The Fixer is Jennifer Lynn Barnes’ YA answer to Scandal. Tess is the younger sister of a successful “fixer” in Washington, DC, Ivy (the Olivia Pope analogue), who takes Tess to live with her after their grandfather’s mental state deteriorates. Ivy is much older than Tess, and Tess is not thrilled to be uprooted from her grandfather’s farm and taken to live with the sister whom she feels abandoned her when their parents died many years ago.
Tess starts school at an elite private institution also attended by the children of politicians, dignitaries, and the very wealthy. She initially prefers to dissociate herself from her sister, but her classmates won’t let her. After she inadvertently helps the vice president’s daughter out of a tight spot, everyone seems to think that she’s a fixer in training.
While the book starts out by following Tess as she tries to avoid helping with her classmates’ problems, it quickly becomes more national in scale. Ivy tries to shield Tess from what she does, but Tess finds herself drawn into her sister’s problems and soon she’s caught up in a conspiracy involving the murder of a supreme court justice. More bodies join the first, and the suspect list includes the president of the United States.
This is a really fun political thriller just right for a teenage audience. The politics aren’t party vs. party and the book doesn’t really even broach touchy political issues like climate change or healthcare. The plot focuses more on politicians’ desire to acquire and then keep power, which is something anyone with a basic understanding of our political system can follow. You don’t need to be a fan of C-SPAN to know what’s going on, you just need to know that presidents appoint supreme court justices for life. This also means the book shouldn’t date too quickly.
At the same time, it’s not written down to the teenage readers either. The Goodreads synopsis initially led me to believe that Tess’ adventures would mostly be relegated to high school, but she actually ends up affecting events at the national level, and she has a great amount of agency outside the high school setting. This is not to say that Tess fixing her classmates’ problems wouldn’t have been enough to sustain a novel, but I think it’s very gratifying for teens to read about kids their age making an impact on a much larger scale. The plot is fast and the twists are many, and Barnes assumes her readers are smart enough to follow along.
The comparisons to Ally Carter’s Heist Society are apt, though the tone is a bit more serious, and the consequences are too. The best comparison really is the “meet” description provided by the publisher (and I don’t say that a lot) – Scandal meets Veronica Mars. I can’t say if today’s teens watch either of those shows, but the book’s got enough present-day teen appeal without the comparisons to be necessary anyway.
Review copy received at TLA. The Fixer will be published July 7.