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Middle School Monday – See How They Run by Ally Carter

MSMAlly Carter is one of my favorite authors for a number of reasons. She writes complex, dynamic female characters who are tested mentally, emotionally, and physically. Sometimes they fail, but they ultimately succeed and come out stronger, usually with the help of their friends. These are important themes for my middle school students to experience within the safe pages of a gripping story, and Carter delivers every time. Her latest installment in the Embassy Row series is no exception.

See How They Run follows closely on the heels of the first book in the series, All Fall Down. (I’m going to attempt to be non-spoilery in my description, but you may want to skip this review if you haven’t read the first book.) Grace is introduced by Mrs. Chancellor to the secret society formed by female descendants of the original Adrians. She finds, somewhat to her horror, that she will be sharing her introduction and training with Lila, the twin sister of her best friend, Noah, who is not overly fond of either of them. Her brother Jamie makes a surprise visit home from West Point because he is understandably worried about her (see the end of the first book.) He brings with him his good friend Spence, another West Point cadet with connections to Adria.

carterVery quickly into the novel, there is a murder and her good friend/crush/brother’s best friend Alexi is a suspect. As Grace and her friends go deeper into the mystery surrounding the murder, things only become more confusing and complex. Grace discovers, on her own and with her friends, more of the secrets of Adria’s past. Grace is certain that there is more going on than she can see, and she’s not wrong. In the tradition of the best written thrillers, Grace finds herself in a position where she is not sure who she can trust, both to tell her the truth and to keep her secrets.

I think my favorite part of this novel is Carter’s exploration of the effects of what can best be described as post traumatic stress on Grace’s mental stability and emotional health. To avoid spoilers, I’ll just say that the events in the first novel brought up a traumatic event from Grace’s earlier life and then added to it in spectacular fashion. Carter manages to dig deeper into Grace’s damaged psyche than one might reasonable expect within the pages of a gripping thriller, and she does so with compassion and insight. Many of my students are dealing with the effects of post traumatic stress either in their lives or the lives of those they love. Carter provides an age appropriate exploration of its effects on an extremely sympathetic main character that will leave readers with a better understanding of the devastation it causes and more empathy for those who have to deal with it. For students who aren’t yet ready for more mature explorations of the topic (such as Laurie Halse Anderson’s The Impossible Knife of Memory) this is an excellent choice. I highly recommend the inclusion of this series in any collection serving 7th through 10th grade students.

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