A Crooked Mark

Penguin/Razorbill. Jun. 2023. 368p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780593527573.
Gr 9 Up–When teenager Matthew Watts and his dad set Mrs. Polly’s house ablaze with her trapped inside it, they do it believing she has been corrupted (Marked) by the Devil. As agents of the Second Sweep, they covertly document the lives of potentially Marked individuals, with every observed mishap or injury connected to the person serving as possible proof that their soul is beyond saving. Matthew’s first solo job comes when his father tasks him to evaluate Rachel (Rae) Winters and Matthew embeds himself at Mills Creek High School. Rae was unharmed in a car accident that killed her father; Matthew befriends Rae while secretly evaluating her using his father’s methods. However, Rae’s grief over the loss of her dad, the strength of her bonds with friends, and her emerging relationship with Matthew ultimately put pressure on his connection to his own father and cause him to question the existence of the Sweep itself. This builds to a confrontational climax that twists to an unexpected conclusion. The book has an arresting opener, but the uncertainty created over the Sweep’s existence makes Matthew’s actions difficult to justify. He does have a redemptive arc, but it strains credulity given what transpires. Rae is a strong character, and while there is diversity in the secondary cast, they are ancillary to the progression of the main story.
VERDICT Some appeal for readers of supernatural thrillers, but the lack of clarity muddles the narrative and results in a messy conclusion. An additional selection.

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