Tanya Byrne – Follow Me Down

tanyabyrne-followmedownFirst love. Last lie.

When Adamma Okomma has to leave her glossy high school in New York for a dusty English boarding school, she thinks it’s the end of the world – or the end of her social life, at least.

Then she meets the wicked-witted Scarlett Chiltern, who shows her all of Crofton College’s darkest corners, and Adamma realises there’s much more to her new school than tartan skirts and hockey sticks.

She and Scarlett become inseparable, but when they fall for the same guy, the battle lines are firmly drawn.

Adamma gets the guy but loses her best friend. Then, when Scarlett runs away, Adamma finds herself caught up in something far more sinister than a messy love triangle. Adamma always knew that Scarlett had her secrets, but some secrets are too big to keep and this one will change all of their lives forever.

My top debut last year was Byrne’s first novel, Heart-Shaped Bruise. I’d actually planned to read it after the holidays, but Wiebe read it and adored it and kept nagging me to read it so we could discuss the book. And wow… I loved it. So I was inordinately excited to receive an ARC for Byrne’s second book, Follow Me Down. And then I got Book Fear… Anyone who has ever discovered an author that just completely swept them away and is an automatic read from that point forward, has likely encountered this phenomenon. Book fear is what happens when after loving the first book you read by an author, you actually have doubts about reading the second, because what if it isn’t as fantastic as the first one? What if they don’t live up to the promise that first book made? What if the author is a one-hit-wonder? Book fear set in hard with Follow Me Down and didn’t just strike me, it struck Wiebe as well, and so I hiked up my skirts, took a deep breath and took the plunge. And then I didn’t come back up for air until I’d followed the book down all the way to the end. I followed it to the realisation that my fears had been silly and that Byrne truly was the awesome writer Heart-Shaped Bruise promised she was. Because Follow Me Down? Awesome! It was just as dark, tricky and compellingly clever as its predecessor.   

The book is narrated in first person from Adamma’s point of view and told in two timelines, the one immediately after Scarlett’s disappearance and the other from the moment the two girls meet when Adamma starts attending Crofton High. The plotting of the story is once again super tight and the underlying secrets of both girls are both complex and explosive. Byrne manages to keep the reader hopping to keep up with all the swerves and twists the story takes. There were several times I was convinced that this time I’d figured it all out, only to start doubting my conclusions three pages later. It’s hard to talk about the plot in more depth as that would wreck the reading experience, but Byrne balances all possibilities masterfully.

At the heart of the book is the friendship between Scarlett and Adamma. It’s the kind of friendship everyone experiences in their adolescence to some degree or another. It’s the unhealthy, obsessive kind of friendship, where you hate the other person as much as you love them and in the end it always ends in tears. While I adored Adamma and her cool, collected demeanour and her outsider’s view – owing both to the fact that she’s the daughter of a Nigerian diplomat and that she’s spent the last few years of her life living in New York – I didn’t really like Scarlett. And this isn’t just due to how Adamma sees her, though obviously that plays a part, as we only see Scarlett through her eyes, but also due to Scarlett’s antics. On occasion I did see a damaged and needy girl somewhere in there, but most of the time she came across as self-indulgent and self-centred.

In addition to these two girls there are a few important secondary characters, Orla, Dominic, Bones, and Mr Lucas, who all are fascinating in their own right. I loved Orla and her quiet strength. Adamma’s desire to help her is completely natural, Byrne shows not just Orla’s trauma and difficulties to deal with her being raped, but also Adamma’s trying to figure out how to best help and support Orla on this journey and messing up badly a few times. This both provides teens that are faced with similar situations in their own life mirrors to their own experience, but also ensures that the reader doesn’t see Adamma as a flawless protagonist. Adamma is flawed, she messes up and gets herself into situations that had she thought about them more clearly, she’d have known where too complicated for her to handle. The interactions she has with Bones, or to give him his proper name DS Bone, regarding Orla’s situation are wonderful and I loved that he takes her seriously. Dominic is both lovely and confusing, the perfect bad boy love interest. Mr Lucas seems to be a great teacher and one who genuinely seems to care for the welfare of his students. Beyond these characters there are all Adamma’s class mates, teachers, and of course her parents, Byrne has created a full cast of characters who all play a significant part. Yet there are a lot of people, including Adamma and Scarlett, who aren’t what they seem to be and figuring out people’s true stories and intentions is a large part of what makes this book so compelling.

Follow Me Down is a fascinating and engrossing page turner of a story. One that gave me all the feels and kept me glued to the page for just one more chapter because I couldn’t let go of the story. With Follow Me Down Tanya Byrne has firmly established herself as one of the strongest teen mystery/thriller writers currently publishing in the UK. If you hadn’t discovered her with Heart-Shaped Bruise, then don’t waste time and read Follow Me Down as soon as you can, it’s too good to miss. All that book fear I had before starting the book was completely unnecessary.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.