13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough
I was dead for 13 minutes.
I don’t remember how I ended up in the icy water but I do know this – it wasn’t an accident and I wasn’t suicidal.
They say you should keep your friends close and your enemies closer, but when you’re a teenage girl, it’s hard to tell them apart. My friends love me, I’m sure of it. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t try to kill me. Does it?
I enjoyed my recent dalliance with crime, so I decided it was time for a little bit more. In order to mix things up however, I decided that rather than go with another traditional tale, I’d try reading a novel with more of a modern, psychological bent.
At first glance, Natasha appears to have it all. She is unquestionably the most popular girl in school, she has friends who would do anything for her and she is on the fast track to great things. It was easy to imagine that there would be many who would want to be near her or even be exactly like her. So why then, would someone want her gone? If she is so universally popular, who has it in for her?
Jenny and Hayley make up the final two-thirds of a group collectively known as “The Barbies”. Every leader needs followers, and they act as Natasha’s faithful entourage. These are the two hand-picked girls that validate Natasha’s existence at the top of the popularity food chain.
Rebecca is the odd one out. She has successfully moved on. Once Natasha’s BFF, her interests have changed, she is loved up and “The Barbies” seems like a distant memory. After Natasha’s brush with death, Rebecca is drawn back into the world of high school cliques and secret friendships. She finds herself compelled to discover exactly what is going on, irrespective of the cost to her or anyone else.
Watching how the characters develop and interact with one another is captivating stuff. Pinborough’s writing is often brutally honest, and there are moments where it feels like you are intruding into their innermost thoughts and feelings. Natasha and Rebecca are particularly well realised.
If I’m being one hundred percent honest, after reading the blurb to 13 Minutes I didn’t think that this book was really going to be my particular cup of tea. I wasn’t sure that I was the target demographic. I persevered, pushed passed that, and I’m so very glad that I did. 13 Minutes is a deliciously evil fiction. Sarah Pinborough delights in messing with a reader’s head. At one point in the narrative there is a false ending, where everything appears to be neatly resolved. It’s only from that point onwards that you start to get a glimpse of the true nature of exactly what is going on.
This plot also offers some interesting commentary on the use of social media in the 21st century. The media circus that erupts after Natasha’s near drowning is chaotic, and does more to hinder than help the police with their enquiries. The events that spiral outward from it, are not only dissected by the press, but also by every other teen in the community. If gossip is bad, then electronic gossip is positively horrific.
This novel is a study in the effects of manipulation, power and popularity. I’m lucky, I’ve never been a teenage girl, and based on the events in 13 minutes, I’m so glad that I never will be. My beard may be peppered with grey, but I do however still have some vague recollections of what being a teenager was like. It strikes me that surviving that most turbulent of times is difficult enough. It’s a constant battle throughout those years. The helter-skelter of conflicting emotions versus rampaging hormones is a tricky road to navigate at best. You’ve reached that age where you are beginning to truly explore your own identity, you’re starting to define the individual who you are going to ultimately be. I don’t imagine I could cope with all that alongside the extra potential for a premature death. I don’t think I have ever been quite so happy that I’ve moved on from my teens as I was after reading this book.
It pleases me to note how Sarah Pinborough’s writing continues to evolve with each new book. There has always been a strong emotional depth to her work and now there is a complimentary maturity. Her characterization always manages to be so well thought out and engaging. If you are looking for psychological crime that delivers an engrossing plot with plenty of twists and a nicely sinister undercurrent then look no further, you’ve found it.
13 Minutes is published by Gollancz and available from 18th February. Highly recommended.