All Fall Down
Scholastic, 2015 320 pages
Embassy Row Series #1
Grace is sent to the fictional city of Adria to live with her diplomat Grandfather. Her father is away on a military mission, her brother is a cadet at West Point and her mother is dead. Grace witnessed the death of her mother at her Adrian antiques shop three years previous and hasn't been the same since. The murderer is a man with a predominate scar on his cheek and over the past three years Grace has experienced many supposed sightings of the killer. At a party Grace sees a man with a scar and knows for certain that he is her mother's murderer. Her suspicions are confirmed when she overhears him threatening to kill someone else. Grandfather and his assistant are convinced that Grace is mentally unbalanced and work to have her believe that Mom's death was an accident. She makes friends with a neighboring boy, a fellow diplomat offspring, and together with the teen daughter of the head of American security and a young gymnast from Germany form a team of super-sleuths to catch the killer before he strikes again. Meanwhile, the son of the Russian ambassador and Grace's brother's best friend is protectively keeping an eye on her. Could this relationship lead to romance? Underground tunnels, mean girls, international relations, and danger all work together to create an action-filled story filled with surprises, leading readers to the next installment in the series See How They Run.
Ally Carter is the master of teen espionage. Her first two series featuring teen spies have garnered many fans and this latest series will be no different. I feel that the Embassy Row series may have more depth than her previous offerings in that it has more substance, featuring an unreliable narrator dealing with grief. As we progress through the story, the reader is unclear whether or not to trust Grace's sanity and memories. It turns out that the past is not exactly as Grace remembers, but she forgets certain elements of the terrible incident of her mother's death for good reason. The truth behind the death and the scarred man's identity and motivation are revealed by book's end, yet leads the reader into a bigger mystery to be continued in the second installment of the series. Romance is hinted at, but remains innocent, making the book a good choice for the immature reader. Even though the main character is female, the story would welcome male readers. Grace is a likable character and readers will cheer for her as she learns to navigate the tricky world of friendships and the landmines of her past, even as we question her validity. Secondary characters are not particularly developed, but are interesting, add to the fabric of the story, and, although numerous, distinctive enough to tell apart. The international setting adds an interesting dimension to the story and reflects the always present juggling-act of world political relations. A fun and exciting book, a cut above the usual offerings in this genre.