Trapped, written by Michael Northrop, 232pp, RL: MIDDLE GRADE


When Trapped by Michael Northrop hit the shelves in in February of this year it caught my attention enough for me to read the flap, but I did not think it was a book I would get around to reading. Then, at the end of June as a heat wave was bearing down on me I heard children's and YA author Julianna Baggot on NPR talking about YA Books for Readers of All Ages. All five books on her list sounded great, but Trapped was the first one I got my hands on, and just in time. There is nothing like reading about the effects of a freezing snow storm in the middle of a heat wave! On top of that, Northrop tells a suspenseful, gripping story, one that will have you plowing through the pages. If you aren't too caught up in the fate of the characters, you will even have the chance to sit back and take note of Northrop's skill as a writer and storyteller. 

Narrated by sophomore Scotty Weems, Trapped is the tale of seven students stuck inside their high school during an blizzard. Not just any blizzard, though, this is the "mother of all blizzards." As Baggott so perfectly says of the novel, "Michael Northrop's tension in Trapped builds the way the snow does, accumulating in drifts, blocking window, casting the story into darkness. The novel buries you." Every step of the way, Northrop's plot developments seem perfectly rational and reasonable and, especially, believable. While I have never been trapped in a freezing cold building without electricity and I have not been a teenager in a couple of decades, there was never a moment in Trapped when I paused because the action or dialog stood out as being unrealistic or invented just to move the story along. Trapped is seamless.

My husband read the Trapped in one sitting and said he thought that the kids in the book were pretty similar to the kids in the great John Hughes movie from our high school years, The Breakfast Club. And, while there is a jock, an emo/goth kid and a kid with a bad boy reputation, I think the similarities end there, which is what makes this book all the more interesting. Narrator Scotty Weems is a good athlete but not interested in translating his talents on the court to other aspects of life in high school. He just wants to play well and get a starting position. His best friends Pete and Jason are pretty normal guys, too, although Jason has an almost disturbing interest in firearms. Bad boy Les and presumed goth kid Elijah are stereotyped and revealed are well, all through Scotty's observations. Northrop gets into the head of a fifteen year old boy with ease. Scotty's voice is pitch perfect and his observations of human nature are somewhat unexpected but very welcome in the cold emptiness of the setting. Over the course of the story we are privy to his romantic thoughts (although in no greater detail than an appreciation of the back of her neck) about Krista, a freshman and one of two girls waiting out the storm at the school. We are also in on Scotty's thoughts about cell phones and video games, sports, friends and the other things that occupy the mind of a teenager when he is unoccupied. Sometimes these monologues seem to go on a bit too long between action scenes, but this serves to set the tone (they are trapped with almost nothing to do and frightening thoughts they are trying not to think) and add to the tension of the story. These kids are experiencing some incredibly boring, long hours as they wait inside the dark, cold high school wondering if anyone even knows they are there.

It is definitely thrilling to see the story unfold, the one day drama turn into four and five and more, and it is especially exciting to see how the kids use the school, from the cafeteria to the wood shop to the bathrooms and textbooks, to survive. Northrop balances this well with the social interactions of this somewhat disparate group. How they make decisions, how they choose to act as a group or individuals and how (or if) they look to one another for leadership is subtle but fascinating as viewed from Scotty's perspective. Although this book is classified for young adults, I think that it would be acceptable for a mature middle school aged child to read. There are no obscenities and minimal violence. The only potentially objectionable occurrence I could find in the book is a scene where Julie and Pete leave the group and it is presumed that they hook up. Nothing is said by any of the characters about this and any off the page action is left for the reader to interpret. Otherwise, I think that Trapped is a very entertaining read that is also thoughtful and deliciously suspenseful. And rare. There are so few books of this nature on the shelves for young readers and teens that Trapped is a breath of fresh, very cold air.

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