An Interview with UGA’s Mackenzie Wells on Gripped 1: The Truth We Never Told

Mackenzie is a senior at the University of Georgia majoring in English and public relations. She is a leader at the Wesley Foundation at UGA, the community outreach coordinator for UGA’s Undergraduate English Association, and a member of the Public Relations Student Society of America. Mackenzie has always had a passionate love for books and their ability to open doors to new worlds. She is excited to assist Stacy Padula O’Halloran in making a change in the young adult community.
  1. Who would you recommend Gripped Part 1 to and why?

“Gripped Part 1” by Stacy Padula deals with the stories of young adults navigating the transitions between middle school, high school, and college. I would recommend this book to readers in middle or high school. These books give them a glimpse into how one person’s decision can play out on a grand scale and affect many other people. For example, the decisions that Taylor has made have affected Chris, Jason, Mark, Cathy, and many others.

  1. How do you as a young adult relate to the story?

I can see myself in different characters, which makes me hope the best for them. As their decisions or the decisions of others hurt them, I start analyzing every choice which led up to those circumstances.I start looking at where each of them went wrong and what decisions led them to heartbreak or danger.

  1. What did you like best about the story?

I love the rich, narrative world which has far more depth than many books I have read. The characters are multi-dimensional, and their relationships are nuanced. I enjoyed the initial and very innocent connection between Jason and Cathy. I thought their chemistry was very tangible and intriguing, especially so because the reader has the foresight that they will split apart. 

  1. What message does this book send to readers?

The message centers around drug and alcohol use and its effects on an entire community. When one person falls under a vice, they inevitably bring others down with them. For example, the decisions that Taylor made affected Chris, Jason, Marc, Cathy, and many others. Even those who are not involved in drugs because of Taylor still have been hurt by his addictions.

  1. Who do you feel bad for and why?

I feel bad for Lisa who has lost both her parents and has absolutely no parental guidance to help her navigate the struggles of her adolescence. Her group of friends has split along different boundaries, and she has lost people because of the drama going on.

  1. Who frustrates you and why? 

Both Jordan and Chris are rapidly travelling toward destruction. It is frustrating to watch them make bad decisions and lead others into destruction. So far, in “Gripped Part 1” neither of them have actually had any repercussions for their decisions (except we know that Chris almost has an overdose somewhere between the flashbacks and the “present day” narratives) which is frustrating as well. It feels unfair that they are breaking the rules and getting away with it while others are paying the price. 

  1. Who do you most relate to and why?

I see myself in Chantal or Cathy — in the flashbacks. I probably relate more to Chantal than Cathy, especially as Cathy begins to keep secrets and make decisions that hurt others. I also relate to Lisa who has dealt with loss and had to pull her life back together. 

  1. Who do you like and why? 

I like Jason in both the flashbacks and the “present day” stories. He obviously makes some mistakes in the time in between, but he has everyone else’s best interests at heart. I like Cathy in the flashbacks; it is difficult to see her in the flashforwards, because she is obviously struggling and trying to find a coping mechanism. 

  1. Who do you hate and why?

I don’t think I hate any of the characters. Every time someone seems to be completely to blame, a detail comes to light which explains their actions. So far, Jon has been my least favorite, just because his actions have been so strange and unexplained. Everyone has at least some redeeming qualities, even when they are making terrible decisions. 

  1. There are a few different storylines running through Gripped Part 1 because it is setting up the rest of the series. What storyline do you find the most interesting and why?

I find the police investigation into Taylor very interesting. It seems that all these kids in middle school and high school are in their own world. They are not depicted as having many rules or repercussions. Their parents, teachers, and coaches are only briefly present, and kids get away with a lot without their parents even asking any questions. The police investigation proves that their issues do not exist in isolation from the rest of the world. Especially the group Taylor is involved in brings very real dangers into the characters’ lives. 

  1. Gripped Part 1 sets up the rest of the series but leaves a lot of things “hanging.” What are you most curious to uncover by reading Gripped Part 2?

The jumps back and forth between flashbacks and more current time periods leave a lot of unanswered questions. I am intrigued to find out how Jason and Cathy got into drugs, what happened with Chris’s near overdose, and what Marc is going to do about the drug investigation.

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.

Other Articles by Mackenzie:

A Story of Hope & Redemption for Teenagers

The Screwtape Letters Meets Nancy Drew in This Spiritual Warfare Must-Read

Fiction Novel Addresses the Struggle for Acceptance Teens Commonly Face in High School

Teen Novel “The Right Person” Prepares Kids for the Social Pressures of High School

Teen Novel Demonstrates the Power of God and Salvation

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.