Book Review: Not If I Save You First by Ally Carter

Not If I Save You First (2018) is a standalone teen thriller/romance by popular NYT bestselling YA author, Ally Carter. As a colossal fan of her Heist Society and Embassy Row series, I was excited about her latest release in the same vein as her previous works, involving U.S. Secret Service agents, the President’s son, and an Alaskan adventure. Fun!

This was a quick read. It’s light, entertaining, and feels like watching a movie – and those are compliments. It’s commercial fiction; I expect it to be that way. If we learn anything, it’s about Alaska and off-grid living. Not as technologically exciting as Heist Society or politically intriguing as Embassy Row, but I’ll take it.

The story is about a sixteen-year-old girl named Maddie Manchester, whose father used to be the U.S. President’s Secret Service body guard. Maddie was best friends with the President’s son, Logan, but after a highly dangerous incident at the White House, her father moved her to an off-grid cabin in Alaska, where her life has been survival in the wilderness the last six years. For the first two years of her curious exile, Maddie wrote Logan every day, but he never wrote back. The loss of her best and only friend devastated Maddie. So when Logan reappears in her life, being sent to stay with Maddie and her father in Alaska as a sort of wilderness rehabilitation for bad behavior, Maddie is furious with him. All of that is short-lived, though, when Logan is suddenly kidnapped by a young Russian man the next day. Now Maddie, with the home court advantage, will stop at nothing to rescue Logan.

My fondness for the author personally and her other works aside, I found this book somewhat lacking. Maybe because it wasn’t part of a trilogy or series, but it felt like we didn’t get to know the characters that well. We got to know their cutouts, but not who they truly are. Logan is supposed to be lovable troublemaker yet genius with a photographic memory, yet we don’t see a whole lot of his skills showcased and we never get a good reason out of him why he never replied to Maddie’s letters and broke her heart. As for Maddie, I felt that the author was pushing the girly-girl stuff way too hard. It didn’t feel organic. I think she may have been trying to distinguish Maddie apart from her other heroines – like Kat from Heist Society or Grace from Embassy Row, neither of whom are super feminine or into girly things, because it totally worked for their characters. Maddie worrying about her skin, hair, fashion, and nails in the middle of life-or-death situations – especially when she’s otherwise wielding axes and knives and guns and knows how to rough it in the wilderness – felt forced. Because I had trouble buying the characters individually, I couldn’t buy them together romantically either. But maybe I’m just old.

The writing is easy to go along with, action-oriented, well executed. The plot is fast-paced and constantly churning, although not as clever or as intricate as the aforementioned Embassy Row or Heist Society series. I thought that what the kidnapper did to Maddie in cold blood was despicable, so in my eyes he was irredeemable regardless of the motive.

At the end of the day, I have mixed feelings about Not If I Save You First. It wasn’t her best, but was still an entertaining ride and I wouldn’t discourage anyone from reading it. I love when I find a book I can’t put down, and despite some of its shortcomings, this was one of those books. I look forward to Ally Carter’s next release.

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