13 Minutes

13 Minutes was written by Sarah Pinborough and first published in 2016. It is a mystery novel that focuses on two teenagers investigating the events that lead up to a tragic accident. The novel is a stand-alone story, so you don’t have to have read any of the author’s other work to fully appreciate it.

Natasha was dead for thirteen minutes when a passing dogwalker pulled her out of the river. Although she was quickly revived, her memories of the previous day were muddled and she could not recall why she had left her home and wandered into the woods at night. The only clue was a text message telling her to meet someone, yet Tasha has no idea who sent this message or where they expected her to meet them.

Becca was once Tasha’s best friend but over the last few years, the two of them grew apart. While Tasha was the most popular girl in school, Becca had embraced her individuality and moved away from the spotlight. However, as Tasha notices that her closest friends are acting strangely, she rekindles her old friendship to be able to talk to someone that she trusts.

The two girls slowly begin to grow suspicious that Tasha’s inner circle had something to do with her accident. As they investigate, it becomes clear that all of the girls have secrets that they do not want to come to light – ones that they may take extreme measures to protect. However, as Becca starts to put the pieces together, she soon comes to discover that the truth of what happened on that night is more disturbing than she could ever have imagined…

Before I begin, a word of warning. 13 Minutes contains a lot of material that readers may find distressing. There is a fair bit of bad language, as well as depictions of sex and drug use. The book also contains references to child abuse and paedophilia, although this thankfully all occurs off-page. If you are sensitive to any of these themes, you might want to give this novel a miss.

I also feel that I should note that this novel was my blind date from https://www.blinddatewithabook.com/. This is a website that offers readers a chance to buy a surprise book based on a few keywords. I personally thought that this was a fun idea, especially if you read as much as I do. If you’re interested in giving this a try, there are a few young adult options currently available on the site and their stock does frequently change.

13 Minutes is an intriguing thriller which is quick to hook the reader’s attention. It starts off at a very brisk pace, as Tasha is fished out of the river within the first couple of chapters. As her amnesia is established, it is quickly made evident that the novel’s great mystery is how she came to be in the water in the first place. Did she jump, was she pushed, or was it a complete accident? While this seems like a straight forward concept, the novel is quick to complicate matters as the story begins to detail events from a number of different sources.

The novel is mainly told from the perspective of either Tasha or Becca, but it is also a modern epistolary novel. Between the chapters, the story contains frequent journal entries, police reports, news articles and text chains. Pinborough really does use social media well in the story to show how gossip spreads and evolves. It subtly shows how the same story can seem very different when reported in a tabloid rag rather than a respectable newspaper, and how vicious lies can destroy a teenager’s reputation when spread across social media by a “popular” person. Its through these entries that the reader soon starts to see the flip side of the story, as the characters who seem nice in person can come across very differently in their texts and Facebook posts.

While I did think that this was very effective, I must admit that my attention started to wander around the half-way mark. I’m going to be a bit vague from this point on as I don’t want to spoil this story’s many twists, but this was the part of the story where I started to suss out exactly what was going on. After a rather nasty incident, the supposed perpetrator was caught around the 200-page mark. However, with over 200 pages left to go, it was really obvious that this person couldn’t be the true guilty party. After this point, the novel slowed to a crawl for about the next hundred pages or so while the protagonists came to the same conclusion. After an intense opening, this made it feel like a bit of a slog to get through.

I also felt that the heavy-handed references to The Crucible were a bit excessive. This popular play is still widely studied by high school and college students in the UK and, if you’re familiar with its plot, you will probably very quickly see similarities in 13 Minutes. While I’m personally not a huge fan of Arthur Miller anyway, I felt that the frequent “you’re more of an Elizabeth than a Mary” references in the novel made it a bit too obvious who the “Abigail” of 13 Minutes really was.

The ending of 13 Minutes also has the potential to alienate readers. Personally, I felt that the villain’s motivation was a little over-the-top. Sure, it had a grounding reality, but it all felt a bit too self-congratulatory. The person in question was just too smart – managing to cover their tracks and completely fool the authorities – and I just couldn’t buy that they would be thorough enough to think through every single variable. The story also ends very abruptly. It leaves a lot to the reader’s imagination as we don’t learn what the future holds for the survivors or those who were wrongly accused earlier in the novel.

I also didn’t really connect with the protagonists. That’s not to say that they weren’t realistic. They certainly embodied the social dynamic of an English high school, with the rigid social structure, the cliques and the back-stabbery of teenage girls. However, the only member of the main cast that was remotely likeable was Hannah. Everyone else was utterly preoccupied by their appearances and only ever seemed to act in their own best interest, even if that meant completely screwing over their supposed BFFs.

Anyhow, I think I’ve rambled on for long enough. 13 Minutes had an interesting hook and started out well, but lost it for me in the final act. Yet, if you’re a fan of thrillers, I would certainly recommend checking it out. I am certainly curious enough to look out for more of Pinborough’s work in the future.

13 Minutes can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

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