Ride or Die (by James Newman)

Amelia is a perfect daughter. She is all those things you coveted in high school. Her grades are top notch, and she belongs to all the right clubs. Her family lives in that perfect home, and her parents have respectable jobs. Amelia is so perfect that your parents probably covet her parents positions in life, and she is almost certainly the child your own parents would choose over you.

Amelia’s friends are not eclipsed by her achievements either. Cassie is an artist of some skill. She wants to turn professional when she leaves high school, and everyone thinks its a certainty that will happen, and Folline is a red-haired bombshell that wants to be the next Temperance Brennan.

So, why do the three steal Amelia’s father’s prized classic car one night? What do they load it up with a bag of weapons, and drive under cover of darkness to a neighbouring town?

And why is the next morning filled with blood and bodies?

James Newman’s Ride or Die is a novella that rips along at an impressive pace. The first half especially manages to develop three teenage characters that have a surprising amount of depth to them, while still keeping the superficiality that epitomises such characters. They have all the petty concerns you would associate with teenagers, but they also manage to challenge each other on those superficialities. Conversations between them may seem a tiny bit forced here and there. I sometimes had the impression the author was presenting his own commentary rather than the characters themselves, but I never felt it overshadowed the characters enough for it to pull me out of the story. Indeed, this may have actually just been my imagination, and other readers’ mileage may vary on this point.

The first half of the book ran unhindered by any major issues I could see. It’s a page turner in fact. Usually I am a slow reader and it would take me a few sittings to get through even a book as relatively short as this one, but with Ride or Die I found I was halfway through without even realising it.

Now, I don’t wish to imply that things fall apart in the second half, far, far from it. But I was struck by a certain glibness from the characters when the story turns a corner and the real action begins. I feel I have to be careful here, and I hope you’ll understand that I do not want to spoil this tale for you so I’ll be brief. When the horror of their situation hits the three friends lose a little of their grounding to me. They become a little less real, and I began to see them more as horror heroines rather than real people.

This was due, I think, to their glib responses to a situation that would turn most adults, much less children, into gibbering wrecks. Some suspension of disbelief is perfectly acceptable and necessary of course, this is a horror novel after all, but I felt the attitude from the friends in the second half of Ride or Die lessened the impact of their situation for me, and this – in turn – made the ending more predictable and less affecting to me as a reader.

I also felt the ending itself overstayed its welcome. With multiple statements presented to tie up all the loose ends to the story, many of which I could have done without knowing.

Once the monster is dead, or the monster kills the hero, the story is over, and I think it’s best to wrap things up as quickly and neatly as possible so the audience ends on a high.

This all being said, James Newman’s Ride or Die is a great read, and many of the little niggles I felt during reading it will probably not be a concern for most readers. In fact you will probably disagree with me entirely. It’s a fast read, and short, so even if you think there may be some merit in my criticism you should certainly go and read the book yourself. Based on this book I would certainly like to read more from the author, and I will probably even read Ride or Die again at some point, and if I do, I think I may even disagree with myself after a second reading.

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