Series: Once Upon a Crime Family # 1
Published by Bloomsbury USA Children's on May 19, 2015
Penelope Landlow has grown up with the knowledge that almost anything can be bought or sold—including body parts. She’s the daughter of one of the three crime families that control the black market for organ transplants.
Penelope’s surrounded by all the suffocating privilege and protection her family can provide, but they can't protect her from the autoimmune disorder that causes her to bruise so easily.
And in her family's line of work no one can be safe forever.
All Penelope has ever wanted is freedom and independence. But when she’s caught in the crossfire as rival families scramble for prominence, she learns that her wishes come with casualties, that betrayal hurts worse than bruises, that love is a risk worth taking . . . and maybe she’s not as fragile as everyone thinks.
This poor book. It’s a mess. The first 20% of the book could have been an article in a women’s magazine titled, “My Rare and Potentially Fatal Illness,” by Penelope Landlow. I learned more than I cared to know about Penny’s illness which results in her bleeding internally at the slightest bump and requires regular monitoring and treatment. It goes on and on: Don’t touch Penny! Don’t let Penny go outside! Keep treating Penny like a helpless infant! When it became clear that this was going to be a major theme throughout the book, I was ready to DNF. But the only thing of substance we learned in this first 20% is that Penny’s father is the head of a large organization that traffics in black market organs. I decided to continue on because I was waiting for Penny to give some thought to the ethics of the family business. Fortunately, it soon becomes clear why so much time was devoted to every nuance of Penny’s illness and how it relates to the larger plot. And the reason is…wait a minute. There is NO reason.
I think we can all agree that elderly people or people who have Down’s syndrome (two examples specifically cited in this book as people who are unable to get on donor waiting lists) should be able to get needed transplants. But what if their only means of getting these organs is to pay an enormous amount of money on the black market? What’s missing in this story is any thought given to the other side of the equation of the black market trade: the donor. In this book, the donors are painted in a very rosy light, like a college student who gives up a kidney in order to pay off her student loan debts. Sounds kinda nice, right? Everyone wins. But is this the reality? I watched a documentary last year about the black market for organs. The companies operate in third-world countries and prey upon impoverished, under-educated, and desperate people. These people give up their organs for a pittance, and their organs are then sold to wealthy Westerners. What happens if the donors get sick as a result of the procedure? What level of care do they receive? What happens if, years later, their one remaining kidney fails and THEY need a transplant? Will the company who took theirs step up to find a new one? Finally, do these people have any idea of the huge variance between the tiny payment they receive for giving up an organ and the large amount of money the donee pays for it?
OK, I’ll get off my soapbox now. But these are the things I wanted Penny to question. I wanted her to think about her family’s enormous wealth and how it wouldn’t have been possible if the donors weren’t being exploited. Both she (and the author) paint her family as the “good” black market organ factory, while the others are the bad ones. Incidentally, all of the organ companies in this story operate in the U.S. fairly openly. When any talk of fear of law enforcement comes up, it’s brushed aside with, “We’ve paid them all off.” How do all of these families keep their enormous, heavily secured, and heavily guarded estates away from prying eyes? “We pay off all the cab drivers so they won’t drive anyone up to our gates.” HUH???????
I’ll quickly sum up the rest of this story:
– Halfway through, a BIG, BAD THING happens that sends Penny on the run to New York. Most readers will immediately know who is responsible for the BIG, BAD THING. But not Penny.
– Before going on the run, Penny and one of her father’s employees engage in mutual flirting and swooning. Penny even tells her father that the two should get married and take over the business. Dad doesn’t like the idea.
– While on the run, Penny is desperate to get in touch with Guy # 1. She is madly in love with him until she (literally) runs into Guy # 2. Guy # 1 immediately disappears from her thoughts, and Penny and Guy # 2 engage in mutual flirting and swooning. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that EVERY reader will immediately know the real identity of Guy # 2. But not Penny.
– Guy # 2 stalks the hell out of Penny, and Penny loves it. He follows her to the apartment where she’s hiding, and he spends the next few days hovering outside, waiting for her to leave. That’s true love right there. Right? RIGHT???? Penny starts to fall even harder for this freak.
– Penny acquires some information indicating that some people on the other side of the country are about to be killed. By this point, she has made some high power contacts like, oh, for example, the Vice President of the United States. A member of the Secret Service. Rather than calling the endangered people or local law enforcement or the Vice President (who has proven himself trustworthy and willing to do anything to help and protect Penny), she boards a plane for a long flight to go directly to these people whom others are planning to kill. Smart move, Penny.
The rest plays out predictably, as well as ridiculously.
Note: I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.