Girl Gone Wild: a review of “Not If I Save You First”

March 12, 2018

(Originally posted on my old book review blog, HilliterateBlog!)

Hey there. Was that blog title clever or absurd? Leaning toward the latter. But I'm back today with another ARC review that I couldn't be more excited about. I've mentioned before that I get ARCs (advanced reader copies) of soon-to-be-released novels at the bookstore where I work, which is super amazing and makes me all *heart eyes*. Well, my heart nearly couldn't take it one day recently when I walked into work and saw the newest release from Ally Carter, one of my favorite authors since I was in middle school! I had to take a moment and compose myself before promptly devouring the awesome read that was Not If I Save You First. I'm so pumped to review it here today!

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Is a flashlight the most survival-y prop I own? That's one secret I'll never tell.

Let me just go ahead and say that Not If I Save You First is Ally Carter at her best. All of her books are very girl-power-heavy — one series about an all-girls spy school where the students take down bad guys left and right, another series about a girl from a family of international art thieves who turns to the good side, and her most recent series about the granddaughter of an ambassador who uncovers this crazy government conspiracy with her family at the center. Carter's latest is a standalone novel, but it does not deviate from the precedent she's set for badass female protagonists.

Not If I Save You First follows Maddie Manchester, a 16 year-old girl whose father was once the head of the U.S. president's secret service and who grew up as best friend to the First Son, Logan. Everything changed for Maddie and Logan when they became caught in the crossfire of a near-international-incident six years ago. Logan was shot but recovered; Maddie's life changed even more drastically as her father resigned and whisked her away to the wilds of Alaska (thus my post title, okay?), where they've lived on their own ever since in a cabin with no internet, no cell phones, and no letters from the best friend who promised to write her.

Maddie has adjusted, becoming independent and adept at everything from fishing to boiling her own bath water to throwing her hatchet (which she bedazzled in a moment of extreme boredom and creativity). But when Logan suddenly appears on their doorstep, everything is thrown off balance. When the Bad Guys of their childhood trauma reach him even in the off-grid locale, he's quickly ripped from Maddie's life again — but this time, she has to find and save him. Most of the action takes place as Maddie seeks to rescue Logan in the wilds of Alaska, as well as to keep them both alive as the environment becomes as big of a threat as his kidnappers. Action-packed with some romance to boot, Not If I Save You First is a book that I could hardly put down.

One of the things I loved most about this book is the character of Maddie. She has a healthy dose of teenage angst, to be sure, but she is still a super strong protagonist. She is strong not in spite of being a girl, either, but because of it, which in my opinion makes her the type of modern feminist character that young and old readers alike need to see more often. She appreciates the girly, glittery aspects of her pre-wilderness-isolation life and still incorporates them into her newer, more survivalist habits (enter bedazzled hatchet). But she is also way smarter than anyone — even Logan, who knows her better than most — gives her credit for. She uses this to her advantage, playing the superficial girly girl when it's a convenient cover-up for whatever master plan she's working at behind the scenes. For example, she shocks Logan the first time she kisses him out of nowhere and looks for all the world like a silly, lovestruck girl in a moment of weakness...but he quickly learns that the kiss is just her way to covertly slip him the key to the handcuffs his captor put on him. The gears in Maddie's mind are always turning and she almost always has another, deeper and more covert angle to her actions and words. She also shows that strength and femininity are not mutually exclusive, something that (somehow...in 2018...) is too often forgotten. I love her character and the way she drives the entire novel.

Secondarily, Logan plays his role as her sidekick well. He is as charming/dreamy/swoon-worthy as the best YA love interests, but it never feels like Maddie is entirely dependent on him. I love that the whole premise is her saving his life. And any time he has doubts about whether she is in control or knows what she's doing, he's proven wrong without his pride being wounded. He is a good counterpart to her and I really enjoyed their best-friends-turned-barely-friends-turned-maybe-more-than-friends dynamic.

All that being said, I highly recommend Ally Carter's fantastic standalone YA work, Not If I Save You First! Its release is set for March 27th, but I bet our pal Ally would appreciate if you pre-ordered, too.

Let me know in the comments about some of your favorite girl power books! Always in the market for new Maddie-Manchester-type heroines to fangirl over. :)

Happy reading!

K. Hill