Relatable Characters Make “Gripped” a Must Read for High School Students

Article by Katherine Nally, Scituate, MA

At the end of Gripped Part 1: The Truth We Never Told by Stacy A. Padula, I was left dying to uncover what happens between Taylor Dunkin and the Boston police. In the last chapter of Gripped Part 1, a detective interrupts Marc Dunkin’s meeting at Boston College to talk to him about his older brother Taylor. Since the Boston Police Department does not want to make direct contact with Taylor, as it would seem suspicious, the detective gives Marc a phone for Taylor. I cannot wait to see if Taylor will get out of the drug dealing business for good or if his supplier, Donald Bilotti, will rope him in again. This plot line is left hanging, and I cannot wait to see if Marc will also get involved in the investigation. 

In Gripped Part 1, there are many compelling characters for which I feel significant empathy. The one whom I feel the worst for is Taylor Dunkin. Taylor had such a bright future ahead of him, set to play football at an elite college, but after a knee injury, his dreams came crashing down. After two debilitating surgeries, Taylor began taking prescribed pain medication and eventually formed an addiction, which led him to begin dealing drugs to support his habit. After coming face to face with his poor choices, Taylor wanted out of the drug ring, but that became a dangerous feat. Donald Bilotti, the center of the crime ring, refused to let Taylor out of the game. Ultimately, outside pressures forced Taylor to keep dealing drugs to ensure his own survival. 

Another main character in Gripped Part 1, Jason Davids, is the one whom I am most impressed with. During the flashback part of the novel, Jason was so comforting and supportive of Cathy when her best friend, Lisa, tricked her into sleeping over Chris’s house. Jason made sure that Cathy had a room to sleep in and suggested watching a movie to take her mind off of the troubling situation. Another reason why I like Jason is because he is creative and always wants to stay active, whether it entails playing cards or manhunt. Additionally, in the present-day story after Jason and Cathy break up, he takes responsibility for his actions and the detrimental things he introduced to her.

Personally, I relate the most to Cathy. I admire the way she tries to protect her sister’s feelings but at the same time does not jump to conclusions about Alyssa Kelly. Although she is a part of many different friend groups, Cathy tries to make everyone feel special and like they are important. She is very analytical and thinks carefully about her decisions before jumping into anything irrational. Another way I am similar to Cathy is that she is very close and open with her mother. I feel like Cathy and I both share many of the same qualities and traits. 

Out of all of the relationships in Gripped, I find the one between Jason and Cathy the most interesting. They went from dating for almost two years to not speaking for months. The majority of the book focused on them getting to know each other, so I am curious about what happened between them in eighth and the beginning of ninth grade that led them to separate. It was mentioned during part of the book that Jason blamed himself for Cathy’s downfall, but it never got into the details. I am curious about when and how Cathy and Jason got into drugs, as that fate seemed highly unlikely for either character based on their strong morals and wise decisions in Gripped Part 1.

While I do not hate any of the Gripped characters, my least favorite character thus far is Taylor’s younger brother Jordan. He is the main reason why his younger cousin, Chris, was introduced to partying at such a young age. Jordan, who is depicted as a reckless senior in high school during the flashback part of the story, did not think about the longterm effects that throwing parties every weekend at Chris’s house would have on his younger cousin. When Chris was in seventh grade, Jordan bought him alcohol and let him smoke marijuana. I think Jordan acted this way because he wanted Chris to think he was “cooler” than his brothers Marc and Taylor, but in the long run, this was a huge contributing factor to Chris’s downfall. 


Katherine (Kate) is a senior at Scituate High School. She is actively involved in a variety of extracurriculars, with a clear passion for serving others. She has ventured twice to West Virginia with the Appalachia Service Project and looks forward to doing more service trips in college. She is also an active member of Best Buddies and Student Government. In college, Kate is looking forward to exploring a broad array of coursework from English to science and beyond.


In high school, Taylor Dunkin broke more records than any other athlete to step foot in Montgomery, Massachusetts. As a sophomore in college, he was ranked by ESPN as one of the NFL’s top 100 prospects. However, his aspirations came to a jarring halt when a knee injury and two surgeries left him sidelined.

One year later, Taylor is a person of interest in a highly confidential investigation headed by the Boston Police Department. He has entangled himself in a crime ring notorious for pushing opiates, cocaine, and benzodiazepines on local college campuses.

When Taylor’s younger brother Marc discovers that Taylor is behind the copious drug supply circulating around Montgomery Lake High School, he sets off to not only reverse the damage Taylor has caused, but also save his lifelong role model from becoming a casualty of America’s deadly opioid epidemic.


Published by Author Stacy A. Padula

Stacy Padula has spent the last 14 years working daily with teenagers as a college counselor, mentor, and life coach. She was named "Top Inspirational Author of the Year" for 2022 by the International Association of Top Professionals (New York, NY). In 2021, she was broadcast on the famous Reuters Building in Times Square as "Empowered Woman of the Year." Her Gripped book series is currently being adapted for TV by Emmy-winning producer Mark Blutman. She is the founder and CEO of Briley & Baxter Publications: a publishing company that donates a portion of its proceeds to animal rescues each month. She has edited and published a variety of titles, including Boston Bruins Anthem Singer Todd Angilly and Rachel Goguen's The Adventures of Owen & the Anthem Singer, LaTonya Pinkard of Netflix's Last Chance U's Nate & His Magic Lion, and former NHL player Norm Beaudin's memoir The Original: Living Life Through Hockey. Stacy resides in Plymouth, Massachusetts with her husband Tim and two miniature dachshunds, Briley and Baxter.