1. Never trust anyone.
2. Remember they are always searching.
3. Don’t get involved.
4. Keep your head down.
5. Don’t fall in love.
Those are the rules Ariane Tucker lives by, the rules that keep her safe and out of sight. For Ariane…is not human.
She looks human, albeit with the aid of colored contacts and lowlights in her hair. She acts human, thanks to intense study, careful routines, and the above rules. She has a human name, borrowed from a girl who died years ago. She even has a human father…the man who helped rescue her from the laboratory when she was younger, who’s sheltered her ever since, right under her enemy’s noses. No one knows that her bones are fragile, that she can read minds, that she possesses immense telekinetic powers that refuse to manifest themselves.
She looks human, but she’s really an alien-human hybrid, grown in the labs of GenTex, and they want her back at all costs. All she has to do is graduate high school, and then she can finally, plausibly, leave town and never look back, head to a big city and blend in there instead. It’s a faint hope, a lifeline to which she clings as she goes about her everyday nondescript existence.
Unfortunately, those plans mean nothing when she accidentally catches the attention of Rachel Jacobs, high school queen bee, and her clique of mean girls. Now Ariane has to protect her best friend from their malicious intents, deflect their scrutiny, and still keep off GenTex’s radar. But then the handsome Zane Bradshaw takes an interest in her. Ostensibly as part of Rachel’s latest revenge scheme, but he quickly subverts that plan by telling Ariane. They engage in a fake relationship that soon becomes something more genuine. Of course, the closer Zane gets to Ariane, the closer he also gets to uncovering her secret life….
With GenTex closing in on her, Rachel’s minions determined to make her life hell, and Zane an increasingly welcome distraction, will Ariane be ready when everything comes to a head? All her rules can’t prepare her for the truth, or the inevitable confrontation with her worst nightmares.
The Rules, the first in Kade’s new Project Paper Doll series, is a skillful blend of teen drama and science fiction. Mean Girls meets the X-Files, if you will. Ariane and Zane’s alternating viewpoints allow the story to spin out from two different angles, as we watch the half-alien girl struggle to blend in, while the keen-eyed human guy unravels the minor inconsistencies and oddities in her persona. Done improperly, this could be clumsy, even discordant, but Kade has a good handle on balancing the disparate elements. There’s just the right blend of drama, romance, paranoia and action, to keep things moving at a slow but steady pace.
So is this a romantic comedy with a paranormal twist? One could argue as much, given that Kade plays with the usual trappings of teen hijinks: the mean girls, the hidden agenda, the fake relationship that blossoms into something real, the underdog who comes into her own. Or is this a science fiction story that just happens to be wearing slice-of-life clothing, given that we’re dealing with alien hybrids, secret experiments, conspiracy theories, and superhuman abilities? It’s one of those puzzles where the answer changes as you tilt your head.
The chemistry between Zane and Ariane, the slow creation of comfort zones, the exchange of quips and the pushing of individual boundaries, these are the things which really sell the relationship to me. I’ve seen a lot of YA paranormals where the relationship seems to happen at the expense of character development or common sense, and it’s left me a little gunshy. However, it works under these circumstances. There’s one sequence, where the two are quietly joking with each other after visiting a carnival, and it segues into a discussion of Star Wars and the portrayal of aliens in popular culture. Knowing what we do about Ariane, knowing that Zane remains ignorant, it’s a discussion laced with deeper meaning and poignancy, where she’s subconsciously reaching without revealing her true nature.
Of course it’s not all sunshine and roses. Rachel Jacobs, the spoiled rich girl with the axe to grind is a constant threat in the background. She’s pretty much the stereotypical teenage antagonist, the one who does horrible things because she’s bored or spiteful or just because it’s in her nature, and she doesn’t exactly get much in the way of development until near the end. But she serves her purpose, which is to put an uncomfortable amount of pressure on the normally innocuous, overlooked, Ariane, even though on some levels she’s totally out of her depth. You almost have to feel sorry for her, positioned as the villain when the protagonist is coming from an entirely different sort of story.
And of course there comes a time when secrets are exposed, agendas revealed, and powers unleashed. Kade handles that aspect of the story quite well, with a mixture of dread and anticipation, possibly borrowing just a little from classic Stephen King in the process.
Romantic yet suspenseful, slow-paced without being tedious, The Rules is an excellent example of how to mix genres without sacrificing either’s unique qualities. This is one series I’ll definitely be eager to continue reading when the next installment comes out.
The Rules is published by Disney-Hyperion. It is available April 23.
Michael M. Jones is a writer, editor, and book reviewer. He lives in Roanoke, VA, with a pride of cats, way too many books, and a wife who occasionally steals whatever he’s reading. He is the editor of the recently-released anthology, Scheherazade’s Façade. For more information, visit him and an ever-growing archive of reviews at Schrodinger’s Bookshelf.