Caitlin, Tenley, and Sydney are three girls living in the ritzy town of Echo Bay. In past years, teenage girls have drowned in the bay during a popular summer festival, which has just made a comeback after additional safety measures were put in place. A few days before the festival, popular girl Tenley, who has just moved back to town, throws a party and initiates a game of truth or dare. It used to be Tenley’s trademark, back in middle school before she moved away, and she’s eager to re-assert herself as the queen of the town.
Her best friend Caitlin, who serves as the second of three main characters, plays too. Our third main character, loner Sydney, wasn’t at this party, but she gets pulled in to the events that happen afterward.
After the party ends, all three girls start receiving messages: instructions to do increasingly nastier things or risk having the mysterious “darer” reveal all their deepest secrets. At first the girls are skeptical, thinking it’s a friend pulling a joke, but when some of the dares go ignored and people get hurt, they realize this person is not joking around. Tenley and Caitlin, as friends, work together to try and figure out what’s going on, as well as protect each other. For a while, they think it’s Sydney, but we as readers are privy to each of their perspectives, so we know Tenley and Caitlin are on the wrong track.
Truth or Dare is full of secrets, some related to the dares and some not. It’s a thick book, but it’s quick, too, since each page reveals some new twist and presents us with some new suspect. It kept me guessing, and even if I wouldn’t want to befriend any of these girls, I was interested in their plight.
I kind of loved this book. It’s not my usual fare, though I do enjoy mysteries, and this is undoubtedly one. I just normally don’t like reading about the archetypal “popular girls” and their dirty little secrets, and really, that’s what Truth or Dare is about. And yet…I really dug it. I think it’s because the author doesn’t make judgments about her three main characters. She presents them as they are, without leading us to say to ourselves “Wow, she is a horrible person” (particularly with Tenley, who is trying to assert herself as the main popular girl at the school). The story is told in third person past tense, with the perspective shifting from girl to girl, and we get a good feel of what it’s like to be in their heads. None of the girls are a cut and dry case of a “bad girl” or “good girl” and even the social outcast, Sydney, is not presented as the natural protagonist, which I assumed would happen.
I’ve read that this would appeal to readers of Pretty Little Liars, which seems apt, but as I have never read those books, I can’t make that call. It may have some appeal factors in common with Cinders and Sapphires, despite the latter’s historical setting – they’re both quite soapy, with shocking secrets (some easy to spot, some not) revealed every few pages.
I didn’t guess the culprit, though in hindsight, I could pick out the clues Green dropped. I loved that it wasn’t obvious but also that it didn’t come out of nowhere. I was a little disappointed in the very end, since I think it invalidates a lot of what happened before. It was clearly a way to set up a sequel, but it felt forced and inauthentic. Still, this was a completely fun book, and I’m glad I read it.
Review copy received from the publisher. Truth or Dare will be published May 14.