The seventh YA novel from Ottawa writer Jeff Ross demonstrates that plots cannot live on twists alone. Set You Free attempts to amp up a fairly thin story with a big third-act switcheroo that makes little logical or narrative sense, and does little more than frustrate.
The novel starts with the disappearance of a young boy, the youngest son of the mayor of Resurrection Falls, a medium-sized American town near the Canadian border. Suspicion immediately falls on Tom, the troubled older brother of Lauren, the book’s teenage narrator. Tom is nowhere to be found, so Lauren sets out to prove her brother’s innocence, with the help of a computer-hacker friend.
Or, at least, she appears to. For as we learn right at the end of the book, Lauren has (spoiler alert!) been working all along with the mayor’s wife to expose the powerful man’s corruption and abuse, among other dark family secrets. Why this plan requires a risky abduction and Tom’s disappearance is never fully explained.
Withholding so much crucial information creates a hollowness at the centre of the book that Ross attempts to fill with material that never feels germane – including an attempted gang rape that Lauren shakes off with troubling ease, and which is never mentioned again. Similarly, the ethics of computer hacking and surveillance are breezed over, as if stealing personal files and putting tracking apps on phones were nothing more serious than what those Hardy Boys might get up to.
Overall, Set You Free is an average thriller trying too hard to seem complex and tripping itself up in the process.