Cover Mind Games: A girl stands on a pillar looking out at a life-size maze

About the Book

Title: Mind Games
Published: 2019
Swoonworthy Scale: 3

Cover Story: An Inception Maze
BFF Charm: Nay
Talky Talk: Amateur Thriller
Bonus Factor: Science
Factor: Ethics
Relationship Status: It’s Totally You

Cover Story: An Inception Maze

This cover reminds me of when all the buildings in Inception moved around and tilted at crazy angles as Cobb explained to Ariadne how to manipulate things within her dreams, except, like, a more boring version of that.

The Deal:

Today is a typical day for Arden at the fancy-pants high school her parents created for teenage geniuses. It’s also means she’s only one week away from the most important moment of her budding career—the press conference where she’ll debut her life-changing senior thesis project that’s been four years in the making. So this regular morning continues in the courtyard while she sells the memories of fellow students to other students for a profit, but then—Arden sees an unfamiliar (and hot) boy across the way. Except he’s not unfamiliar, because everyone else knows who he is: Sebastian, her project partner. But Arden has no recollection of ever working with him. And as for Sebastian? He has zero memories, PERIOD.

Arden knows someone must have tampered with HiveMind, the revolutionary computer program her father created to back-up human memories, and messed with their minds. As she digs deeper into this mystery, Arden also realizes she no longer has any idea what her senior project is about. But who would want to erase an entire person from Arden’s memory? Who at her school is diabolical enough to sabotage her project in this way?

And it all gets a little too real when her science teacher warns her that someone will die if she doesn’t debut her project on time…

BFF Charm: Hell No

Hell No BFF Charm in Flames

There are warning bells jangling all around Arden. She’s got a one-track mind about beating out her fellow students to win best project and belittles their work constantly. She uses her prowess with computers and her expansive knowledge of HiveMind to sell hacked memories to dozens of her peers and never exhibits any remorse about it. (There’s also a conversation somewhere in there about how these supposed “genius” students still feel the need to cheat on pop quizzes, but, eh, another time.) It’s never really clear why she feels the need to abuse her own dead father’s invention this way, so I guess it’s just because she can. Arden certainly doesn’t need the money. She even misuses the technology to dip into her best friend’s memories without permission, so that’s a solid HELL TO THE NO on us ever being good buds.

Swoonworthy Scale: 3

Part of the problem of having your love interest lose all of his memories is that he can end up being an empty shell. Who wants to get sexy with an empty shell? Sebastian’s new personality is obviously being shaped by his current situation, but it’s a situation full of tension and worry, which…also isn’t very sexy. At one point Arden and Sebastian write down the things they want to remember on one another’s bodies (to ensure no one can erase it, natch), and it’s supposed to be a very intimate and sensual moment, but unfortunately I never believed in their chemistry.

Talky Talk: Amateur Thriller

The premise of this novel was right up my alley. A sci-fi/thriller featuring a conspiracy involving interesting technology built with questionable ethics and two people forced to work together to discover their missing memories? Sign me up! But, alas, to create an amazing story from a cool idea there is a second and even more important component needed: proper execution. Execution that was, sadly, sorely lacking in Mind Games.

To pull off this book successfully, you’d need razor-sharp world-building to make it feel grounded and believable, but there was never enough time devoted to fleshing out Arden’s world. Instead, the author focused too much on the humdrum day-to-day details of Arden’s life (would ANYONE in her situation seriously still be going about their regular school schedule? There has never been a better time in all of teenage history to freaking cut class!); gave us murky villain motivations; and bland, cardboard cut-out protagonists. I guessed every single twist and turn, and I’m not saying that to toot my own horn—it simply wasn’t very hard to suss out the answers. I found myself wishing Michael Crichton was still alive, because he would’ve turned this into a nail-biter.

Bonus Factor: Science

Stylized computer screens

The whiz-kid high school that Arden attends puts lot of emphasis on their students creating life-changing products that companies will then give them grants and support to create. I liked this aspect of the story and would’ve enjoyed hearing more about these cool inventions, even if it felt a bit far-fetched that it was a seventeen-year-old who figured out how to 3D print completely realistic human body parts.

Factor: Ethics

One green sign saying "good" and one saying "evil" pointing different directions

The lack of discussion about the ethical implications of using all this technology is really where this book fell short for me. If you have actual teenagers reading your work, this is a perfect time to get them thinking about the real-life implications of the privacy you give up by using a product like HiveMind where all of your personal thoughts are only a keyboard click away from being hacked or erased. Yes, HiveMind isn’t real, but we willingly give away pieces of ourselves on the internet all the time.

There was also plenty more you could mine about the rights one has to one’s own inventions and—well, other things I can’t mention outright without being too spoilery, but trust me: not enough focus was spent on an aspect of this book that would’ve really given it depth.

Relationship Status: It’s Totally You

You know that relationship break-up saying, “It’s not you, it’s me?” Well, in our case, Book, that idiom simply isn’t true. You violated my privacy and did a sloppy job of covering it up. It’s totally you.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from Swoon Reads. This review was originally posted on Kirkus Reviews in exchange for monetary compensation, which did not affect or influence my opinions. Mind Games is available now.

Stephanie (she/her) is an avid reader who moonlights at a college and calls Orlando home. Stephanie loves watching television, reading DIY blogs, planning awesome parties, Halloween decorating, and playing live-action escape games.