Tandem, by Anna Jarzab

Anna Jarzab's last novel, The Opposite of Hallelujah, was a thoughtful and original exploration of family, faith, and mental illness. I loved it, but it didn't exactly scream “Teen Blockbuster”. Her latest effort, Tandem, hews much closer to the tried-and-true formula of recent bestsellers: love triangles, fantasy elements, violence, and deeply stupid choices abound.

Tandem is the first book in the Many-Worlds trilogy. Sixteen-year-old Sasha's quiet life with her grandfather is ripped apart when Grant, the handsomest boy at school, asks her to prom. Unfortunately for poor Sasha, “Grant” is really Thomas Mayhew, a royal agent from a parallel universe, and his sudden interest in her is part of a larger scheme to kidnap her and force her to take the place of her own “analog”, or parallel-universe counterpart—the missing Princess Juliana, heir to the United Commonwealth of Columbia. (In this universe, the Revolutionary War failed. A later war won independence from England, but our America has been divided into two bitterly warring monarchies, Columbia and Farnham.)

I know the above premise sounds ridiculous, but Jarzab is such a good writer she almost overcomes the bone-deep silliness of her material. Plenty of other writers have explored similar concepts—including Diana Wynne Jones, whose book Charmed Life also features a girl who steals the life of a parallel-universe counterpart—but Jarzab takes her story in a more overtly YA-friendly direction: Sasha has more love interests than you can shake a stick at, there's plenty of action, and the story ends on a shamelessly tantalizing cliffhanger. The result is fast-paced and readable, and I'm sure Tandem will rapidly outpace any of Jarzab's previous sales numbers.

Sales numbers are not always a good indication of quality, however, and Tandem falls sadly short of the intelligence and creativity of Jarzab's earlier work. Sasha is an engaging heroine, but Thomas is an abysmal love interest—not only is he her kidnapper (which, hello, is a pretty huge “not only”), but he's also straight-up stupid. They tumble into love in less than a week, which leaves me with a very poor notion of Sasha's common sense. The book offers up two additional contenders for Sasha's heart—the real Grant, and Princess Juliana's husband-to-be, Prince Callum of Farnham—but we're obviously supposed to find Thomas the dreamiest of the bunch, despite the fact that he's a dim-witted kidnapper who spends most of the book obeying morally-questionable orders from a deeply shady source. Of course, the love interests in first books don't always turn out to be predestined*, but all signs point to this being yet another story about a teenage girl who Risks It All for a wildly unsuitable boy. I'll still read the next installment in this series (I can't help it; I'm weak, and that cliffhanger was too much for me), but Tandem was a definite disappointment.

*Just ask the millions of Katniss/Gale fans.

Review based on publisher-provided copy.
Posted by: Julianka


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