Fearless (Fearless, Book 1), by Francine Pascal
First, a little background
Back in the 1980/1981 school year, I read a book by Francine Pascal called "Hangin' Out With Cici" (which is now published under the (to my mind, kind of spoilery) title "My Mother Was Never a Child"). It is a delightful book and was one of my late mother's favorites, as well. My mother was a youth services librarian, so there is no telling how many kids have read this book at her suggestion (and since she worked from 1979 through 1996, no small number of those kids are likely to now be parents as well, and some of them may have recommended the book to their own children).
For a long time, the only other books by Pascal I had ever seen were the "Sweet Valley High" books, which held no interest for me. As a result, until recently I had only ever read that one book by her. However, when I saw a compilation of the first three "Fearless" books by Pascal, my fondness for "Hangin' Out with Cici" was the first thing that popped into my mind. I debated buying the "Fearless" compilation for several months, but I finally bit and bought it. I loved the first three books. Now I find it's a 36-part series. I don't know if I have the shelf space for that. On the other hand, apparently a lot happens in these 36 books. We'll have to play it by ear.
And now, the review:
The protagonist of the series, Gaia Moore, is a genius, a world-class chess player, and a black belt in karate. She also lacks the fear reaction when she is in danger. Because of this lack of a fear reaction, Gaia's second-favorite hobby, after chess, is to go through dangerous areas and beat up the people who attack her. She is very, very good at this.
One thing she is not so good at, though, is socializing with her peers. She has only had one relationship even approaching a romantic interest in her life, a boy she played chess against when she was in seventh grade. She also has never had a real friend.
Gaia's father, Tom, was a member of the CIA. Something happened that made him leave Gaia to the dubious mercies of the foster care system when she was 12 and she has spent the last five years bouncing from family to family. She has finally come to rest with George and Ella. George is one of her father's former CIA colleagues, and Ella is his much-younger trophy wife. They live in a brownstone in Greenwich Village on Manhattan.
The majority of the plot of this volume is basic high school stuff -- Gaia makes a friend (Ed), develops a crush (Sam) and makes an enemy (Heather, whom she spilled hot coffee on accidentally, and who has hated her ever since), with some gang violence mixed in. There are also the beginnings of what looks like it will shape up to be an overarching plot, wherein someone has a not-entirely-healthy interest in Gaia. This someone has appointed a woman to watch her, and this woman has also been in contact with the street gang.
Gaia makes a really massive mistake in this volume which will, in the way of massive mistakes, come back to haunt her. Gaia sees a knife in the hand of one of the gang members in the park. Soon afterward, she sees Heather going into the park. When she tries to warn Heather, Heather keeps interrupting her, telling her that she doesn't want to hear anything that Gaia has to say. So Gaia angrily lets Heather go and almost immediately afterward warns some of Heather's friends. The friends wisely avoid the park, but in the process don't warn Heather either. This is kind of an odd plot twist now, with the ubiquity of cell phones, but you have to remember that this was 1999, when only about 25% of teenagers had cell phones Apparently, Heather or her friends, (or both Heather and her friends) didn't count among that 25%. Heather gets attacked, and nearly dies. I find it very frustrating that Gaia gets all of the blame for Heather's injury, but the friends who not only didn't warn her, but who actively avoided the situation where they would have been able to warn her, seem not to be blamed at all.
There is one odd thing about the structure of these books. They are not divided into straightforward chapters. They are divided into something like subchapters. The first page of each chapter has a title and a quote from one of the following subchapters, and then the next page begins the first subchapter. It was a fascinating way to divide up the book, and also to whet the reader's appetite for what will come next. However, it took a couple of chapters to figure out how this works, and I wonder whether this structure will be as fresh 35 books from now.
I loved this book and had a hard time putting it down. As I had a compilation book, it was just a matter of turning a few pages to go right into the next book in the series, "Sam", and I did so enthusiastically.