Young adult novels are not my usual preference, but the Vale Hall series has me beguiled. Scammed is the second novel in the Vale Hall series by Kristen Simmons. True to its name, the story tricked me into believing one thing and carried me in an entirely different direction. I was tricked! I was bamboozled! I was enthralled.
Brynn Hilder is a con artist, and so are her fellow Vale Hall students. Just when Brynn started to settle in her new life with her new boyfriend Caleb and all her new friends, Dr. Odin tells everyone that her previous mark (Grayson Sterling) will be staying with them.
Brynn must reaffirm her friendship with Grayson in a way that means Caleb has to step aside. She and Caleb hate it, but the consequences of not following Dr. Odin’s rules are dire. Grayson, however, doesn’t follow the rules.
Brynn has another assignment. She must take a job as a server and find out what happened to the senator’s former aid. Somehow, she must ingratiate herself with the senator’s staff (without running into the senator himself) and coax evidence from them that will hopefully lead to the senator’s downfall.
It’s a story where no one is who they say they are, where enemies hide behind friendship and unsuspecting allies come to light. Brynn is pretty good at running a con and is usually good at determining when others are conning her. But not this time. As I turned the pages, my head turned this way and that wondering what was coming next. And the moment after I was sure I had things figured out, an unexpected twist sent me spinning.
Simmons is good at smoothly weaving diverse characters with a thorny plot and tangled subplots. The intricacies of the story unraveled in a believable and exciting way. Like Brynn, I should have seen what was coming. Simmons left enough clues. But she was so clever about it that I didn’t notice.
Most of the characters you saw in the first book are present again. This time they have a larger part to play, complicating Brynn’s life—and not always in a bad way. Simmons has a talent for breathing life into her characters. Even the rarely present and non-vocal security guard named Moore seems more real.
The two things I did not care for in this novel had more to do with my age than with the quality of the story itself. I’m too old for teenage drama and teenage angst. But Simmons did a great job of reminding me of how I was back in those days. Brynn’s constant second-guessing of herself is annoying but believable. And the teenage character interactions are spot-on.
Nothing is what it seems, except Scammed truly is a great read. It’s everything you’d expect from a story about teenagers and con artists. Being scammed has never been so fun!