The Outliers

Book review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
The Outliers Book Poster Image
Page-turner thriller is full of twists, violence.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Readers will learn a bit about agoraphobia and anxiety.

Positive Messages

Trust your instincts. Don't judge others based on preconceived notions. Work with friends.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Although they make some foolish decisions, Wylie and Jasper are mature, intelligent, and protective of each other and of their best friend/girlfriend. Cassie is selfless when it comes to saving her friends.

Violence

Characters are deceived, kidnapped, held against their will at gunpoint, and stabbed, and more than one person dies, usually by being shot. Wylie and Jasper run from armed people chasing them. Someone dies horrifically by burning to death.

Sex

A character admits to cheating on her boyfriend by sleeping with someone else. It's obvious they had a sexual relationship. There's romantic tension that grows between two characters, but they don't do more than hold hands.

Language

Regular strong language includes "a--hole," "s--t," "f--k," "goddamn," "f--king," "ass," "s--thead," "motherf--king," "jerk," "s--tty."

Consumerism

Jeep, Subaru, Pringles, Wilco, IHOP.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Cassie has a history of getting "out of control" wasted on alcohol and marijuana.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Outliers is the first book in a thriller trilogy about a teen who sets off to search for her missing best friend and ends up in danger herself. There are underlying mysteries and conspiracies that might confuse younger teen readers, especially if they aren't well-versed in psychological thrillers and suspense books. The language is regularly strong ("f--k," "f--king," "motherf--king," "a--hole," "s--t"), and one character has a history of underage drinking and marijuana use, but there is little sex outside of references to a character cheating on her boyfriend. There are a couple moments of intense hand-holding. The violence can be harrowing at times, and characters die -- either by gunshot or by burning to death. Although the teens make many questionable and dangerous decisions, Wylie and Jasper learn to work together despite their differences, trust their instincts, and look out for each other.

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What's the story?

THE OUTLIERS follows Wylie Lang, a Boston-area teen who doesn't leave her house and has acute anxiety and agoraphobia. Four months after her mother died in an accident, she remains unable even to go to school, and neither her twin brother nor her researcher father understands. Everything changes the moment her best (and only) friend Cassie turns up missing. Cassie's boyfriend, Jasper -- whom Wylie temporarily suspects is responsible -- shows up at Wylie's house to tell her that he got unsettling texts from Cassie commanding him to go to Wylie's and not tell anyone they heard from her. The texts compel Wylie out of the house, and she and Jasper (both of whom have had issues with Cassie recently) drive north on an action-packed road trip to find her. What they find instead is a mysterious, dangerous group rounding up people who possess extraordinary emotional intelligence. Lies, betrayal, and violence ensue.

Is it any good?

Despite the occasionally convoluted plot, this psychological thriller will keep readers engaged until they figure out what's going on and how the main character can survive various obstacles. The Outliers doesn't always make a lot of sense, but if readers are willing to suspend their disbelief, they will find themselves rooting for Wylie and Jasper. The two aren't even really friends when they first set off together (as is fairly common between the best friend and the boyfriend), but they develop a hesitant alliance that eventually turns into a trust and an openness they don't share with anyone else. Their slow burn of a friendship (with hints of romance to come) is one of the strongest parts of the story.

The weakest parts are the multiple conspiracy theories and competing groups trying to control the titular "Outliers" with almost superpower-like instinctive and perceptive abilities. It's best not to get bogged down in the plot holes and muddled aspects of what the Outliers are capable of and what various government and nefarious forces want with them. The author must be saving the clarity (and romance) for the next installment of the trilogy, but in the meantime at least this one is a quick read.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the violence in The Outliers. How does realistic violence affect readers differently from stylized or fantasy violence?

  • What do you think about how the main character's mental health issues are handled? What did you learn about agoraphobia and anxiety?

  • What do you see going forward in the story? How about the romance?

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