Book Reviews: Mechanicsville (YA) by Laurie Stewart

Fair warning, I don’t normally pick up YA, or books this dark and gritty. However, I was familiar with Laurie Stewart’s work, and having enjoyed her magical way of spinning a tale in the past I decided to take her up on the offer for review copies of her Mechanicsville series.

In the synopsis for book 1 Stewart tells us what her themes are: isolation, change, and loyalty. These play out with a trio of Ottawa teenagers who live in Mechanicsville, a low-income and dangerous area of the Nation’s capital. Ashleigh is the street-smart, tough-as-nails kid who leads the other troubled youth with her “bad ass” attitude, but really she longs for someone she can be safe and herself with. Samantha falls from privilege and has to cope with change, and Faraj embraces loyalty to his own detriment.

The book is very compelling and I found myself wanting to read all of it in one sitting. The unique first-person perspective resets each scene with the new narrators POV and allowed the reader to have compassion, or at least understanding and insight, into each character.

The situations the teens encounter are extremely heavy and several scenes were very disturbing. Stewart doesn’t pull her punches. She writes these scenes well and gives her audience the chance to have real and visceral reactions to terrible issues.

In book 1 the antagonists were more abstract, but a few villains materialize in book 2, preparing us for the final battles the protagonists are sure to face in book 3. We want them to overcome their demons and get on the “right track”, but Stewart doesn’t make any promises.

My biggest takeaways from these books were first, how nice it was to have such a diverse cast. Book 2 increases the cast size from 3 POVs to 5. I found myself really rooting for Ashleigh and wanting the story to return to her perspective the most. In the end, it was really her that had the most character development and story conclusion, happy or sad as it may have been.

After finishing book 1 I was glad I could start book 2 right away. It picks up where the last one left off, with the characters dealing with their new situations. I was glad to see the return of a surprise character, and the addition of a new teen, Willow. She has completely different challenges than the others, yet is a much-needed lighthearted addition to the ensemble cast.

Book 2 more or less leaves off in cliffhanger way, leaving many loose threads and a lingering feeling that with this set of teens, the tides could turn at any second.

I felt in this book (as in the first), Ashleigh had the most developed character arc. She not only has her own problems, but cares about her friends and other people who are suffering in the world. She’s struggling to balance between what she is expected to do and what she feels her duties are to others. I’m excited to read the next part of her story, and eagerly awaiting the announcement of a book 3 release date!

BOOK ONE: A Test of Loyalty, 200 pages published by Covid Moon Publishing August 30, 2015

BOOK TWO: Alone in the Night, 190 pages, published by Pronoun October 30, 2016