First Reads Friday Presents: HEAR by Robin Epstein

From the Book Flap:

Kassandra Black used to get away with things. She was her high school’s anonymous vigilante, exposing bullies and predators. But when she’s expelled for breaking into another student’s car just weeks before graduation, her acceptance to Columbia is revoked. Now her future depends on behaving herself for the summer at Henley University under the watchful eye of her great-uncle Brian. If she successfully assists him in his HEAR program (Henley Engineering Anomalies Research), and if he puts in a good word for her, she can at least go to college somewhere. As Kass gets to know the four other HEAR students, she realizes that she overlooked the “Anomalies” part of their acronym. They’ve all been recruited to help Brian run experiments that gauge Extrasensory Perception—including, to her astonishment, Kass herself. But Kass would know if she were psychic; right?

Overall: The premise of HEAR is an interesting one: Kassandra Black finds herself thrown into a group of elite teens who all possess Extrasensory Perception (ESP) for a summer research project. At first Kass thinks she’s to be the research assistant to her great uncle Brian, but she soon realizes she a subject in this psychic test group, not an observer. While Kass struggles to understand what her abilities are, if any, strange things start to happen at Henley University.

In HEAR’s foreshadowing prologue we learn that of the  five participants in the HEAR program, one will be an outcast and one is going to die. The first half of the book gets us caught up to the scene in the prologue.  The second half of the book centers on Kass trying to figure out who is going to die and why.

HEAR is part origin story-setting up how and why Kass is at Henley and how the HEAR program came to be, and part thriller-teasing us with the foreknowledge that one of the characters we are getting to know will die. There are plenty of twists, turns and red-herrings to keep you guessing right up until the end.

Judge a Book by its Cover: I initially agreed to read this ARC because of the cover. We see a face with skin so pale that only the eyes and contoured nose and lips stand out. Faintly overlaid, nearly unnoticeable at first glance are the repeating wave, star, circle, square, plus sign pattern found on Zener cards which are used to test ESP. The cover is hypnotic and whispered “read me” into my subconscious brain.

Me Talk Pretty: Kass immediately gets on the bad side of her fellow study mate Pankaj, who thinks Kass is a spoiled rich girl and tells her as much. We soon learn that Pankaj has good reason to be annoyed by Kass’s last minute invitation to the HEAR study. The banter between Kass and Pankaj is entertaining, especially since you can sense an underlined attraction between them as they bicker.

The Chosen One: Kass isn’t exactly The Choose One, we do see how she reacts learning that she has psychic abilities. She takes it pretty well, maybe too well at times. Personally, I think my freak-out factor would be off the charts if I started seeing visions and hearing voices.

Open tab/Last call: Epstein leaves the door open for a book 2 so we’re one more round to see where she might take this story.

HEAR by Robin Epstein is out December 29, 2015. You can pre-order Hear, here.