Mind Games, Book 1

Book review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Mind Games, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Psychological thriller is like X-Men meets La Femme Nikita.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Other than the various ways a person can kill another, and the art of manipulation/blackmail, there's not much educational here.

Positive Messages

Orphaned sisters will do anything to secure each other's the safety and happiness. They are both self-sacrificing in different ways. At the same time, they both make morally questionable decisions and even act violently for the other.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Both Fia and Annie are utterly devoted to each other. They're all that they have left in the world, and they will do everything possible to make sure the other is safe and happy. Fia is wild and impetuous. She doesn't feel as if she can think things through too closely, lest she be "seen" by mind readers. She proves that just because you're small, that doesn't mean you're not fierce.

Violence

One of the two main characters is a secret organization's teen assassin. Fia's supposed to kill for her bosses under the threat of her sister Annie's life. Fia knows how to use various weapons and styles of self-defense to injure or fatally wound. She unknowingly puts a bomb in someone's possession and it blows up; she uses knives/her hands to injure several people and kills someone without a second thought to save her sister. She's shot but survives, and another character is knocked unconscious.

Sex

A few passionate kisses. A character admits he thinks of sex when he's around mind readers (on purpose). Two characters flirt and hold hands and share a chaste kiss. A blind character wonders if she's attractive, while another wonders if she'll ever be in love. One kissing scene turns violent.

Language

White's characters swear, but she doesn't relate what they say, just that the character said a "filthy word" or "swore," etc. Milder language like "hell," "damn," "sucks," "idiot," "stupid," "slutty," etc. is included, however.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A teenager drinks on a couple of occasions -- both times with an older guy. People drink at night clubs.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Mind Games is the first installment in a new psychological thriller series by Kiersten White. The book contains a fair bit of intense violence (one of the protagonists is a teenage assassin for a covert organization), including deaths by bombs, weapons, and hand-to-hand combat. The romance is limited to brief mentions of sex, inexperience, and two kisses (one that includes some unwanted groping), and the language is on the tame end of the YA spectrum (characters are said to "swear," but it's never revealed what they actually say). Although the sister main characters make plenty of questionable decisions, they are always thinking of each other's safety and happiness in a self-sacrificing way.

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What's the story?

Fia and Annie are orphaned teen sisters with extraordinary abilities. Blind, 19-year-old Annie is a "Seer" who gets glimpses of the future, while 17-year-old Fia is even more remarkable, because she has superhuman instincts. The two of them are controlled by a sinister but enigmatic organization that uses a school for gifted children as its front. But there's no kindly Professor X leading the way, just a powerful man named Keane who uses Fia as a trained assassin and Annie's life as his insurance that Fia will do as he bids. Fia never makes a false move in any fight, and as long as she's following her intuition, she can pretty much get out of any situation. But when she refuses to kill Adam, a young doctor she was assigned to execute, it's clear that the sisters will have to figure out a way to deceive Keane to stay alive.

Is it any good?

White is a zippy writer who doesn't bother with flowery descriptive language or overwrought metaphors. The emphasis in this book is the plot, and what a compelling story it is at first, with its echoes of X-Men and Alias and La Femme Nikita. Through alternating chapters that switch from the past to the urgent present, White introduces two sisters who are utterly devoted to each other but are also kept prisoner (either figuratively in Fia's case or literally in Annie's) because of the other.

Although White says again and again how much these sisters adore each other, she doesn't provide enough examples, even in the flashbacks, of anything but a sense of sisterly obligation. There are no shared memories of laughter and playfulness, which, yes, even sad orphans are capable of (just ask Harry Potter). The next book probably will answer some of the many burning questions posed in this one (like why their guardian aunt basically abandoned them to a Chicago boarding school, or what exactly Mr. Keane does with his gaggle of supernatural girls), but for a psychological thriller, there isn't quite enough connection to the two main characters to make the girls' actions as meaningful as those of comparably (impossibly) conflicted protagonists like Katniss or Tris

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the violence in the story. Is it surprising to see so much violence perpetuated by a petite teen girl? How is the violence in this book different from that in other violent YA books.

  • How would it have changed Mind Games if the characters had used the actual swear words they were supposedly saying? Would it seem more  authentic, or is it unnecessary? How do you feel about teen books that contains strong language?

  • Despite the couple of kisses, there's only a hint of romance in Mind Games. Do you think there will be more romance in future installments of the series?

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