Manipulate is a decently written story with enough pathos and engaging characters to keep readers invested to the end. Though a bit too long and with whole sections that could be removed to streamline the story, I found myself interested enough to want to finish. At heart, we have a cautionary story on race relations and understanding what it means to be human. And the soul is very much the very likeable protagonist, 19 year old Sam.
Story: When a supercollider explodes in Switzerland and causes widespread environmental and economic disaster, aliens appear and clear up the radiation and save millions. But the price is that children are taken from all over the world and sent to the alien homeworld for training. 13 year old Sam was abruptly removed from his home and now returns 7 years later, for the first time, to a very different Los Angeles. There is unrest at his home planet and his charisma is needed to keep people calm. But that undercurrent of unrest poses a huge problem for the humans: they are about to be judged by a council of alien species – and if proven unfit, they will be open to annihilation. Can Sam find a bridge between the humans and the aliens before it is too late?
Despite my enjoyment of the characters, it wasn’t a perfect book. E.g., sloppy writing or poor research was distracting (i.e., Sam walks out of the Chinese Theater onto Hollywood “Avenue” and then went to Disney World (Disneyland is in LA, Disney World is in Florida). Anyone from Los Angeles would never mix those up and Sam hadn’t been gone that long. And as already noted, the book really is too long. It would have been an excellent book with about 1/4 excised.
But those quibbles aside, this is really a character piece. Sam is very much an everyman and straddling two very different cultures. The insectoid type aliens who raised him to manhood and the family who had to give him up. Sam was chosen by the aliens because of his ability to ‘manipulate’ (read: charisma) and speak the right words at the right time. But the unrest means that the cadets who return are targeted for violence by the humans and by other aliens hoping to take advantage of a poor council ruling. Most of the plot involves the machinations of the different aliens and how Sam and his cadet friends deal with the situations that arise.
The ‘bad aliens’ were fairly one-dimensional and probably should give up their villain cards since their plans were so incredibly bad and unproductive. Their POVs really weren’t needed and just made them seem even sillier than their plotting. I was always relieved when the story came back to Sam again since his was the most compelling POV.
The story is YA – this isn’t hard hitting sci fi but it isn’t insulting YA, either. Author Garrett’s strength is in characterizations and therein lies the charm of Manipulate. You want to see how Sam will handle every situation and if he will figure out the evil plans of the aliens in time to save the Earth. It’s a very easy and fluid read.
I listened to the Audible version and the narrator did a decent job. I could have wished for different ‘voices’ among the characters – sometimes the dialogue blended. But in all, a decent narration.