Michelle Herbert reviews 13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough…
13 Minutes, the new novel by Sarah Pinborough, will probably be classed as a YA novel, due to the fact that the main protagonists are teenagers. Although that doesn’t mean that the contents of the novel are childish, instead I would say this is a book for mature readers, whether that means teens or adults that really depends on what you enjoy reading. 13 Minutes doesn’t fit squarely into a genre which I believe is a good thing, it is a mix of psychological thriller with touches of horror.
The main plot revolves around Natasha (Tasha), a girl that dies for the titular 13 Minutes, and hinges on whether she fell into an icy river by accident or whether it was attempted murder! While Tasha is recovering in hospital and not yet awake we meet the rest of the main cast of characters, her best friends, and fellow Barbies; Hayley and Jenny who from the start of the novel are acting suspiciously. The other main character is Rebecca (Becca) who in comparison with these popular girls, is a bit of an outsider, who used to be best friends with Hayley and Tasha, before being dropped by them years ago.
From this point on, we are drawn into the story via Tasha and Becca’s perspectives, with the story being rounded out by police reports, conversations with psychiatrists, local news stories and a lot of text messages. This keeps the story moving at a fast pace, but leads us into different lines of thinking as each piece of information is revealed. Tasha and Becca used to play chess against each other and this is referenced throughout the story, especially with the use of chess players always playing three moves ahead. As the book flows this can be seen in how characters view those around them as pieces on a chess board. There is also the duality of the events of the book with the play The Crucible, which the Barbies are auditioning for and Becca is designing the set for.
Just because the book revolves around teenage girls, this doesn’t mean that the main characters come off as nice, they all have their dark sides and issues, which are highlighted throughout the story. There are numerous examples of how hard it is to be a teenager; there is a lot of jealousy flaring between friends (old and new), paranoia and trust issues, as well as subtle manipulations that get more elaborate as the book continues. As the reader we are also constantly aware that everything you say and do could go viral in seconds with current technology, indiscriminate teenagers always looking for the next hit within a limited environment such a high school.
Although the adults in this book are minor characters, I felt that they were written realistically in view of the fact that we only see them from the girls perspective. All of the characters are distinctive and help to give us an overview of what these girls lives are like. As sixteen year olds, they are on the cusp of still being viewed as children, but also having unimaginable freedom and acting like they are far older than they are.
13 Minutes is fast paced, and the revelations that happen along the way are perfectly placed, from the changing of Becca’s opinion of Tasha as their lives start to entwine to the realisation that your reality has started to be shaped by the lies that you would prefer not to notice. 13 Minutes is set over three parts which get darker as we get to know more about the characters. There is also the almost imperceptible feeling that the characters are living in a horror story, at any minute the board could be reset and the monster hiding in plain sight, could set their gaze upon you.
Sarah Pinborough has written a smart, intelligent book, that grips you from start to finish and makes me very glad to be well out of my teenage years. What could be a simple mystery, occasionally turns into a sinister thriller where you are left wondering who the real victims are and who will be left standing triumphantly at the end. Although not comparing 13 Minutes with Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, if you enjoyed that novel I believe you will find yourself hooked on 13 Minutes.