Rating: 4.5 stars
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The fact that Jack Carlisle has had an illustrious career with the Center for years shows many things, like dedication, adaptability, and resourcefulness. The fact that Jack is only 16 makes him exceptional. Never having had a choice in the course of his life, Jack is constantly pushed to perform better, to learn, get in, assess, and help extract the target.
The latest individual in the crosshairs is Leo McCormack, a high school senior and captain of the track and field team. Jack is integrated into the school and quickly wins a coveted spot on the track team, except the high school dynamic is in itself crazy and Jack has been put in a tough spot. The goal is Leo, yet fellow students Sarah and her ex, and Jack’s teammate Johnny are a source of complication to the mission.
Jack’s actions cause chaos for fellow track teammate Johnny who is not willing to let the mysterious Jack off the hook. Jack is a star performer on the track team, yet has no stats, no history, nothing. Johnny is a risk the mission cannot afford. At the same time, Leo and Jack are growing closer. The attraction is a new experience for Jack and finally, Leo and Jack kiss. The kiss leads to more, both physically and emotionally for the boys, the ultimate complication.
Can Jack follow through with the Center’s operation, and risk destroying, or even ending Leo’s life, or are his doubts about the Center and burgeoning feelings for Leo enough to go against his years of training?
For a short novel, You Don’t Know Jack had extremely well-developed characters and the storyline was plausible. I really felt for Jack as he navigates his latest life, detached from reality, knowing none of it is real. I also appreciated how Jack begins to feels the stirrings of something when he is around Leo, having been kept under close scrutiny and sheltered from the world, stunting his emotional growth. Now Jack is figuring himself out on this assignment and boy, is he confused.
Jack’s handler, Matt is different from Jack’s previous handlers, less black and white, more flexible, and dare I say “human,” even though the structure and discipline is still evident. Matt is worried about Jack getting too close to Sarah, not realizing that Leo is the bigger interest. Leo being gay is a secret even the all powerful Center does not know about and for the first time ever, Jack withholds information, showing a shifting loyalty and emotional growth.
The timeline was very short, just a few weeks, centered around the few key characters and track and field. This ensured a clean, uncomplicated story with a fantastic ending that is the perfect set up for a sequel if Lee so desired. It was not until the end, though that I wondered how Jack came to be an operative for the Center and at what age, but this gap was minor and did not affect my enjoyment of the story.
You Don’t Know Jack was not what I was expecting, it was more, and all I can hope is that the setup for a sequel is not a cruel joke, because I just loved the characters, and can see so many opportunities for Jack to continue to mature, and for Lee to expand on Jack’s emotional growth.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.