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C.K. O'Donnell

Young Adult; Mystery/Thriller; (Market)

In the near future, eighteen-year-old Abbie Spencer and her family live hand-to-mouth in their decaying town of Eureka, California, living on high alert because the East Bay Serial Killer has struck again. When Abbie’s lucky enough to secure a live-in servant job for the most affluent family in Port Allegiance, the sparkling neighboring city surrounded by a massive wall to keep out the riffraff of Eureka, she discovers that her predecessor didn’t quit, as everyone believes, but was actually abducted because she knew too much. Thrust into a frightening world of murder, lies, and betrayal, where few can be trusted and nothing is what it seems, the stakes grow higher after Abbie and her friends discover the nefarious connection between the missing girl and the dead bodies trickling into the morgue back home. Will they uncover the shocking conspiracy before more innocent people die, or will those in power silence them?
In O’Donnell’s spirited debut, a grisly Californian dystopia, Abilene “Abbie” Spencer is an 18-year-old living in a class-segregated Eureka in 2040, where the prosperous half of the wall-divided city, Port Allegiance, holds the majority of wealth and the rest of Eureka “only [...] serve[s] Port Allegiance.” Living conditions are so atrocious that Abbie won’t even let herself dream of a better life, away from squalor and the city’s serial killer, but her uncle Jesse encourages her to apply for work in Port Allegiance to escape her depressed, addict parents and abusive boyfriend, Ty, who hectors her audacity: “You and your worthless ideas to earn money for college. Never gonna happen, baby.” But it does. Abbie gets a job working as a house servant at the prestigious estate, Redwood Manor, and discovers life on the other side of the wall—and the conspiracy shaping her world.

Fast-paced, suspenseful, and at times horrifying, O’Donnell’s compelling plot offers a prophetic imagining of American life in a capitalist totalitarian regime, though the world-building, localized to the Cold War Berlin-inspired split city, will leave readers eager for more information about this fallen future. The story develops with page-turning power: apart from having to deal with Mrs. De Young, the unpleasant owner of Redwood Manor, Abbie's working conditions, pay, and coworker relationships are better than she ever dared to imagine back in Eureka, especially with the sudden appearance of Dylan, an old flame. Abbie, meanwhile, proves an engaging, surprising character.

Abbie discovers the sinister schemes that fuel Redwood Manor and Port Allegiance as a whole, and what begins as a first step towards a new life plummets into a nightmare that threatens to wipe out the entire human population. Young readers should beware of the book’s depictions of violence and abuse, including sexual abuse, but on the whole, Tetherless, the first of O’Donnell’s Port Allegiance Chronicles, is a promising, debut with a classic setup: one young woman disrupting an empire.

Takeaway: Gritty story of a bold young woman in a class-segregated future California.

Comparable Titles:Tehlor Kay Mejia’s We Set the Dark on Fire series, Lauren Oliver’s Delirium.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: