Tanya Byrne’s second young adult novel, Follow Me Down, is a suspense-filled ride of a thriller. The core characters of Adamma and Scarlett are the Thelma & Louise of a new generation. When Adamma Okomma’s father, a Nigerian Ambassador, moves to England from New York for work, she must follow. Leaving behind her glossy life, her (almost too) perfect boyfriend and her best friend, Adamma has to start fresh under the strict rules of Crofton College. There she meets Scarlett Chiltern, in all her technicolour glory. Sneaking out of bounds, the two are the centre of attention at all the best and most scandalous school parties. But when Adamma finds herself in the middle of Scarlett’s haphazard lifestyle, she begins to question their friendship. In a split narrative ‘before’ and ‘after’, the battle lines of friends at war are drawn. Whose secrets are the biggest, Scarlett’s or Adamma’s? And what exactly is lurking in the sinister forests outside Crofton’s grounds?
This violent tale has an excellent cast of characters that make it a must read whodunnit. Byrne’s narrative voice is vibrant. Hooking the reader from the very first page, her characters leap off the page and demand to be the centre of attention. When Scarlett goes missing, I dare you not to wrack your brains trying to unpick her motivations.
The narrative unfolds cleverly in an alternating exposition of days before Scarlett disappears, and days after. Watching the two threads creep into a complete picture will have you on the edge of your seat. And if you guess what’s about to happen, you’ll still be eyeing that gap wondering just what else is lurking there out of sight in the unknown.
Adamma is a daddy’s girl, ambitious and outspoken. She misses the celebration of Africa whilst stuck in England’s dowdy halls. Speaking Igbo to her Mother to avoid the listening ears of others, and using her much practiced angelic innocent face to get away with murder with her Father, Adamma’s past is as exciting as her present. But with each poor decision she finds it harder and harder to find her way back. Impulsive and quick to judge, she absolutely reserves the right to change her mind when it suits her. Yet she is still loveable despite her numerous misguided steps. Side-stepping the teachers, and enlisting the help of local CID Bones, her Harriet the Spy tendencies to suss out the clues of the school’s hidden intrigue make her all the more compelling. She is fierce and feisty and refuses to play the victim, and even when she’s being foolish it’s hard not to love her.
I loved the insight into Adamma’s African roots, and the beautifully incorporated exposition of traditions contrasting with Crofton. Sat in the dining room listening to the research of Mr Lucas, the young teacher lodging with Scarlett’s family, it is easy to be transported away to a Nigerian wedding.
Scarlett is effortlessly gorgeous, with her messy hair and messier purse. She wears heart shaped glasses and bright red lipstick, and you do not want to get on her bad side. Heavily sardonic, fed up with the humdrum nature of school life, and a frequent flight risk, the plot revolves around her many whims and the consequences of living a life answering to no one but your own quiet conscience. She is that friend you had in school that you never quite understood, the one who constantly kept you on your toes.
Resident bad boy, Dominic Sim, rich and frequently expelled, is a cocky flashy type, the kind who rocks up in a sports car (that his Dad bought him.) Under that tough exterior, though, is someone who picked the wrong girl to love. Love him or loath him, he rocks through the story as an unstoppable force, turning heads and taking names. This is the story of a love triangle, yes, one at which I might normally be inclined to roll my eyes. However in Follow Me Down, the entanglement is fraught with tension, games, and secrets long held. Byrne makes you believe in the strength of Adamma and Scarlett’s friendship as well as the things that will ultimately fracture it. Amidst the school scandals, the relationships and friendships formed between every character are many layered and complex. And Byrne makes sure that you don’t trust anyone.
Some of the book’s content is shocking and not for younger teen readers, with a frank and terrifying account of sexual assaults in the school forest.
Even though I guessed the twist of the thriller early on whilst reading, I still felt myself tensing as the plot unfolded. You end up like an audience member at the cinema watching a horror film, shouting ‘don’t go in there’ to the lost college student. Byrne loads the story with enough twists and turns to make you second guess yourself. Half way through I found myself with my jaw hanging open, wondering what had just happened and how? The resolution slams the door in your face.
I do wish I hadn’t been able to guess the ending, and that there were just a few more red herrings to throw me off the track earlier on, but ultimately this was a read I would highly recommend (to someone who hasn’t spent way too much time analysing the structure of detective shows!) The ferocity of the friendships formed make you want to share your secrets, be a little bit sneaky, and take the next flight to anywhere. But make sure to be careful.