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Mallory Park leads a schizophrenic life. By day she is a troubled teenager, looking after her younger brother, as her father has emotionally imploded through the combination of his military experiences and his wife leaving. At night, Mallory transforms into Echo Six, a confident and brilliant hacker. When fellow hackers start to disappear Mallory has to stop hiding behind her Echo Six persona and engage with the real and dangerous world...
Echoes (2015. 291 pages) is a young adult thriller, by British writer and composer, Laura Tisdall.
The book is set in America, which neither limits nor enhances the novel. Mallory is not the easiest of characters to feel empathy for; she appears to have numerous neuroses, including the dislike of being touched and a complaining personality which borders on whiny. Some of her actions make little sense. There is one scene where her teacher is questioning how she only got a B in a maths exam, where clearly she had answered the most complex question, while deliberately failing some of the simpler ones.
The explanation given is that she sees no difference between the questions, presumably to highlight her genius, but even a genius would work out which questions to flunk so that it didn’t look like you were doing it on purpose. The fact that her teacher so easily spotted what she was doing, undermines her supposed genius. We are not even given a satisfactory reason for the deception, apart for the fact that she did not know if she wanted to go onto further education. With such poor planning and foresight, she was probably right not to go.
Home life for Mallory has not been made easy with a younger brother to look after and a father who spends much of the book in a daze, until, inexplicably, he finally explodes into action. The brother hardly makes it into the book apart from one section where Mallory is forced to defend him from bullies.
What follows requires the reader to suspend belief, given that we have a sixteen year old girl off to save the planet. That said, it’s no more ludicrous than many other young adult (YA) books which have their protagonists engaging in unlikely scenarios.
The meat of the book has Mallory joining forces, in the real world, with another Internet hero, who she has never met in person, to rescue a member of her hacking forum. Two of the things which the book does well are firstly; Tisdall is able to unravel the hidden plots and agendas in such a way as to retain the feeling of surprise. It was not obvious who was who or what the hell was going on. So, while the story contains many familiar elements, they are arranged in a refreshing manner.
Added to the sense of building mystery is a deft hand at writing suspense. The book contains some violence, but mostly this is understated, but what it handles well is the innate distrust between people who have only know each other as an online persona, who meet in the real world and that sense of paranoia that the person you are talking to may not be the person you met online.
Ultimately, the book is a good YA thriller, well constructed, even if the central protagonist is a little too annoying for my tastes.