Lee Nichols

Bloomsbury (2010)

ISBN: 978-1-4088-1960-9

Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack

Deception is an extremely good young adult novel; and it’s strong in almost every area, making it difficult to point to any one thing that helps it to catch and keep the reader’s interest.  But it does this well, and will keep most readers engrossed until the end of the novel.

The novel is subtitled “A Haunting Emma Novel”. This appears to be code for book one in a series. As such, although this novel does provide some short term answers, it leaves a lot of loose ends to be addressed in future novels. Although there is always some frustration attendant on this, Deception is good enough that most readers won’t mind – they’ll want to read the sequel(s) anyway

Emma Vaile is seventeen and grumpy.Her parents have gone off on a vague business trip, combined with the intention to visit her brother overseas.  Now none of them are answering their phones or email. And since their only employee quit the day after they left, Emma has to run their antiques shop as well as go to school. And school isn’t much fun either; most of her friends were a year ahead of her and have already graduated, and an ill-fated fling between Emma’s brother and best friend means she’s not even on speaking terms with her friend anymore.

So Emma is vulnerable to the attentions of a new set of friends, and allows herself to be talked into hosting a party.  Naturally, it gets out of control; the police turn up; and before Emma knows it, a new guardian has whisked her halfway across the country.

Now, Emma’s not entirely unhappy about this. Bennett Stern is an old family friend, and Emma’s had a crush on him for years. Going to live with him is close to a dream come true. Except … there’s something weird about the staff in his house. The new school has a very strange effect on Emma. Bennett isn’t around as much as she’d like. And gradually Emma realises that there are a lot of secrets around her, and some of them could threaten her life.

Frankly, I had some minor quibbles about the set-up. I found it a little unbelievable that the first reaction of the police would be to take Emma into care; she’s seventeen and only a little investigation would have suggested she was generally responsible and in good circumstances. No one makes any real effort to find her parents. And Emma herself is a little too sanguine about “my whole family has disappeared, but goody, my new guardian is a hottie”. These relatively minor complaints are easy to overlook, however, and the rest of the plotting is strong.

Emma is a very engaging character. Although she seemed a little too okay with the disappearing family, she is a strong young woman who deals with quite a lot of adversity well. I liked that she didn’t spend huge amounts of time agonising over little things (like a school uniform three sizes too small) – she just got on with dealing with them. This made it far more interesting when she faced major issues that couldn’t be solved easily and did deserve a fair bit of agonising. She has priorities that most readers can sympathise with. It’s true that a few times I clucked my tongue at the teenage agonising over boys, but the intended young adult audience probably won’t find that as irritating as I did – they’ll likely find it realistic and another touch that brings Emma to life for them.

In fact, most of the characters are strong and realistic. Many will be familiar in a sense – after all, a realistic teenager is likely to have something in common with some of the teenagers you know. But they feel like real people, unique and challenging, and not always easy to know or like. It’s very easy to become immersed in their world.

Importantly, Nichols has come up with quite an original plot. Sure, you’ll find traces here and there of other novels and ideas you’ve seen before. (In fact, the early scenes with the disappearing parents reminded me irresistibly of some Enid Blyton books.) However, the bulk of her ideas around ghosts and the people who interact with them were fresh and interesting even to an older reader who’s seen a lot – they’re likely to seem even more original to a younger audience. Nichols seems to have worked out he/r worldbuilding in quite a bit of detail – it’s consistent, interesting, and leaves you hoping to find out more in future instalments.

I am really intrigued to find out where the plot goes from here. Nichols provides a certain amount of resolution, notably by addressing why Emma is experiencing so many odd things and (to a large extent) what they are. However, broader questions around her past and future, and many of the people we meet in this novel, are yet to be answered. I hope Nichols has a story arc planned and will not just draw this series out. If other novels in the series are as taut and well plotted as this one, then it’s likely to be an excellent series. In the meantime, Deception is a well-written, engrossing novel that will appeal strongly both to the intended young adult audience and to many older readers.