The Well's End

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
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Action, suspense fill fast-paced virus-outbreak tale.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Readers will pick up some general information about viruses, botany, genetic engineering, and what it's like to be a competitive swimmer.

Positive Messages

Overcoming your fears can be a long and difficult process but is well worth undertaking. Don't give up, even when something seems impossible.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Heroine Mia is a strong model of loyalty to her friends and to her school. She wants to help people in trouble and shows concern for people's emotional well-being as well as for big-picture, save-the-world kinds of problems. She works hard to achieve her goals, not only overcoming childhood trauma but also being a good student and champion swimmer. Her best friends provide the typical loyal team of adventurers. Her father's a loving parent, but otherwise adults are mostly absent and mysterious or villainous when they do appear.


Some characters hit or slap each other. Frequent mentions of blood are only mildly gory, but very frequent, often describing coughing up blood due to illness. A minor character's nose is broken and bleeds when he's hit with a textbook. Characters often brandish guns and sometimes shoot them, making a perilous situation worse even when they don't hit anyone. An infected wound is described in detail, as is the eventual care it receives (lancing to drain the pus). There's a brief, non-gruesome description of dead bodies.


As with the violence, the sexual content (mostly kissing) isn't detailed, but it's frequent. Mia and Brayden kiss on the lips half a dozen times or so, with one mention of tongue; another half-dozen or so times they kiss on the forehead, cheek, neck, and hands. Once they kiss while lying together in bed; once they kiss on the mouth and his hand cups her breast. Characters mention two past incidents of sexual harassment: In one, Mia is mooned by boys on the swim team, one of whom also exposes himself to her; in the other, a girl pulls down a boy's pants. Mia mentions that she's frequently heard her roommate having sex. One character witnesses a couple kissing and mentions that the boy grabbed the girl's breasts.


Teens frequently use strong language, with "f--k" and "s--t" used plentifully. "Ass," "asshole," and "dick," as both body parts and insults, occur about half a dozen times each. Less frequent are "holy crap," "holy s--t," "piss," "pissed" (being angry), "douche," "screw you," and "we're screwed." 


Occasional mentions of dozens of products, from cars (Mercedes, 4Runner) to technology (iPhone, OtterBox, Geek Squad) to prescription drugs and liquor (Adderall, Absolut Citron). Musical acts mentioned once or twice include Madonna, Pavement, R.E.M., Vampire Weekend, Radiohead, and Bruce Springsteen.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teens drink and smoke at parties. The main characters drink one shot each before a party. Mia says being blackout drunk is a good way to avoid her night fears, and it's not clear whether she's serious; there's detailed description of the vomiting and painful hangover that result. One teen takes Zyrtec before drinking so his face won't get red. Students mention they have codeine and Adderall. Mentions of pot and tobacco smoking by students; one adult has a cigar.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Well's End is a teen suspense drama about a mysterious virus breakout at a Colorado boarding school. It includes frequent violence and mentions of blood but little descriptive detail; characters are often shot at and are otherwise in peril. Recurring strong language includes "f--k" and "s--t." The college-dorm lifestyle of largely unsupervised high-school kids away at boarding school includes heavy drinking and smoking at parties; protagonist Mia mentions she's heard her roommate having sex many times. Otherwise, the sexual content is mostly kissing, which happens often but isn't described in detail.

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What's the story?

THE WELL'S END tells the story of 16-year-old Mia, one of the few "townies" living at an exclusive Colorado boarding school, who's famous for a reason she'd rather forget: When she was little, she fell into a well and was stuck for several days, making national headlines. Now a mysterious virus is breaking out at her school, and it looks like her father may be involved somehow. When one of her friends starts showing symptoms, their only hope of surviving is to elude the armed guards keeping the school under quarantine and find her father, who, they hope, has a cure. But what they actually find is the beginning of an even greater mystery that will test their bonds of friendship and loyalty.

Is it any good?

First-time author Seth Fishman's fast-paced drama makes for fun, if light, reading. Kids will easily relate to believably flawed heroine Mia, who overcomes her fears and stays loyal to her friends. The action and tension build nicely and keep the pages turning. In Mia, Fishman creates a realistic female voice to carry the suspenseful story.

The plot and characters are well developed but not deep, and the unsatisfying conclusion reads more like the setup for a series. Don't look for a lot of literary merit here, but it's a solid choice for an older teen looking for a guilty pleasure.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why stories about viral outbreaks are so popular. Why are we so fascinated by them?

  • If you found something that could cure every illness, like the miraculous water in the story, how would you handle the discovery? Would you tell the world?

  • Have you had to try to conquer a fear, like Mia?  Were you able to overcome it? How, or why not? 

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love mysteries and thrillers

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