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By Dan Birk

IR Rating:
Though debut author Dan Birk's CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS GIRL isn’t quite up there with the best YA spy novels, the author has created a memorable character that--with a little finessing--could be about to embark on an interesting career.

A secretive boarding school is acting as a front to train young assassins for the CIA. Sixteen year old Emma Garthright is one of their brightest students. She is sent on a deadly mission, but first she has to prove herself at a regular high school.

The Early Institute for Children and Teens is a boarding school for kids diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder. Under the auspices of its founder Dr Warren Early, the school claims to rehabilitate youngsters so they can contribute meaningfully to society. But beneath this facade the school is actually a clandestine training ground for future CIA spies and assassins. Sixteen year old Emma Garthright, a bright but troubled youth, is one of Dr Early’s most promising pupils. In order to test her ability in the field she is sent on a mission. Her ultimate goal is to take out a target in New York but first she has to prove herself by returning to her home town and going undercover at a regular high school. For Emma, trained in spy craft and assassination techniques, fitting in amongst regular kids her own age might be the most difficult mission of all.

In the terrific opening chapter of Dan Birk’s CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS GIRL, Emma Garthright is introduced as a psychopathic teenager who was diagnosed after trying to murder her own brother. The Early Institute is exposed as a secretive and manipulative factory for moulding disturbed children into cold-blooded killers where students constantly bicker and threaten to kill each other. In the first person narrative, Emma coolly explains how she loves it there, despite not having any friends. Emma loves the lessons on sniper strategies, escape driving and on weapons and explosives. She can’t wait to get out into the field and put her skills into practice. Soon, she’ll get her chance. Emma is sent out into the real world and this is where the trouble begins both for Emma and the novel itself.

The problem with establishing a main character as a self-obsessed, almost emotionless, psychopath is that, by definition, they are rather difficult for the reader to warm to. While Emma is reacting to the taunts and trials of her fellow Early Institute students its easy to give a pass to her misanthropic moaning. By the time she takes her place in a regular school and attempts to wheedle her way into the school’s Model UN as the first stage of her assignment, her constant carping about everybody and everything becomes increasingly irritating. It wouldn’t be so bad if Emma’s very high opinion of herself was born out by her actions but despite her being portrayed as a ruthlessly efficient operator she seems prone to extremely petty acts of revenge, repeated failures and is particularly squeamish with little things like having to root around in trash cans or put her hand in the water of a toilet cistern. Of course Emma is on a journey of self-discovery and the contradictions in her character are partially, but not completely, covered by the author as he traces her story arc. There are passages, notably a trip to the mall where Emma attempts to help a new friend buy more fashionable clothing, that are funny and the action sequences are effective.

CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS GIRL is an odd mix of action and humor with a touch of geo-politics mixed with high school hi-jinks and an unconvincing nod towards teenage romance. None of it really rings true. After the excellent opening it’s all a bit of a muddle of mismatched tone and intent. With Emma Garthright now introduced as a lead character, and by the end of the novel having shaken off a few of her anti-social traits, it’s time for Birk to develop her into an appealing, empathetic lead.

Though debut author Dan Birk’s CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS GIRL isn’t quite up there with the best YA spy novels, the author has created a memorable character that–with a little finessing–could be about to embark on an interesting career.

~Kent Lane for IndieReader

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