Published: 1998 (reissued 2017)
Fourteen-year-old Teddi moved in with her neighbor Mamie a few months ago, after her parents died. Life is almost starting to seem normal again when Dora shows up on the doorstep. Dora claims she’s the wife of Mamie’s son Ricky, who died in a plane crash. But why didn’t Ricky tell his family that he was married or that his wife was expecting a baby? Is Dora really who she says she is?
I’d never heard of Willo Davis Roberts before picking up this book at the library, though some searching suggests to me that she was, in the 1990s, a well-respected and award-winning author of young adult mysteries. Still, Simon Pulse’s decision to reissue Pawns surprises me. Everything about it screams that it was written in the 90s. I am not convinced that YA readers today will still find it enthralling.
At 154 pages, Pawns is a short book that gets straight to the point–thrilling or mysterious it is not, especially by the standards of today’s YA. Readers know from the summary on the book jacket that Dora is obviously not any relation to Mamie. Her strange behavior throughout the book indicates the same. It is truly surprising that Teddi takes as long as she does to get really suspicious or to take action. To make up for this lack of suspense, one might think there would be a sense of danger. But there is not. Readers accustomed to fare such as The Hunger Games or Three Dark Crowns will find this domestic drama incredibly tame.
Also dating the book are the age of the protagonist–a mere 14 when most YA characters today seem to start at 16 and maybe age to 18 over the course of a series–and the lack of romance. Aside from an innocent crush on the boy next door, Teddi reveals a novel lack of interest in the opposite sex (again, according to today’s standards). A YA book that lacks even a kiss, much less the steamier scenes that seem to be cropping up? This seems to go against everything that YA is. Shouldn’t there be love triangles and experimentation? Isn’t that what sells?
In short, Pawns seems to be precisely the type of book that one wouldn’t be able to convince a publisher to sell these days. At the same time, I am interested to see how readers will respond. Its length makes it easy to read. The age of the protagonist and the innocence of her love life make it suitable for younger readers who like YA. Maybe this is a YA book that really is written for teens, and not for the adults who are currently driving the market.