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Sunday, February 24, 2013

Review: Siege by Sarah Mussi

If I don't shout maybe I can save myself, save the rest of us. But I don't know how I can just look on and watch a murder. Can you do that? Can you look on and do nothing? It feels like I ought to do something. It feels like all of this was because we all just stood by and did nothing, in the before time, in the time when we had every flipping day to sort out all the Connors and all the Jases and all the Lucases ever born.

SIEGE by Sarah Mussi
Get It | Add It
400 pages
Expected publication: March 7th 2013 by Hodder Children's Books
Leah Jackson - in detention. Then armed Year 9s burst in, shooting. She escapes, just. But the new Lock Down system for keeping intruders out is now locking everyone in. She takes to the ceilings and air vents with another student, Anton, and manages to use her mobile to call out to the world.

First: survive the gang - the so-called 'Eternal Knights'.
Second: rescue other kids taken hostage, and one urgently needing medical help.

Outside, parents gather, the army want intelligence, television cameras roll, psychologists give opinions, sociologists rationalize, doctors advise - and they all want a piece of Leah. Soon her phone battery is running out; the SAS want her to reconnoiter the hostage area ... But she is guarding a terrifying conviction. Her brother, Connor, is at the center of this horror. Is he with the Eternal Knights or just a pawn?

She remembers. All those times Connor reached out for help ... If she'd listened, voiced her fears about him earlier, would things be different now? Should she give up her brother?

With only Anton for company, surviving by wits alone, Leah wrestles with the terrible choices ...

I went into this with some trepidation, because I think we'd all agree, this is a tricky subject to take on. To make this powerful and meaningful, to show the horror of the situation, but also any hope - slim hope, slim humanity - to avoid sensationalism and finger-pointing...it all just seemed like too much to ask.  And briefly in the beginning, I was worried that it was going to be too much to ask. But Mussi somehow pulls it off, despite all of the times it could have gone wrong. Siege is powerful and effecting and so very, very horrific, but I never felt like Mussi was just going for shock-value or trying to fulfill a quota on bleak atrocities.

But my god, her success with Siege makes this a hard review to write. When I finished the book - in the middle of the night, mind you - I wanted nothing more than to just get up and record a vlog for you guys, a sort of impressions video, 1/2 review, 1/2 discussion. Because frankly, I needed to talk it out. But as it was the middle of the night, and as I was essentially a shattered mess, that didn't seem like the best idea.  But now I'm stuck wondering how do I write about this? How do I discuss this without being raw, and without giving too much away?

What makes this book work so well is Leah Jackson, the smarter-and-braver-than-she-could-have-ever-realized main character.  The way the story is filtered through her experiences - who she  is, her need to help and fix and save and live - and her fear that her brother may somehow be involved, is what makes the story so powerful. Mussi evolves Leah's character very well throughout the story, from the beginning panic and confusion, through her disgust and her questioning and examining, and all of her realizations and revelations; Leah grows tremendously in a very condensed time frame, and the reader is led along at break-neck speed, thinking the same thoughts Leah does at the same time she thinks them.  Leah's adrenaline practically drips off the page. This is a visceral read; it gets you in the guts. My heart pounded - literally pounded - reading this. That just doesn't happen to me. I get butterflies when something is really good, yes, but heart-pounding, physical, nervous anxiety is a rare one for me. And of course the way I felt completely gutted in the end... there was that. All of this happens through Leah and her somewhat stream of consciousness narration, and it makes for a really compelling read.

But this is part of what will make it a very difficult book for some people to read. There is no break from Leah's voice, and she is in the thick of things right from the start. There are no little side jaunts with other characters, no forays into the outside world for reactions - nothing to give the reader a break from the relentless anxiety and stress that Leah is under, both physically and mentally. Leah witnesses a lot of things no one should have to witness, and is forced to contemplate things or act on things that no one should have to face. I wouldn't call Siege gratuitous, necessarily, and I don't think Mussi descended into sensationalism and useless violence, but she doesn't flinch away from the true horrors of a situation like this. But I think everything is done with an eye to being honest to the story and the situation, and (more importantly) to the whole of the situation, all of the little things that lead to something like this. Most readers will know within pages - if not even before they start the book - whether Siege is the right type of read for them, but for those that can handle it, I think they'll find it a really compelling read with a lot of fascinating gray area to explore. And I think they'll find it surprisingly - perhaps uncomfortably - relatable.

I will say, I was really, really leery of the use of government presence in this. There came a point early on where I started to have suspicions, and as I was slowly proven right, I kept asking myself whether this weakened the story or strengthened it. I don't want to give anything away, but there's an element of the Grand Government Conspiracy here, and I'm still not sure how I feel about it. On the one hand, it (sadly, scarily) is believable for the world that has been set up. Even more sad and scary, is that there are definitely people who believe these Grand Government Conspiracies are happening here and now in relation to shootings. Seriously. Google "Sandy Hook conspiracy theories" and you'll see what I mean.  So even though this particular instance is believable and works for the story, and even though it sort of parallels the way people search to impose meaning on senseless acts, I could never really decide if I felt it was a necessary element, and whether it added or detracted from the central issues of the story. It worked in the end, and maybe even won me over; I think Mussi certainly handled it better than many would. But I think there are readers who are going to find it one thing too much in a book that already begins as a struggle for some to read.

The only other thing I want to touch on - and that, only briefly - is the ending. I really can't say much because I don't want to give a single itty, bitty thing away, but I think some readers will be very bothered by at least one aspect of the ending - and really, there are a few to choose from. Personally, I was not bothered, and it's one of the things that had me sitting up late into the night, talking myself down from the book, and thinking that it would make for a really intriguing group or book club read. In some respects, I think things happened in the only way they really could, but at the same time, the end leaves so much to talk about and think over, and - if you're brave enough - feel, and after all the stress and tension of the book, these last few twists of the knife might be a bit too much for some readers. Personally, I think feeling it is good; being bothered by it is good. This is a book to be discussed, not reviewed.

[And I'm going to be completely honest with you and tell you that, not only did I have a really good cry when I finished (an interesting book-cry, not just sad, but sort of drained and hollowed out), but I also teared up a few times writing this review, as it all came back to me. It's not just the things that happen in the book, but the way Mussi makes you feel, and the way a story like this - at least for me, an American woman who hears about these things far too often, and who for a long time intended to be a teacher - really hits home.]


  1. So until I saw your Goodreads status updates, I’d never heard of this book before. But WOW, does it sound intense! Tackling that subject in a novel definitely takes guts, and it has massive potential to crash and burn if done wrong. I can only imagine what it was like reading this. Thanks so much for bringing this to my attention, Misty!

  2. I will honestly say that you are the only blogger I've ever followed, read, or come across that does not flinch from any subject matter. Not that I've seen. This book sends me running the other way. Maybe because I have kids in school and it scares the shit out of me. Maybe because I grill them every day about what to do if they hear about a gun at school and it's happened at the high school my son attends. Maybe because we live in the South and a relatively country area where hunting is a regular passtime and most kids have guns. But I won't be reading this novel.
    Maybe I should, but I think I'd be homeschooling from now on and I'd never let them go to college.

    I'm sure this book was written and ready to go long before Sandy Hook took place but it's eerie that the conspiracy theory is in there like I've read about and this is such an on topic book. I wonder what a school teacher's reaction to the book would be? I know a few, I'll suggest it to them. I'll send them to your review which is excellent. I can feel your need to release but you've held back very well. Great job! And I just have to say I think you're brave for reading this one.


  3. Hmm, is there a subject matter I'd flinch from? I'm not sure there is, though it certainly depends on how any particular subject is handled.

    Honestly, Heather, I'm not sure whether you should read this. On the one hand, the way the story evolves, and the strong undercurrent of compassion that Mussi somehow (how?!) manages to inject at the end really makes it worth it. But to get to that, you have to wade through a lot of horror first, and if you have kids this age...yeah, I don't think you could possibly react well to this. I had trouble, and I was pretty open going in.

    The author is from the UK, so I doubt she even knows about the Sandy Hook conspiracies (though the actual shooting I'm sure made the news in the UK, as it was so devastating); but yes, it was really troubling, and made the conspiracy in the book more...relevant, I guess? I don't know, it was strange. It sort of played off a lot of Big Government fears and shady business practices, etc., and kind of rolled them all into one bonanza of human atrocity.


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