Fresh Meat: Chasing the Skip by Janci Patterson

Chasing the Skip by Janci Patterson is a young adult crime novel (available October 2, 2012).

Ricki’s dad has never been there for her. He’s a bounty hunter who spends his time chasing parole evaders—also known as “skips”—all over the country. Ever since Ricki’s mom ran off, Ricki finds herself an unwilling passenger in a front-row seat to her father’s dangerous lifestyle. Her feelings become even more confused when her dad starts tracking seventeen-year-old Ian Burnham. She finds herself unavoidably attracted to the dark-eyed felon who seems eager to get acquainted. Ricki thinks she’s ever in control—the perfect accomplice, the Bonnie to his Clyde. Little does she know that Ian isn’t playing the game by her rules.

Ricki has reason to believe she can take care of herself. Her mother treats the fifteen-year-old more like a girlfriend than a daughter. Ricki manages their apartment, doing the cooking and cleaning. She even hacks into her mother’s bank account to pay the bills when Mom forgets. Sometimes the forgetting happens because of a new man in Mom’s life.

Mom often left for a week or so without notice, and I’d catch a bus to stay with Grandma until she came back. Grandma always said that Mom shouldn’t be abandoning me just to take trips with her boyfriends. She’d glare and huff when Mom came to pick me up, but we all knew she didn’t want me staying alone, either.

This time, though, Mom’s been gone for more than three weeks, and Grandma has had enough. She calls Ricki’s father. At one time, this would have been a treat for Ricki. She pictured her father as a crime-fighting superhero.

When I was little, Mom told me that being a bounty hunter meant Dad was out fighting crime. There was so much crime in the world that he just didn’t have time to take me home with him and be a father. When other girls were playing with Barbie dolls, I was wearing a cape and leaping around the house, fighting imaginary crime with my imaginary dad. I used to think I’d grow up and be a hero with him, and then we could be a family.

Instead, her father disappears from her life. He started calling over the previous year, but Ricki snubs him. Until she’s forced to spend time with him.

Ricki’s bored. She feels that her father doesn’t really want her around. And instead of being a cape-clad action figure, her father and his job seem anything but glamorous up close. Instead of doing her homework, Ricki spends her time making notes of her observations for her blog. She wants to be a journalist so she tries to be objective. She watches her father turn in a skip.

Dad held the station door open for Alison, like he was some kind of gentleman instead of her bounty hunter, and they disappeared inside. I wondered if Alison would end up in prison after her trial. It didn’t seem right that Dad had ignored me for most of fifteen years and now here he was bring her in like some kind of hero.

Ricki’s father has been taking easy cases while she’s with him. But his boss needs him to bring in a special case. Dad hesitates because of the skip’s background, but he capitulates. The money is too good to pass up. Ricki must promise to listen to her father and follow his instructions to the letter, a change from their past experience together.

Then they catch up with seventeen-year-old Ian:

Ian’s face pressed against the back passenger window. He had dark eyelashes—long like a girl’s—and a scar across his cheek, maybe from a piece of glass or a knife fight. His dark eyes twitched, watching me through the glass as Dad tossed a Zippo lighter, some cigarettes, and a wallet onto the sidewalk. The cigarettes weren’t very straight-edge. Maybe he just thought the shirt looked cool.

Ricki feels her father’s exaggerating the dangers of her talking to Ian. He’s close to her age. And he seems to understand her. He even offers to drive her to find her mother in California. If he can just get away.

With the confidence of a fifteen-year-old who’s taken care of herself—and sometimes her mother—all of her life, Ricki thinks she’s got control of the situation. But she’s overestimated herself and underestimated both Ian and her father.

Patterson’s characters feel real. Ricki and her father are both flawed but trying their best. The skips have all done bad things, but are sympathetic too. And Ian displays all the charm and cunning of any good-looking teenage boy who thinks he’s smarter than everyone else. Spending time with them was a pleasure.

See more coverage of new releases in our Fresh Meat series.

Debbie Meldrum reads just about everything she can get her hands on. She was the short fiction editor for Apollo’s Lyre and the Editor in Chief of the Pikes Peak Writers NewsMag. She’s currently putting the finishing touches on her first novel. You can follow her progress on Twitter at @debmeldrum.

Read all posts by Debbie Meldrum on Criminal Element.

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