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13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough. Book Review

February 12, 2016

13 Minutes

After 16-year-old Natasha effectively dies for 13 minutes when she nearly drowns in a river, she has no idea what has happened to her or who was responsible for it. So she elicits the help of a former friend Becca, who is keen to help her because she has never really got over Natasha dumping her and wants to feel again the warmth of their once close bond. As they work together to find out what happens, the sinister world of intrigue surrounding Natasha’s drowning is slowly revealed.

The young adult arena is an interesting and challenging one to write in because young adult readers are discerning audience, demanding both a great deal from a plot and the characters within it. Young adult writing is also constantly testing boundaries, particularly with regards to the degree to which sexually explicit content and profanities are used. Sarah Pinborough shies away from neither. Sex scenes are notoriously very hard to write well, but the author launches into the scenes as vigorously as the protagonists and with enormous credibility and sensitivity. But there is a difference between use for sensation, just for the sake of it, or as a tool to immerse the reader in the story. In this she does the latter, really giving the reader a sense of Becca’s insecurity as a young person painfully emerging into adulthood and desperate not to be rejected. This intensity of emotion also successfully cranks up the tension of this taut psychological thriller. A mundane sixth form school environment becomes transformed into a drama as compelling as the play ‘The Crucible’ the school is putting on; the plot of which is skilfully intertwined with the narrative of Natasha’s near death experience and the interplay between her friends.

It says a great deal about the writing that it speaks not only to its intended audience but also those who were once sixteen a long time ago and for whom all the difficulties of late teenage life successfully pour back in to their consciousness. The prose is crisp and allowing dialogue and actions to do all the explaining, which is why the read becomes an experience rather than an opportunity to appreciate a clever plot. This is writing of great subtlety and layers, but without the sense of the method of the author’s writing being visible, unless you really make the effort to dissect it. In other words your emotions are pulled in every direction as the story unfolds and you experience the world of the lead characters as if you are in their heads.

Sarah Pinborough is known as a young adult author, but this novel steers assuredly into the category of young adult and beyond. There is no doubt that Sarah Pinborough is able to tell a good story and one that grips throughout its entirety. Any adult ignoring this book will miss out on a reading experience that leaves you feeling satisfied both in terms of the quality of the writing and the thrilling read. For anyone wanting to write for the later young adult age group this is a useful book to absorb. But there are techniques in here that would be relevant to any adult psychological thriller.

13 Minutes courtesy of Gollancz via NetGalley

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