Life is full of pivotal decision-making points, and in Nicole O’Dell’s interactive fiction series, Swept Away, the reader makes the final call on the characters’ make-or-break-it decisions. O’Dell’s first novel of the series, High Stakes, follows best friends Amber and Brittany, who, in their senior year of high school, find themselves competing against each other for a new car based on school grades and attendance. When Amber cheats on her grades to win the car, an emotional struggle of disappointment and fear of being caught soon follows.
In High Stakes, Brittany and Amber are the best of friends and what starts out as a seemingly friendly competition turns into a head-on battle for the prize. Amber especially feels she deserves the car since her family has been having financial issues with her dad’s unemployment. Meanwhile, Brittany’s dad keeps getting promoted, and she always seems to have the trendiest clothes and techie toys. After a heated argument over who should deserve to win the car, a very hurt Amber cheats on the final exams—and Brittany is accidentally framed for it. Should Amber confess to the cheating and save her best friend from taking the fall? Or should she wait it out and get the car that she feels both she and her family deserve?
Throughout High Stakes, the dialogue at times can take on a blunt, cheesy feel, and the action doesn’t always seem relevant. However, the characters themselves have enough personality to make the story interesting and the issues of cheating and financial struggle are relatable to many readers.
O’Dell’s second novel within the same published book, Essence of Lilly, takes the reader onto the love-torn battlefield of high school, as sophomore Lilly tries to survive a crumbling family and find healing through her boyfriend, Jason. But how truly untarnished is her hero’s shining armor?
When Lilly wants to escape from the constant arguing and emotional abuse in her own home, sweet and caring Jason seems like an answer to her prayers. But what starts as a white lie, telling her parents that she and Jason are going to a youth group all-nighter, quickly spirals down into a dangerous situation as they are alone in his house. Jason knows where Lilly wants to draw her physical boundaries, but he always seems to be pushing for more. After a few drinks of alcohol, Lilly isn’t so sure she minds. But how far is too far?
Essence of Lilly very realistically portrays the struggle for purity during teen years and excellently addresses a relevant issue for young people today. The characters are very relatable and the situations, sadly enough, probably hit home for many teens. This novel, however, also brings to the light the hope and healing we have in Christ even when we have fallen away from God’s commands. Ephesians 1:7 states, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.”
While High Stakes at times presents weak dialogue and action, in the end, both novels in Nicole O’Dell’s Swept Away series confront the reader with very real situations through very lovable characters. I would recommend this series for middle and high-school-aged girls, especially as a wonderful teaching and character building tool. As for how the stories end? You’ll just have to choose for yourself and see. – Lyndsey Gammage, www.ChristianBookPreviews.com
Decisions, decisions! How is a girl supposed to choose? Lessons of right and wrong are put to the test in the Scenarios series, where you can test your decision-making abilities in an eye-opening, but safe, way. Each book follows a character up to the point where she has to make an important, life-changing decision—then it’s your turn to choose. Will your choices lead to a happy ending?