The Story: Tracked, the debut novel from Jenny Martin, centers on Phee Van Zant, a street rat who has one driving (pun intended) passion in life – street racing. Alongside Bear, her long-time crew mate, Phee engages in illegal races, but one stunt lands her in the arms of the legal system of her planet of Castra. Rather than be carted off to prison, she’s offered a means of escape through the overseeing corporate baron on Castra. The catch is that she must race under his name, change her identity, and rake in cash for his empire. Seeing no other alternative, Phee agrees. Doing so places her right in the middle of the world she has grown to hate yet there are powers working behind the scenes to make it crumble.
My Take: I think this was a case where the book’s back blurb appealed to me more than the actual story. That’s not to say Tracked is all bad – it is, by nature, a (sometimes) fun; fast; and very, very light sci-fi romp, but it’s clearly designed with a younger audience in mind (and that’s a bit iffy considering some of the content).
I initially enjoyed this novel as a light, fluffy read for about the first 30% of the story. Granted, the actual racing scenes are few and far between but the premise, at least early on, sounded promising. However, the more I read, the more my interest level decreased and my irritation increased as three major issues emerged that became massive speed bumps for me. In all honesty, this was more like 1 1/2 stars (on Goodreads) when all was said and done.
and more in common with this franchise.
Hence, my first issue was that Tracked was akin to a Hunger Games redux if Katniss Everdeen was a street racer, President Snow was an evil business mogul, and Panem was a planet. Right from the start, the Hunger Games comparisons here are hard to ignore. Just for reference, some of them include:
– A lead female character who is forced to participate in a “game” essentially against her will;
– The lead female’s family will become targets if said lead female doesn’t comply with the powers that be;
– The powers that be are tyrants and control and manipulate their world, leaving the populace in despair and poverty;
– The lead female character is the center of a love triangle involving a level-headed boy and a “bad boy;”
– The lead female character is molded to present a certain image to the public, outfitted by stylists and told what to say to the cameras, even though that image doesn’t reflect her as a person at times;
– The lead female character is a bit of a misfit, which endears her to the public;
– The lead female character’s symbolic image is that of being on fire (I was actually waiting for Phee to be called a “girl on fire” at one point) as well as birds (mockingjay for Katniss, phoenix for Phee);
– Rebels from within work to take down their government;
– The implementation of the “bread and circuses” concept (i.e. panem et circenses); and
– The city where most of this novel’s action takes place is called Capitoline, for Pete’s sake!
I’m sure there are others, but these were the ones that kept glaring at me from the page. Granted, some are traits common to dystopian fiction from which Tracked does borrow, but others toe the line too closely to some of the ideas and images presented in The Hunger Games. It’s not so much that I would say this novel is a rip-off but the comparisons are hard to overlook. Adding an homage or two is fine and authors do it all of the time, but Tracked is like a Hunger Games wannabe and it started to get on my nerves because it wasn’t even a very good wannabe.
My second issue with this novel was the love triangle. Why oh why must it seem like nearly every YA novel that comes out these days has to contain a love triangle? Granted, love triangles can be a good way to add dramatic conflict but they only work if they’re actually developed, not merely stuck inside the plot like a dart in a dartboard. Going back to The Hunger Games, yes, there is a love triangle involving the three leads (Katniss, Peeta, and Gale), but each of them received equal page time and I got to understand them as people.
In contrast, the male leads in Tracked, Cash and Bear, are tropes and are what Peeta and Gale would be if you sifted them down to their basic parts: Cash is a kind, genteel boy (basically a less talented and whiny version of Peeta) and Bear is an angry, brooding boy who likes to hit things (basically a more temper tantrum-happy Gale). While Peeta and Gale are memorable, Cash and Bear are not. Because of this, the love triangle among Phee, Cash, and Bear seems contrived with nothing new added to the dynamic to make it stand out. In short, I felt it took away from the story rather than add to it.
My last issue with Tracked is that one of its biggest twists comes out of nowhere with seemingly no lead-in from previous chapters. For me, a good twist needs to be set up along the way by dropping little hints, not inserted all of a sudden without much context. Thus, Phee gets a shock (as did I – and not in a good way) when she attends a gala and, lo and behold, spies…well, I won’t spoil it for you. But when I read that part, I had to do a double-take. It really infuriated me as it arrives out of nowhere, almost for the sake of arriving out of nowhere. Not to mention that Phee knows this person’s identity just by sight – no other evidence needed – despite the fact Phee hasn’t seen this person in years. Likewise, the entire revolution concept (in a novel that’s supposedly about illegal street racing and corporate greed) seemed out of place and thrown in almost at the last minute. Both plot points here went beyond the suspension of disbelief for me, hence my largest annoyance with this novel. It’s almost like it was trying too hard to surprise the reader, but in that effort forgot to lay out the necessary breadcrumbs to get the reader to that point.
That’s not to say Tracked is all bad. This is Martin’s first novel, so that in and of itself deserves kudos. The concept in and of itself is fun and the racing scenes (what little there are) are entertaining set pieces. Phee is a passable heroine who, to her credit, refuses to forget about her family and old friends once she enters the corporate circle, but she gets into far too many hissy fits for my liking. Not to mention she’s a poor fictional role model as all she does is argue, brood, and act like a jerk to nearly everyone. The pacing, too, is well-timed but the writing is very fluffy and makes for uber-easy reading. Other than those few positives, there really wasn’t much for me to gush over though I wish there was.
However, what surprised me most was this book’s sensuality factor. Call me old-fashioned, but it annoys me to see a YA novel, which is seemingly for ages 13 to 18, featuring teenagers making out and engaging in foreplay. For that alone, I, personally, wouldn’t give this book to a teen and I thought it was in poor taste. While I thought the intense make out scenes between Phee and Cash were beyond cheesy, their nearly-there sex scene really annoyed me. Granted, they’re interrupted, but seeing as they wake up together the next morning, I’m guessing they didn’t forget about what they wanted to do the night before. I’m sorry but I just don’t see the sense in adding this kind of content in a novel aimed for teenagers. It’s just trashy, in my opinion; adds nothing to the story; and has no place in a book that’s supposed to be about racing. Yet for some reason that gets reduced to just three short scenes.
Yep, just three scenes – and Phee ends up either wrecking or engaging in mayhem or both in all three. That doesn’t exactly cement her as a master driver, does it?
But seriously – just three scenes? In a book that’s touted as“The Fast and the Furious” gets a futuristic twist? Not to mention the cover itself has the image of a street superimposed with what is supposed to mimic a hood ornament. What about this says “teen romance”?
Language – None, in terms of recognizable words and terms, as characters use invented swear words (such as “rust” and “rusting”) that don’t bear any resemblance to known profanities.
Violence – We do see some fisticuffs, disturbances of the peace, and illegal racing, but nothing breaches the grounds of good taste. There is also reference to illegal drug use (of a fictional substance) but it’s never portrayed in a way to glamorize it.
Sexual Content – As mentioned above, Phee and Cash (both teenagers) engage multiple times in kissing, heavy petting and, at one point, get partially undressed on a bed. Though they are interrupted during that scene, they do wake up next to each other and Phee puts on Cash’s shirt, which implies that they were intimate off-page.
All in all, Tracked, much like Phee’s driving skills, was just all over the place. It sounds like a cool, action-driven sci-fi story about illegal street racing. But at it’s core, it’s just another over-dramatic teen love story with corporate evils, angst, dissenting citizens, and dystopian elements thrown into the mix. Combined with it’s less-than-subtle nods to an already well-established (and better written) YA dystopian franchise, Tracked seems like it wants to play with the big kids on the block but hasn’t quite grown into its big kid shoes.
So for readers expecting a sci-fi version of The Fast and the Furious, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. Instead, this novel focuses more on a teen love triangle that pushes the envelope in the sensuality department and tries to work in an overarching revolution plot line that doesn’t seem to take off even as a set up for the next book. All in all, Tracked will appeal most to YA romance fans who like a few action scenes thrown into their romance stories as opposed to sci-fi fans looking for an action-packed novel.