by Vicki Grant
Publisher: Penguin Teen
Publication Date: June 15, 2021
Genres: Young Adult
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
The perfect after-school job turns deadly for teens working as simulated patients at the local med school. Everyone has something to hide and no one is safe in this contemporary YA thriller that exposes the dark reality of #MeToo in the world of medicine, for fans of Karen McManus and Holly Jackson.
It seemed like a cool part-time program -- being a simulated patient for med school students to practice on. But now vivacious, charismatic Viv lies in a very real coma. Cellphone footage just leads to more questions. What really happened? Other kids suspect it was not an intentional overdose -- but each has a reason why they can't tell the truth.
Through intertwining and conflicting narratives, a twisted story unfolds of trust betrayed as we sift through the seemingly innocent events leading up to the tragic night. Perhaps simulated patients aren't the only people pretending to be something they're not . . .
Content warnings: View Spoiler »grooming, sexual assault (MC is drugged and raped), diet talk and eating disorder talk (a character plays a patient who has bulimia), underage drinking, alcoholism, suspected drug overdose, vomiting, suicide, contentious parental divorce, ableism, social anxiety, panic attacks « Hide Spoiler
The idea of simulated patients in the blurb completely intrigued me, so of course I picked up this book. Even if you’re not the type to usually read content warnings, I’d note that the blurb mentions the #MeTwo movement for a reason. There’s also lots of talk about other possible content warnings due to the simulated patient program.
Viv, Davida and Tim are all part of a “simulated patients” program at a local medical school. Basically, they’re given dossiers and made up to look like they’re suffering from various illnesses and injuries, and then the medical students have to diagnose them. Viv is beautiful and popular, and while she vaguely remembers Davida from summer camp a few years ago, she’s surprised to realize they go to the same school. Davida describes herself as extremely shy (felt more like social anxiety to me) and basically has no friends, so she’s thrilled that Viv is paying attention to her, and even more thrilled when she introduces her to Tim, who obviously has a huge crush on Davida. Things are going great, in fact, until Viv supposedly overdoses and ends up in a coma. Videos from the party show her taking a pill, but Davida is left reeling from that and another possible betrayal. Were Viv and Tim lying to her the whole time? Who gave Viv the pill?
“I just want to forget about the whole thing. Go back to my boring old life. Before Tim, before Viv, even before happiness. I was better off when I didn’t know what I was missing.”
The book shifts POVs frequently between Viv, Davida and Tim, Davida’s sort-of boyfriend. Viv’s sections occur before the party and are told in third person, while Davida’s and Tim’s are in first person and set after the party. It’s all over the course of about six weeks. Some sections are interspersed with police interviews, usually a rehashing of the sections that just occurred. Viv and Davida are the most prominent, and both women have issues aplenty. While Davida’s is more obvious – her “shyness” – Viv’s perfect life is not what it seems. Stuck between two feuding parents, Viv’s only way to get through the day is alcohol. The cycle she was stuck in was absolutely heartbreaking, where she’d swear to never drink until a new thing happened with her mother, father or soon-to-be stepmom and she’d be reaching for the bottle again. To be honest, I didn’t like Tim at all and thought his POV was more distracting than anything. I know he was supposed to be super weird and everything, but I found his motives confusing and honestly pretty cringeworthy.
Besides Tim, I liked how well-fleshed out all the characters were, from the main characters to Viv’s boyfriend Jack and even Stu, the taxi driver. The simulated patient program, from the medical makeup to the patient bios, was fascinating, and one of my favorite parts was reading the mini bios and how Viv was supposed to act. I also liked the frequent POV switches, as I thought it was an interesting way to get multiple points of view (some more reliable than others), though it was confusing at first. While it initially seemed like the book would be about Davida investigating what happened with Viv, it actually focused more on Viv and the events leading up to the party. Within a few chapters, however, I’d pretty much pegged the direction the storyline was going in and the big twist, so for me the book was more watching a train wreck happen than truly wondering what was going on. What really disappointed me, though, was that after pages and pages of getting me to care about Viv, the book felt like it ended abruptly with many plot lines still unresolved. I thought it could’ve used at least another chapter to wrap up those pieces.
Overall, while I enjoyed this book, it wasn’t exactly what I was expecting and the ending left me unsatisfied.