Mind Games, by Kiersten White (HarperTeen, Feb 2013, YA), is a book so gripping that it held my attention while I read almost all of it cover to cover while waiting for my car to be fixed--and given that I was in a hideously uncomfy plastic chair, in anxious circumstances viz the fate of the car, this says a lot, I think.
If I had to sum it up in one sentence, it would be "a psychological mystery/thriller, with a smart, fierce heroine, similar in vibe to The Hunger Games but with a narrower focus viz world-building, cast of characters, and premise."
But since I generally allow myself three paragraphs, or so, here they are:
Two orphaned sisters, each with a psychic ability, are imprisoned in an institution masking as a magnificent school. For Annie, the older sister, who is blind, the "school" offered all the educational opportunities she craved. And so, though every preternaturally honed instinct in Fia's mind screamed that it was wrong, the sisters were enrolled.
Those who ran the school were at first only interested in Annie's ability to see the future. But when they realized just what Fia's gifts entailed, and how easily she could be controlled by threats to her sister, they knew they could never let her go. And so Fia is made into a tool of violence, sent out on criminal missions for her mysterious masters...and Annie is a hostage.
If it goes on much longer, Fia will break. But Fia is about to find out who she can trust...and to finally chose her own path for the first time since her nightmare began.
So the story is told in the present, as Fia is beginning to follow a path that might lead to escape, but there are plentiful flashbacks that tell of violence and tension and really gripping psychological manipulation verging on horror, and some scenes from Annie's perspective as well. By the time events come to a head, the reader knows both sisters pretty well, and I felt nicely invested in Fia and her situation, curious about the mystery behind the "school," and anxious to know how it all played out.
My one reservation is Annie. She's the older sister, but her parents set up (with the best of intentions) a kind of nasty dynamic of Fia being the one to look after her, because of Annie being blind. And Annie has lived her life accepting this, not fighting much against it. She does have spurt of being an Active Participant in events toward the end, but mostly she is "passive blind sister," and her journey to active participation isn't desperately well-developed. (In plain English, Annie annoyed me).
Once sentence summary: Gripping, disturbing, and a good one for the YA reader who wants wants a thrilling read, starring a kick-ass heroine, that is neither a Dystopian with a capital D (although the particulars are far from Utopian) or a paranormal romance (although there is a whiff of love story).
Will I read it again? Perhaps, though it isn't a book I'll keep assuming I will want to. I can easily imagine, though, being happy to read it again if, in two or three years, I went back to the car repair shop and someone has left a copy of it there....
disclaimer: ARC received from the publisher, left by accident in car repair shop (I think), finished with the help of a library copy.
Note on cover: I do not think the young woman on the cover is a good representation of Fia. Her eyes look a tad too limpid, and it is not clear that you are about to read a book about a teenage girl who is forced to kill. However, the UK publishers of Mind Games decided to make sure there was no ambiguity: