Book Review: Four-Letter Word by Christa Desir
Eight friends. One game. A dozen regrets. And a night that will ruin them all, in this high stakes gripping story of manipulation and innocence lost, from the author of Bleed Like Me.
Chloe Sanders is ready for a change. She’s tired of watching her best friend Eve turn away from her for the more interesting and popular Holly Reed, and tired of living with her grandparents while her parents volunteer overseas. Chloe spends her days crushing on a guy named Mateo, being mostly ignored by Eve and Holly, and wishing the cornfields of Iowa didn’t feel so incredibly lonely.
Then a new girl transfers to her high school—Chloe Donnelly. This Chloe is bold and arty and instantly placed on a pedestal by Eve and Holly. Now suddenly everyone is referring to Chloe Sanders as “Other Chloe” and she figures the only thing to do is go with it.
Chloe Donnelly introduces all her friends to a dangerous game: a girls vs. guys challenge that only has one rule—obtain information by any means necessary. Chloe Donnelly’s got power over everyone—secrets she’s exploiting—and she uses it to keep them all playing. When the game turns nasty, soft-spoken Mateo chooses Other Chloe to help him expose everything Chloe Donnelly has done. But neither realize just how much the truth could cost them in the end.
Playing a game that turns out to be surprisingly high-stakes, full of secrets and lies and manipulations, unsure how you even got involved and wishing you could just opt out? That’s the plot of Desir’s new book, but that’s also pretty much just a fairly apt summary of the teenage years, right?
Chicago transplant Chloe Donnelly seems so cool and sophisticated, at least to the girls in small Grinnell, Iowa. She immediately becomes the leader of Eve, Holly, and Chloe Sanders, who, much to her chagrin, immediately becomes “Other Chloe” despite being the original or “old” Chloe. Chloe Donnelly introduces them to the game Gestapo, sort of like Capture the Flag but with a word to figure out. And much higher stakes. She gets four boys to play against the four girls. The winners can ask the losers for a favor that they can’t say no to. Other Chloe, rightfully so, finds the concept of the game and the “platinum favor” to be rather terrifying. It isn’t just a fun game—it’s built all around uncovering secrets and blackmail. She sees it as ultimately a sex game. Her crush, Mateo, sees it as about secrets. But Chloe Donnelly says the game is really just a device to get what you want, to go after things you’re too afraid to try for, to uncover information you otherwise wouldn’t have. Other Chloe wants out, realizing there’s nothing fun about this game for her, and it seems like most of the other players would like to get out of the game, too. But it’s not that simple. Chloe Donnelly makes it so everyone has to keep playing. The platinum favor could mean secrets could stay hidden. But getting to that favor, finding a way to win, is far more complicated than anyone thought, especially when they start to realize they don’t actually know anything about Chloe Donnelly.
Readers who love suspense and intrigue will enjoy this story. The twists and turns the game takes makes it hard to figure out just what exactly everyone is hiding or who may be aligned with whom. It also feels impossible to know who, if anyone, to trust or believe. It’s difficult to sort out who may be manipulating someone or lying just to advance in the game. Readers don’t really get to know the large cast of characters, which makes it even more suspenseful, because so much feels hidden or in question. A unique twist on what it means to negotiate friendship, dating, sex, and high school.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication date: 05/15/2018
Filed under: Book Reviews
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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