Seconds Away



Teen thriller sequel lacks punch of previous volume.

What parents need to know

Educational value

Seconds Away is a straight-ahead contemporary thriller. But one subplot  involves World War II and the Holocaust and may provide some context for readers unfamiliar with that time period.

Positive messages

Many different characters in Second Away struggle with telling the truth. Each must deal with the consequences of either withholding or delivering painful facts. Although there are no hard-and-fast rules, the consensus is that telling the truth is always preferable to dissembling.

Positive role models

In Seconds Away, Mickey Bolitar cares deeply about his friends and family and continually puts himself on the line to protect them. Unfortunately, the best of intentions do not always lead to the best results, and sometimes Mickey's actions have disastrous consequences.


With one important exception, most of the violence in Seconds Away happens off-scene. Mickey Bolitar's friend Rachel is shot and receives a superficial wound. Her mother, however, dies from a gunshot.  A subplot involves World War II, the Holocaust, and the extermination camp of Auschwitz. In the most violent scene, a gunfight leaves one of the major supporting characters grievously wounded.


Unlike the first volume in this series, there's very little sexual content in Seconds Away. Mickey is very attracted to Rachel and becomes a little awkward and tongue-tied in her presence. While searching a suspect's office, he's jealous when she lures a former boyfriend away from the scene with indirect promises of physical contact.


Only one or two instances each of "damn" or "hell." There's a running gag about "MILF," which in this case stands for the "Musicals I Love Foundation." The vulgar alternative for that acronym is not mentioned.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

A cache of illegal drugs serves to drive the plot, but none of the characters partake of it. Mickey's mother is in rehab, but this volume includes no scenes with her.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Seconds Away is the second novel in a series featuring high school sleuth Mickey Bolitar. It picks up in the immediate aftermath of the Shelter, the harsher human-trafficking-themed first installment. It's possible to read Seconds Away as a stand-alone thriller, but some of the impact of its details will be lost. The main mystery revolves around a shooting that leaves one of Mickey's friends wounded and her mother dead. The second plot thread concerns the death of Mickey's father and its connection to the Holocaust. Much of the violence happens off-scene, but a gunfight leaves a major supporting character grievously wounded. A cache of drugs is used as a plot point. There's very little cursing ("hell," "damn") or sexual content.

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What's the story?

Hot on the heels of the events in Shelter, Mickey Bolitar stumbles into a new set of mysteries. The odd neighborhood \"Bat Lady\" hints that his presumed-dead father may still be alive and somehow connected to a 90-year-old Nazi known as \"the Butcher of Lodz.\" Then Mickey's friend Rachel is shot and her mother killed under strange circumstances. Aided by his misfit schoolmates Spoon and Ema, Mickey tries to unravel the truth, without causing more suffering.

Is it any good?


SECONDS AWAY may pick up only a few days after the events in Shelter, the first volume in this thriller series, but it can't match the energy and inventiveness of its predecessor. The central mystery -- Who shot Rachel and her mother, and why? -- does not develop compellingly. The overarching mystery of Mickey's dead father, however, takes a few intriguing twists, but that's clearly a plot line that won't be tied off until some future installment. There's also a growing plausibility factor in Second Away: Does absolutely everyone in this town harbor a mind-blowing secret? Author Harlan Coben is a pro at this kind of suburban intrigue, but he's going to need to step up his game next time.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about secrets and lies in Seconds Away. Why is it often difficult to tell the truth about painful situations?

  • Do parents and children keep secrets from each other? Can you ever know whether telling the whole truth is the best course of action?

  • If you read Shelter, how do you think Seconds Away compares? What do you think makes a good thriller? How is it different from a mystery? 

Book details

Author:Harlan Coben
Topics:Sports and martial arts, Adventures, Friendship, High school, Misfits and underdogs
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Putnam Juvenile
Publication date:September 18, 2012
Number of pages:352
Publisher's recommended age(s):12 - 17
Available on:Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle

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