White Rabbit Red Wolf by Tom Pollock

The Blurb On The Back:

Seventeen-year-old Peter Blankman is a maths prodigy.  He also suffers from severe panic attacks. Afraid of everything, he finds solace in the orderly and logical world of mathematics and in the love of his family: his scientist mum and his tough twin sister Bel, as Ingrid, his only friend. However, when his mother is found stabbed before an award ceremony and his sister is nowhere to be found, Peter is dragged into a world of espionage and violence where state and family secrets intertwine.  Armed only with his extraordinary analytical skills, Peter may just discover that his biggest weakness is his greatest strength. 

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

17-year-old Peter Blankman is a maths prodigy who’s also crippled by panic attacks and binge eating caused by an irrational and inexplicable fear of everything.  The only people who understand him are his mother (a neuroscientist whose top secret research is about to earn her an award from the Prime Minister), his twin sister Bel (who has all the courage and self-confidence that he lacks) and Ingrid (Peter’s best friend at school who shares his love of mathematics and cyphers).

When Peter’s mother is stabbed just before her award ceremony at the Natural History Museum, he is taken into protective custody by the secret organisation his mum has been working for but Bel has disappeared. As the organisation searches for his sister, Peter learns about the father who walked out on them when he and Bel were young but it’s only when he begins to make discoveries about his mother’s work that he realises the only way to deal with his fear is to use it …

Tom Pollock’s YA thriller (released in the US as THIS STORY IS A LIE) is a twisting, fascinating affair that incorporates both espionage and speculative elements and a serious and sympathetic look at what it’s like to have a mental health issue to great and moving effect while conveying a love for the complexities of mathematics but, for me, there was one twist too many in the final quarter and the open ending left me a little frustrated.

Peter is a great character and I really loved the narrative voice that Pollock gives him.  He’s funny, smart, lonely and has a wry take on his panic attacks and anxiety that doesn’t diminish how serious it is (indeed, the book opens with the shocking reality of what his fear can drive him to do).  What really shines through though is his love of mathematics (the reason for which is revealed as the story continues and which really helps to understand his character further).  I thoroughly enjoyed his relationship with Bel (8 minutes older than him and happy to keep letting him know that) who has all the daring and confidence that he lacks and who acts as his protector from the school bullies (led by the awful Ben Rigby).  Also good is his relationship with Ingrid, a fellow maths geek with mental health issues of her own and Pollock is particularly good at weaving their backstories together in a way that I won’t spoil but is really damn clever.

It’s only as the story goes on that a speculative theme emerges that again, I don’t want to spoil but which ties in with the espionage plot line.  I really enjoyed the way Pollock achieved this – it’s seamless and completely convincing in the way it meshes plot and character together and there’s a lot of joy to be had in the aha reveal moments (made better by his clever use of flashbacks to establish backstory).

My only real issue with the book comes in the final quarter when a couple of the twists venture just a little too close to M Night Shyamalan territory for me coupled with an open ending that was too open for me (although I don’t doubt that a lot of readers will love it).  However, none of this detracted from my enjoyment of the first three quarters, which is a smart, twisting rollercoaster of a ride.

Pollock is one of the smartest, most imaginative writers working in the YA field right now and I very much hope that this gets him the attention he deserves.  I will certainly be first in line to buy what he writes next.

WHITE RABBIT RED WOLF was released in the United Kingdom on 3rd May 2018.  Thanks to Walker Books for the review copy of this book.

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