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Rio Cruz is joining five other teenagers for a boating trip around the world to raise money for charity. Her crewmates are a close-knit group, but Rio has never met any of them before. Four of them are military veterans who were disabled in combat, a fact that makes their friendship even stronger. It’s clear that the majority of the crew members don’t want her there; Rio and Jen, the one other person who is not disabled, are only there because sponsors wouldn’t fund the project unless there was an able-bodied support team. And even Jen hates Rio. Rio is determined to impress her crewmates, but she soon realizes that the journey she thought would be the trip of a lifetime might put more at stake than her dignity.

While sailing in Africa, a sangoma (or witch doctor) and a group of boys, many younger than Rio and her companions, sabotage the boat by cutting the fuel line and tampering with the radios. This destroys all chance of escape or alerting others of the developing situation. Rio and the others are then turned over to Moses Mwemba, a cruel warlord and a leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army. The teenagers soon find themselves being forced to go into the heart of the African jungle without the supplies that they need to survive --- especially the veterans who require medications. Not even the military training four of the crew members received can prepare for this. It seems like it’s only a matter of time until Rio and her crewmates die, if not by one thing then by another.

Before I started reading TAKEN, I was worried that the book would focus on the harsh conditions that the characters are placed in and that the author would focus on gore more than on the characters’ psychological, mental and moral strain. I was glad to notice that, while there are many descriptions of injuries and deaths and some are graphic, the characters, especially Rio, also question the thoughts and reasons for their captors’ actions. For example, one of Mwemba’s child soldiers, whom Rio nicknames the Empty Child, shows no emotion but protects a young boy. Rio begins to wonder why she protects him and what could have led the Empty Child to be so emotionless. I think that the inclusion of Rio’s struggle to understand how and why her captors became so disturbed and the Empty Child’s story adds to TAKEN.

A fast read that fans of action-driven books will enjoy

Rio is a character that is socially awkward but is very concerned about how others think of her. This trait allows readers to relate to her, and it is the cause of most of her actions early in the book. I did enjoy seeing the events in TAKEN from the perspective of a character who is unsure of her actions and has never witnessed anything as horrific or graphic as what Rio eventually sees. But at times I felt like this made her do rash things. It annoyed me that she would return to trying to impress the others as soon as the danger lessened slightly. She, like all the characters, was rather underdeveloped when it came to her life before the beginning of the novel. Rio changed very little at the end of the book, which I found unrealistic because she witnessed terrible events. Despite the fact that Rio is an incomplete character and I wanted her to react to her surroundings more, she does have an awkwardness that allows readers to relate to her, and she was able to feel the pain of both everyday problems and more horrific situations.

The majority of the characters in TAKEN are disabled. This really sets TAKEN apart from similar books, but I am unsure if having disabled characters added to the book. I felt that, at times, the characters disabilities are just a way to put them in greater danger. The reader is allowed to see only a minimal amount of the current and past problems that have come up because of each character’s disability and, though most of Rio’s crewmates have only been disabled for a few months (as far as I can tell), they are already completely comfortable with this fact. I would have liked to hear at least one crew member reflect on what it was like to become disabled. Although the author creates a reasonable explanation for why a crew would mainly consist of people with disabilities, I still think it is unlikely that this would happen.

The characters in TAKEN could have been more developed and dynamic. The reader learns very little about all of the characters’ pasts, especially Jen’s and Rio’s. There should have been more time for the crew members to interact before they got kidnapped, or at least a greater focus on interaction after that. The majority of the interaction between the characters was about Jen and Rio’s rivalry or about Rio’s love for Ash. Although the rivalry between Jen and Rio is interesting, especially towards the end of the book, I wanted to hear more about Charis and Marcus, two of Rio’s crewmates, because they are barely mentioned but have very distinct personalities.

TAKEN is a bit lacking in wonderful characters and some events in the plot are unrealistic, but it is a fast read that fans of action-driven books will enjoy. There is some violence in TAKEN, but not enough to repel most readers.

Reviewed by Rachel B., Teen Board Member on August 27, 2014

by David Massey

  • Publication Date: August 26, 2014
  • Genres: Thriller, Youth Fiction
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Chicken House
  • ISBN-10: 0545661285
  • ISBN-13: 9780545661287