In Review: Lifers

The book never relents in the pacing for poor Preston to escape a futuristic prison.

Lifers by M.A. Griffin

Published by Chicken House/Scholastic, January 31, 2017. Hardcover of 284 pages at $17.99. Intended for ages 12 and up, grades 7 and up. Also available as an ebook.

Note: I read an advanced copy so anything may have changed by publication.

The cover: The jacket and art design of this book are co-produced by studiohelen.co.uk and Yaffa Jaskoll. It’s a very effective cover. On an orange background are several prison bars. The first text reads Fear Is A Prison, followed by the book’s title, the author’s name, and the closing text Where Terror Never Stops. The letter I in the title is the outline of a person holding prison bars. Very cool. However, on the cover image I found online, a person is shown swinging off the letter F. The visual I found may be from the original Chicken House publication in the UK. I do prefer the letter I looking like a person behind bars, which is much more ominous. Overall grade: A

The premise: From the back cover, “Preston is drawn to investigate, exploring the city in the hunt for Alice, his missing friend. Deep in the bowels of a secret scientific institute, he discovers a sinister machine used to banish teenage criminals for their offenses. Captured and condemned to a cavernous dimension, Preston is determined to escape. But this is no ordinary jail.” This is an effective teaser that hints at things without spoiling anything. I prefer this type of summary on book, and am grateful this is all it says, as there is much to enjoy in this book. Overall grade: A

The characters: Preston “Press” Faulkner is the book’s protagonist. He is not a hero by choice. In love with the girl across the hall in his apartment complex, Alice Wilde, he wishes they were more than friends. She’s gone missing and he thinks he knows where she may have gone, after her boyfriend Ryan. Fighting his fears, filled with unrequited love, and a bit of guilt, he finds her, but things do not go as he planned. Press is not a fighter by any means, and this made him very real, rather than being a superhero character. He’s very grounded in reality: he makes mistakes, but he also makes just as many good choices. Alice is a very interesting character. There’s a lot of build up to her, as she is the object of Preston’s affections. She’s a believable character who has no clue that Press fancies her. When she is finally encountered in the reader will have the same reaction that Press has, and writer Griffin is to be congratulated for having her act the way she does. She is a welcome surprise. Elliot “Mace” Mason is Press’s best friend and he’s a conspiracy nut; he’ll give any oddball theory a go and probably believes it one hundred and sixty-five percent. He’s also more tech savvy than Press, which comes in handy in several situations. Mace also feels very real. The character provides much of the humor, which momentarily diffuses several tense scenes. Jonathan Shade is a dubious character. When first encountered he does something terrible to Press, and when encountered later he’s revealed to be very complex. The less said about him, the more surprises that will be left to the reader. Suffice to say, he was very engaging. The antagonists of the book are several, those outside the prison and those within, but, like Shade, I can’t discuss them without spoiling them. Like Shade, I liked them. All of the characters brought something unique to the book and if the book had stayed with them longer I would have been even happier, but its pace required some rapid moving. Overall grade: A

The settings: Dark Manchester is the book’s beginning and it’s a wonderfully mysterious place. It seems to have everything that a big city would have, but whose true contents lurk around any given corner, and the less one knows about them the better. The building that is the book’s opening focus is delightfully sinister and came off as very cinematic. It was very easy to picture. The structure becomes more ominous after some intel is provided by Mace. What actually lurks within this dwelling is excellent and it leads to the book’s focus, but — again — no spoilers. Every location of this book, especially what’s furthest from the opening of the book, is excellent. Overall grade: A

The action: The book starts in conspiracy spy territory, with a mission into a place no one should enter, encountering adults who have access to a strange sedative. This is followed by a new, larger location, the book’s focus, and familiar territory is covered a la Lord of the Flies. This is always enjoyable, but some books linger too long in this arena. Griffin doesn’t do that, instead creating a countdown clock for the protagonists to race against. Once this is done, a different timer is created in the real world that the characters have to overcome. There is a relentless pace to the book from the first page. Griffin is able to maintain this for the entire novel and that is the book’s greatest strength. Overall grade: A+

The conclusion: This may not have the ending that a young reader wants, but it made sense. It was honest and real. However, the final chapter was not necessary. It’s the only moment in the book that came off poorly. This scene was hinted at repeatedly and I expected it to occur sooner in the novel; sitting at the final four pages weakens the power of the novel. Overall grade: A-

The final line: The book never relents in the pacing for poor Preston to escape a futuristic prison. Outstanding characters with nonstop action make this highly enjoyable. Recommended. Overall grade: A

To order a print copy of this book go to https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=Lifers+by+M.A.+Griffin&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3ALifers+by+M.A.+Griffin

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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