Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Review of 'Instinct' by Mattie Dunman

Young Adult Paranormal Suspense
Date Published:

To tell the doesn’t really matter if you lie.

It’s impossible to lie to Derry MacKenna. For as long as she can remember, Derry has been plagued by the extraordinary ability to hear, see, and feel the truth. But when Derry and her erratic, self-centered mother move to historic Harpers Ferry, she discovers she is not the only one with hidden talents.

As the newest reporter on the school newspaper, Derry learns of a high school student’s unexpected suicide and recognizes that the truth behind her death may still be hidden. When tragedy strikes, Derry is drawn into a deadly battle of wits with the only person whom her abilities don’t affect.

Driven by guilt and an obsession with bringing the killer to justice, Derry finds herself in danger from a vindictive murderer, a sadistic deviant who preys on the weak, and trapped in the middle of a treacherous triangle of attraction between two brothers whose abilities rival her own. Derry must trust her instincts to guide her to the truth and bring her enemies to justice even as she fights for her own survival.

INSTINCT focuses on a gifted, intelligent, and loyal heroine who must contend not only with the inherent dangers of high school bullying and backstabbing, but with loss, grief, and guilt. Against issues of sexual abuse, teenage suicide, and destructive relationships, the heroine learns to cherish the strength of real friendship, understand accountability, and experiences the healing touch of first love.

"This is competently written and well-paced, and the author does an excellent job of exploring what a gift like Derry's would mean in real life...Most refreshing is the severing of several YA tropes in interesting and welcome ways." 
--- Publishers Weekly

Read an excerpt:
There are a few grumbles as everyone shifts to greet their partners. My pulse picks up and I put a pleasant smile on my face as I turn to meet a clear green gaze. I feel my smile widen as I take in the boy I’m paired with. With dusty blond hair that grazes his cheeks and falls into moss-colored eyes, high cheekbones and a strong jaw, he is the living, breathing embodiment of the high school hero I’ve read about and watched on TV. I wonder if he’s the captain of the football or basketball team.

“Hi, I’m Phillip Bennett. You’re new here, right?” the hero asks, his voice low and pleasant. But I don’t notice that.

I don’t hear the truth.

I stare at him for a moment, baffled, resisting an urge to touch my ears and make sure that they’re still attached. He watches me attentively and I struggle to find my way back to normalcy and answer.

“Um, hi. Yeah, today’s my first day,” I reply, absently clicking my jaw to try and pop my ears. “Oh, and my name is Derry.”

He smiles and I flinch slightly at the dazzling gleam of teeth. He could be in an ad for toothpaste with that grin.

“Derry, that’s an unusual name,” he says, tilting his head slightly and letting his eyes travel over me.

My heart is pounding furiously and my skin itches. What’s wrong with me?

I always hear the truth when someone first speaks to me, always. I try to focus, not wanting to seem weird.

“Yeah, it was my grandmother’s maiden name.” My fingers are clenching and unclenching at my side and my stomach twists uncomfortably.

“Well, it’s nice to meet you, Derry. Has anyone shown you around yet?”

I force myself to concentrate. I will figure out what’s wrong with me later. “I had a tour when I registered a couple weeks ago,” I answer.

Phillip gives me a pitying look. “With Mrs. Hayworth, right?” I nod. “Well, I’d be happy to give you a tour. One from a student’s perspective,” he offers, blinding me with that smile again.

My pulse picks up for an entirely different reason. “Yeah, that’d be great.” Up front Ms. Sullivan calls the class to attention again.

“I’ll show you to your next class,” he whispers and I give him a quick smile and turn around, not really sure how I feel about that. It’s odd. Earlier I would have been thrilled about a cute boy offering to walk me to class; it fits in perfectly with my daydreams. But I am completely off-balance. For as long as I can remember, the first thing anyone says to me is a hidden truth. I always have to ask people to repeat themselves, or guess at what they might have said. I’ve never heard just a regular introduction.

I rub my arms absently and then stop. The low-level buzz under my skin, like feathery wings beating against my veins, is fading, but it is unmistakable now that I’m paying attention. It’s the buzzing that warns me when someone is lying, and it was sounding alarms the entire time I was talking to Phillip.

I look over my shoulder at him. He is reading the syllabus, tapping his fingers on the desk in a light, repetitive drumming. Sensing my scrutiny, he glances up and the corners of his mouth turn up slightly, but the smile doesn’t reach his eyes. I turn around hurriedly and stare down at my hands. Something is wrong. First the boy outside the school looks at me and I feel like I’m dying and now I can’t hear Phillip’s truth, but my entire body screams that he’s lying. I take a deep breath and try to slow my pulse. After a moment the hum under my skin is gone and I can focus.

**My thoughts**

Many of us have wondered what it would be like to have the ability to hear the truth out of someone as soon as we met them. We rely on our instincts, but aren't necessarily good at following them. Hearing what a person is really hiding as soon as they open their mouths could prevent you from getting burned by a bad relationship later on down the road. However, it can also be quite a burden. How many secrets would you hear about horrors in someone's past? How would you go about helping those abused people, without freaking them out with your knowledge? How would you convince others of the truth, when you are the only one who heard it? While the situations in this book push that to somewhat of an extreme, they also demonstrate how horrible and difficult that gift could actually be.

One aspect of this book that I really liked is that it is a paranormal novel that doesn't fit the same cookie cutter mold as so many of the other ones out there right now. Derry isn't predestined for great things. No one is viciously plotting her demise or to obtain her, solely for her powers. She has been aware of her gift for as long as she can remember, and embraces it. Even while using it to her advantage, she still seeks some normalcy and has a desire to blend in as much as possible. It's a breath of fresh air.

I like Derry. She seems really down-to-earth, despite having this "gift" that allows her to always see the truth in people, no matter how much they try to hide it. She has been unable to lead a normal life, having been sheltered by being homeschooled. All she wants is the chance to have a normal high school experience before going on to college. She gets anything but that.

Her desire for friendship is genuine. She actually has an advantage by truly being able to see people for who they are. Her big heart helps her to find those who are need of a real friend, even if it gets her into some trouble. She usually uses her gift for the greater good and doesn't take advantage of it, like others may do or hope to do.

Her role as a school news reporter is the perfect cover for her ability. She is gifted in asking people questions to expose the truths that they have unknowingly revealed to her. She builds relationships with people, who end up being able to help her when she needs it the most. She also meets some unsavory characters through this job. For some of them, their stories come to a conclusion in this book. For others, it sounds like their stories are just beginning and may be explored in sequels.

This book also treads on the ground of typical high school experiences. You have your mean girls and the guys who think they are God's gift to women. You have the insecure kids who may have ridden high in the past, but one faux pas sent then crashing down to the pits of popularity. You have the loners and the bad boys. Readers are going to recognize a lot of these characters from their own high school experiences. I think Mattie has some good insight into the world of the teenager. 

On occasion, I admit that I got confused. Were the words actually being spoken or actually written, or was it just Derry's interpretation? Sometimes the true meaning and what was really said or written got a little mixed up. Of course, I can believe that isn't too far off from how Derry's life actually is - confusing the two.

I look forward to checking out more of her books in the future.

Book links

Read my interview with Mattie Dunman here.

Author Bio:

Mattie Dunman is a lifelong resident of "Wild & Wonderful" West Virginia, and has dreamed of being a writer since she first held a pen in hand.

Mattie has pursued several useless degrees to support this dream, and presently enjoys teaching (or tormenting, as the case may be) college students the dying art of public speaking. She spends most of her free time writing, but also indulges in reading and traveling.

She is the proud owner of an adorably insane American Eskimo named Finn, and a tyrant cat named Bella, who take up more of her attention than they probably should.

Please visit Mattie's website at and on Goodreads at

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