Erased is the sequel to Altered (reviewed here) by Jennifer Rush. Altered introduces Anna, who lives above a secret lab holding four genetically altered boys. A shadowy organization called the Branch has enhanced the boys' capabilities, wiped their memories, and used them as weapons / assassins. In the first book, Anna learns that she has been part of the experiment all along, too.
Erased finds Anna in hiding from the Branch, with Sam, Nick, and Cas. Although their lives are perilous, there's a certain stability to the surrogate family that Anna and "the boys" form, and to Anna's relationship with Sam. This stability is threatened when it appears that Anna's sister, Dani, whom they all thought was dead, may be looking for them. Various dangers, flashbacks, and investigations into all of their pasts, follow.
Erased is that rare sequel that, I think, is better than the first book. There's more action, and less figuring out of what's going on along the way. There's still suspense, but as a reader, you have a better idea of what's going on from the start. Rush also does a nice job of recapping the situation from the first book, without going into excessive detail. Also, and this was important for me, Anna is a much stronger character in the second book, not putting herself down so much for not being as physically capable as the boys. She's learned self-defense, and pushed her (not artificially strengthened) body to improve her stamina.
There is still a little of the "oh, they're so much better than me". Like this:
"Like all the boys, Nick, even at his worst, was gorgeous. It drove me crazy. I didn't consider myself unattractive, but next to them, I was painfully average. They didn't know the meaning of a bad hair day." (Chapter 1)
But this doesn't stop her from being mainly secure in her place with them.
I did like this:
"In the months since Sam, Nick, and Cas had escaped the Branch's lab, and I'd gone with them, I'd learned that nothing was permanent, not even my memories. Now I took every opportunity to savor what I had, just in case. (Chapter 1)
There are some useful practical tips for anyone on the run from a powerful organization, like the fact that you should use your money to buy weapons, because weapons are a lot harder to steal than food. And how to tell if a house is probably a vacation home, and thus safe to break into to squat for a little while in mid-winter. Fun stuff for thriller fans.
In terms of content advisory, I do think that this is more a high school book than a middle school book. The language is fine, and there's no overt sex. But Anna is clearly sharing a bedroom with Sam, and there are descriptions of their closeness ("It was like my nerve endings weren't truly functioning unless they were beneath Sam's fingers.") More significant, to me, is the fact that the teens, including Anna, kill quite a number of people. Enemies who are out to get them, mainly, but some adult gatekeepers may find that this aspect of the books makes it less desirable for middle schoolers.
Personally, though, I found Erased to be fast-paced and interesting, with enough clues revealed along the way to make me feel smart as I figured out what was going on. Teens looking for thrillers with a bit of science fiction (brain wipes, genetic modification), and plenty of chases and shootouts, will want to give this series a look. Erased (due out in early January) seems to wrap up the series, but there is a short story prequel being released this week.
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (@LBKids)
Publication Date: January 7, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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