Book Review: No Easy Way Out, Dayna Lorentz (2013)

July 17th, 2013 3:06 pm by Kelly Garbato

Lord of the Taylor

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free ARC of this book through Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program. Also, trigger warning for rape and animal abuse.)

After a biological bomb is found strapped to the HVAC system at the Shops of Stonecliff, the mall’s quickly quarantined, with thousands of hapless shoppers and employees (not to mention a few police officers and research scientists) trapped inside. In the aftermath, a new society forms. Led by Senator Ross – on the authority of the US president, no less – the official government forces attempt to provide for the needs of the mall’s residents: food, water, clothing, hygiene, and safety – both from one another, as well as the lethal flu strain ripping a path of destruction through the captive population. Naturally, not everyone accepts the power of this autocracy: rebellion, coups, conspiracy theories, and general mayhem ensues.

Book one in the series (No Safety in Numbers) introduced us to four protagonists – Lexi, Shay, Ryan, and Marco – through whose eyes we saw the story unfold. Each section of the book equaled one day in the mall; each chapter alternated between a different character’s perspective. As with No Safety in Numbers, No Easy Way Out also covers a week’s worth of the quarantine: in this case, days 7 through 14. However, Lorentz breaks with the structure she introduced in the first book: sections are divided by day, chapters by time period, with shifting character perspectives throughout. Initially I wasn’t I thrilled with this change, but it quickly won me over: it helps move the story along at a quicker pace.

That said, No Easy Way Out is rather hefty at 470 pages (for the ARC; the “real” copy will run 480 pages); No Safety in Numbers is a slim 263 pages in comparison. By no means do I shy away from thick books (Stephen King is one of my favorites, so.), but in this case I felt like the story was slow and a bit bloated, particularly in the first half. Much of the focus in No Easy Way Out is on relationships: love triangles, shifting alliances, back-stabbing, and the like. The action doesn’t really pick up until the last third of the book, when a second flu strain begins dropping teenagers like flies.

(In an unsurprising twist, one of the teens unleashes the disease on his own people: dumb jock Drew breaks into a pet store and steals a goose – along with some fishes – for food. Ultimately he bites the goose’s head from her still-living body in a drunken rage and then consumes the corpse raw. Bird flu, anyone? Needless to say, I did not mourn his passing.)

This wouldn’t be a problem, except that so many of the characters are unsympathetic and/or downright unlikable: Ginger and Maddie are almost too vapid to be believable, while football players Drew and Mike are stereotypes right out of Jersey Shore (or whatever the kids are watching nowadays).

This criticism extends to the male protagonists as well. In his previous life, skinny, scrawny Marco was either invisible or a target of bullies. His time in the mall – particularly his alliance with Mike – transforms him from prey to predator. With his first taste of power, he becomes intoxicated (“psycho,” in Lorentz’s words). As with Shay’s descent into trauma-induced anxiety, the reader might emphasize with Marco’s breakdown, save for one thing: he was already a rather noxious “nice guy” misogynist at story’s outset. His attitude toward Shay is appalling; consistently Marco talks about her as though she’s a piece of property to which he can lay claim or win in a contest of skills. Shay’s desires are irrelevant; what matters most is who can better provide for her, as though she’s an infant. When she rejects his advances or shows a preference for Ryan, he instantly becomes cold and dismissive. Classic “nice guy” behavior. (To paraphrase: “I’m a nice guy, why don’t b@#$%es like me?”)

“But wait!” you’re saying. “She totally led him on!” While it’s true that Shay acted friendly to gain favors from Marco, he can hardly fault her for this, seeing as he did the same to Lexi. (Hypocrite much?) That, and women are socialized to believe that their greatest source of power is their sexuality – but should they choose to exercise it, they’re automatically labeled “sluts,” “teases,” and the like. Women don’t automatically surrender keys to their person upon flirting with someone of the opposite sex. Rape culture 101, people.

And “good guy” Ryan isn’t much better. While he at least allows Shay to choose her own mate, Ryan engages in casual sexism just the same: chastising himself for crying “like a girl,” for example.

While I guess you could argue that such portrayals are realistic, the lack of positive models of masculinity is disappointing. Save for minor character Kris, the actor-turned-teacher, and Lexi’s father Mr. Ross, absent from most of No Easy Way Out, the men in this world are mostly violent thugs.

Along these lines, the book comes with a trigger warning for several scenes of sexual assault (nonconsensual kissing and groping), though rape is notably absent (especially significant given my point above). Perhaps it’s because No Easy Way Out is aimed at a younger audience – ages 12 and up – and thus teen sexuality is mostly limited to heavy kissing, along with the occasional allusion to off-screen sex. This isn’t really a complaint so much as an observation: if realism is the goal, rape would be rampant in this chaotic, Lord of the Flies society – particularly men in positions of power (guards included) abusing their authority to sexually assault women.

All in all, No Easy Way Out is an enjoyable enough read; not quite as good as No Safety in Numbers, but a passable follow-up. 3.5 stars, rounded down to 3 on Amazon.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

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