Review: Someone Is Always Watching by Kelley Armstrong
By Doreen SheridanMay 11, 2023
Blythe Warren has always been the steadfast, responsible member of her adolescent friend group. Her best friend Gabrielle Harris is constantly teasing her about being not only the grown-up of their circle, but also about the way she mothers her own younger sister Syd:
[“]First you get a”–she deepens her voice– “serious book for yourself.” She points to the neurology text in my hand. “Then I help you pick a book for Syd.”
She gestures to the YA romance I’m holding with the textbook. “You’ll give it to her after you read it, telling yourself you’re vetting it, which is nonsense. You’re like one of those parents who reads their teen’s book in a desperate attempt to reconnect.”
“Truth,” she says, and then slings her unencumbered arm over my shoulder. “Don’t worry. If you start listening to her music, too, I’ll hold an intervention. For my own sake as much as yours.”
So when Gabrielle starts acting weird at school, Blythe is naturally concerned, despite her own personal drama. Blythe has recently started dating handsome Callum Kilpatrick, in a perhaps misguided effort to smother her lingering feelings for her other best friend, Tucker Martel. Blythe and Tucker have agreed to keep their distance from one another after a recent incident seriously alarmed their parents. Tucker’s younger sister, Tanya, is giving Blythe the cold shoulder in the wake of it all. Complicating matters is the recent return of Gabrielle’s former best friend Devon Sharpe, who went away to California for a few months and came back completely changed, wanting nothing to do with their circle yet seeming unable to completely stay away.
Gabrielle’s change of behavior starts with small things, like trouble sleeping and difficulty focusing in class. But when she starts muttering about cameras always watching, Blythe tries to intervene, to little avail. After Gabrielle attempts to disable the security cameras in their high school, she’s sent to the vice principal’s office, culminating in a horrific act of violence…that Blythe almost immediately forgets.
Gabrielle is taken away for treatment even as Blythe’s memories of that fateful afternoon slowly come back to her. Worried not only for her friend but also for herself, Blythe reluctantly calls on the Martel siblings for help in tracking down where Gabrielle was sent to. But when Syd is the accidental recipient of a desperate message from Gabrielle, and is subsequently the victim of violence herself, a frantic Blythe will stop at nothing to uncover the secrets of their small town in order to protect her friends and family from further harm.
Alternating with Blythe’s narrative chapters are other main characters’, including Syd and Tanya. Tanya is similarly protective of her older brother, especially in the face of their mom’s departure and their dad’s weird attitude to his only son:
Dad has always had that counterfeit laugh and booming voice. He’s the lab’s HR manager, but he also manages PR, and the stink of insincerity wafts off him like cheap cologne. But when he speaks to Tucker, there’s a strained tone that smells like fear. Like saying “Nice doggie” to a snarling rottweiler. Which makes no damned sense. Tucker might have his wild side, his dark side, but he’s not the one their dad should be afraid of.
While Tucker has no viewpoint chapters, he’s the compelling heart of this Young Adult thriller, as his motives and actions are constantly obscured and revealed as the novel progresses. All of these teenagers, as we soon learn, have damaging secrets that are somehow linked to their parents’ jobs at a cutting edge research lab. But who would go so far as to kill, not to make sure that those secrets stay buried, but to make sure that they all come to light?
Kelley Armstrong does her usual terrific job in crafting an immersively strange, utterly plausible environment, this time with extraordinary teenagers as her focus. Her characters are wonderfully believable and diverse, with a progressive message underpinning the plot threads, particularly in Tanya’s relationship with her dad. Someone Is Always Watching feels like the beginning of a blockbuster series, one I would absolutely continue reading.