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Book Review

Nose Jobs, Hair Dye, and Other Ways to Fake your Death, by Natalie Tay


The story opens when a young woman arrives at a high school run by the DOD known as the Castle. A few pages in, we learn she had recently escaped a kidnapping and a near-death experience followed by a long stay at a hospital where she recuperated from gunshot wounds and makeover surgery. The latter's purpose was to support a story that the woman who was kidnapped – Jennie – died, and the woman arriving at the Castle is Kat. In reality, they are the same person, and Jennie's fake death is Kat's secret.

An intriguing start: Who tried to kill her? Why did she fake her death? Thinking Red Sparrow, I was hooked.

Kat's voice and character are crafted with skill. However, to get to Kat, you have to get past Jennie. That's where plausibility comes into play, and the story begins to unravel.

Kat takes Jennie's place at the boarding school, down to the same roommate, and fools everyone, including the ex-FBI agents and Mossad operatives among the faculty. None of them notices Kat and Jennie share the same height, weight, build, and voice. Purple hair, a nose job, and a change of eye color are all she needed.

The physical transformation continues. We are told Jennie had never been more than average in Combat classes, yet, as Kat, she takes out the school champ on the first day. The personality switch is equally implausible. Jennie is presented as girlie-girl, Kat, a tom-boy. We are supposed to believe this metamorphosis happens over a few short weeks.

I don't read chick-lit, but the gaggle of teenage girls squealing about boys, first dates, and high school dances makes me believe that genre inspired some of Fake your Death. A word search for “giggle” would produce a long list. On the other hand, the story has the potential for thriller-like jeopardy and high stakes. Unfortunately, the endless string of snarky remarks undermines the tension, turning the story into a teen-girl version of Maxwell Smart.

The antagonist is brought into the story too late to be compelling. It starts as a series of countless dreams, then becomes a white supremacy group called the Helix. When it's too late to matter, the villain is personified as one of the FBI agents who Kat interns with. With more than enough real evil in the world, inventing a nonexistent one requires contortions of the reader.

Tay Natalie is a talented author and would benefit from a sharper focus on her target audience. Trying to write both chick-lit and a thriller does not work. If Fake your Death were rewritten as one or the other, it very well could.

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