Don’t Turn Around by Michelle Gagnon – Advance Review

Book Jacket:

Sixteen-year-old Noa has been a victim of the system ever since her parents died. Now living off the grid and trusting no one, she uses her computer-hacking skills to stay safely anonymous and alone. But when she wakes up on a table in an empty warehouse with an IV in her arm and no memory of how she got there, Noa starts to wish she had someone on her side.

Enter Peter Gregory. A rich kid and the leader of a hacker alliance, Peter needs people with Noa’s talents on his team. Especially after a shady corporation threatens his life. But what Noa and Peter don’t realize is that Noa holds the key to a terrible secret, and there are those who’d stop at nothing to silence her for good.

Filled with action, suspense, and romance, this first book in a new trilogy offers readers nonstop thrills.

You can read an excerpt here.


I know the tag for this book is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Lite, but it actually reminded me more of The Bourne Identity – girl wakes up, dooesn’t know what happened to her or why, and suddenly finds herself the target of a terrifyingly competent manhunt. Cover to cover, Don’t Turn Around delivers an entertaining, non-stop chase, with savvy teens, cyber smarts, and action galore, and all in all it makes for a very fun thriller.

Now the key to this kind of story lies in the pacing, and Don’t Turn Around fully delivers on that score – this story never lets up for a second. Noa and Peter are hounded from page one by the kind of faceless yet terrifyingly well organized and highly funded bad guys in black that we all love to hate, and I was easily caught up by their harrowing escapes and increasingly dire circumstances. I particularly enjoyed how smart these two teens were, and how they slowly came to trust and eventually rely on each other. Now yes, their falling in together was rather by the numbers, and yes, the subsequent budding attraction between the two of them was even more so, but while all the ingredients of this story were exactly what you might expect from this type of book, Gagnon pulls it all off with aplomb. It’s actually been quite a while since I’ve read a classic thriller such as this, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. 

Of course it’s easy to see why the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo comparisons are so inevitable – tough teen girl, abused by the system, takes on the Powers That Be armed only with hacking skills and sheer determination – but you can rest easy on one score: there is no graphic sexual abuse to be found in these pages. This story is very much appropriate for the YA crowd, and there is really no violence to speak of – Stieg Larsson this most certainly is not.

As for the character development – well, it’s exactly what you would expect from this type of story, i.e. on the lite side. I liked Noa and Peter both, for their nerve and smarts, but they do both adhere to fairly standard molds – you know the types, you find them in practically every iteration of this type of story:  the tough, socially uncomfortable bad-ass with mad skills, and the civilian counterpart they end up rescuing, the one who is entirely unprepared for the danger they find themselves in but who quickly turns out to be the love interest/saving grace. So yes, I liked Noa and Peter, and I did root for them throughout this entire story, but blown away by their sheer originality, I was not. But as I said, I’m a fan of action movies, so I’m not one to be bothered by light character work.

There was however one thing about this book that did bump me, and that was the sheer made-up part of this otherwise entirely real world (well, as much as Bourne is real world) story – the virus. There’s a virus that plays a key role in this story, both as plot ploint and vital clue, and it just felt fake to me, because frankly, it was fake. The virus of this story stems entirely from Gagnon’s imagination, but the story plays it as something everyone already knows about and fears – like meningitis – and the minute Gagnon did that I was jarred out of the story, because of course I knew it wasn’t real. I just wish Gagnon had found a real world substitute – or even, say, mixed up two known viruses to make a scary new super strain (a la Outbreak)  – rather than made one up out of whole cloth, because it just felt glaringly out of place. I did like how the virus played out, in terms of plot and consequence, but as I said, I just wish it had been REAL, say a mutated strain of meningitis or Avian flu, rather than something that simply doesn’t exist.

Still, all in all, I did really have fun reading this book. No, this is not a story that you’ve never read before, but it is a thriller done right – a competent, tightly paced action story – and frankly those are hard to find.  So if you enjoy hacking, harrowing chases and shadowy conspiracies, this book is most definitely for you – and as for me, I will definitely be back for book number two.

Byrt Grade: A- / B+

As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…

Kirkus Reviews (starred review) says:

Gagnon’s YA debut is a pulse-pounding scary-great read…Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for preteens and teens, a surefire hit…

Reading Teen says:

Noa reminds me of an 16 year old Jason Bourne.