Friday, April 4, 2014

Review by Jodi: Twisted by J.S. Frankel

Title: Twisted
Author: J.S. Frankel
Publisher: Regal Crest Enterprises
Rating: 3.5/5 Smooches


Chivalry isn't dead. It just wears a skirt.

Highschoolers Charlie Matthews, his stepbrother Martin, and Sharon Collins win a contest to play an interactive medieval game as the avatars of their favorite characters. Their mission: fight off the monsters, storm the castle, and capture the evil king.

But things go terribly wrong. Charlie is dismayed to discover he is Angella of Avernon, the lead female character in the game. Fortunately, she's the most powerful avatar around, but he also finds out that he, Martin, and Sharon have been infected with a virus that will kill them outside the game, so they have to stay inside the scenario.

Trapped and beset on all sides, Charlie has to deal with the sexism of the characters circa 1430, his stepbrother's distaste for his female form, and his feelings about becoming a woman. In addition to fighting off the various monsters within the scenario, Charlie tries to fight his attraction to Sharon...and then realizes Sharon is attracted to him, which makes it all the more confusing.

When the deadly opponents in the game get the upper hand, Charlie must summon all of his love and courage to save the day and rescue Sharon. Will he understand that love is where you find it and that the gender of the one you love doesn't matter at all?


J.S. Frankel creates a realistic teen-friendly narrative voice in the young adult (YA) novel Twisted. This is an engaging story with likable characters. Yes, these characters are immature, but that is a positive attribute in a YA book. This book presents a twist on a typical quest in which the characters obtain growth and maturity by overcoming a series of obstacles.

Charlie, the protagonist of this story, is a typical teenage boy. The death of his parents is an important aspect of his life.  Charlie is at a bit of a crossroads as his junior year of high school comes to an end.

“With almost three months of vacation ahead before senior year began, I wanted to work on a tan, work out and bulk up. At six feet and one eighty, my body resembled a muscular swimmer's. I didn't want the metrosexual look. No, I wanted the Alpha Male, don't-screw-with-me look.

Finally, find a girlfriend. No guy wants to go through high school single. I'd had the idea of finding the perfect girl since I turned sixteen, one year ago. It didn't matter what she looked like. It only mattered how decent she was and if she'd be there if and when I needed her--and I'd be there for when she needed me. Yeah, call it an old-fashioned notion, but that's how I rolled.

        Charlie’s best friend/step-brother Martin loves video games. Charlie helps Martin write an essay that affords the two teens the opportunity to participate in the video game adventure. They win the contest, which allows them to go inside a video game prototype.

Martin is far more immature than Charlie is. Although he is high school, his raging hormones seem to have him at the pigtail pulling stage of maturity when it comes to girls.

Sharon is the third contest winner. Sharon is a mature young woman, who is a bit of a loner. Sharon is forced into maturity by her mostly absent but abusive alcoholic mother. Although she is proud of being a woman and wants to be treated as an equal, she is a fan of the concept of chivalry.

All this talk about knights and honor made me [Charlie] skeptical anyone could actually achieve the desired scenario. ‘So you just have to fight and defend the honor of—‘

"’Chivalry was key back then," Sharon cut in. She stabbed the table with her forefinger. ‘Many of the old legends talked about guys rescuing a damsel in distress or being in service to their lord or they had to become a protector of their realm, and it's just so corny.’ She laughed. ‘I'm pretty good at taking care of myself, thanks, but I can relate to the concept...sort of like you did with him.’ She jerked her finger at Martin who blushed and looked away.

“The word chivalry sounded too old-fashioned. In my mind, you stuck up for someone because you wanted to and not because some code said you had to.”

When Charlie chooses a powerful male avatar, Edward the Invincible, he is expecting a fun experience leading a charge against the evil king. But when he wakes up inside the game, he finds himself trapped in the body of a female Amazon warrior’s body, Angella of Avernon.

Angella is a powerful warrior, but she is a woman, which makes things uncomfortable for Charlie, who is trapped in her body, as well as the other players. It seems the discomfort is even more intense for Martin. Charlie doesn’t know how to behave or think, and Sharon becomes his mentor, which annoys Martin.

This book takes an innovative look at gender roles, the concept of nature vs. nurture as well as same sex attractions. The relationship between Sharon and Charlie is sweet. Both characters understand that they are attracted to each other as people, but the idea of them both being female is new and confusing. 

This is not a typical romance. As a matter of fact, the romance is a subplot of the story.  This is a twisted adventure where the young characters are forced to go outside their comfort zones, face deadly obstacles and prejudices and try to survive in the process.

Frankel does a good job challenging his characters and, in turn, the readers. However there are some challenges with this book.

First, readers do have to suspend their knowledge of science and technology to accept the premise of the book. The characters shrug off their doubts about being trapped in the video game by blaming things on the computer, but the technological explanation given is a bit weak. Second, the message Frankel is imparting is important, but there are few points in the book that seem a bit heavy handed for a YA book, even though the words are being said by a teenager.

Frankel does a good job pushing the characters towards growth through the journey though. There are very realistic components in this book, and overall, this Frankel handles a complex topic with finesse. The action in the book is well written and will keep readers on the edge of their seat. The ending of the book is wonderful. Frankel chose to stay true to the plot throughout the story and the ending is no exception. This book is a great addition to a YA library.

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