By Mackenzie Wells, Athens, GA
At the very beginning of the first book in Stacy Padula’s best-selling young adult series, Gripped, the reader gains a glimpse of where Taylor Dunkin ends up. Without any understanding of who he was before or how he wound up in his current predicament, it was easy to make assumptions about him, presume the worst, and avoid seeing him as a real person with a valid story. However, the masterful stories shared through the first two Gripped books help the reader gain a perspective of Taylor’s full story. Learning about his aspirations, his feelings toward his family, his hopes, and his fears gives me a greater appreciation for his struggles. Where I could only blame him for the harm he was doing before, I now see how many things were out of his control.
Taylor’s younger cousin Chris Dunkin was always described as “the life of the party” or the “guy people went to when they wanted to have a good time.” In the first book, he seemed to be pushing his friends to try drinking or smoking, all in the name of partying. However, by the second book more of his character is revealed. Although the second book shows Chris getting himself and his friends deeper into drugs, he is also portrayed as a very kind person who only has others’ best interests at heart. I began to see that he had been trying to fill the void in his heart with worldly things, but it’s clear that he wants to turn his life around now.
I think when Chris and Lisa Ankerman first started dating, they were completely consumed by each other. They were each looking to the other to fulfill the voids they had in their own hearts. Of course, as humans, they each fell short and only set each other up for pain. They are both lacking affection from their parents, and they wanted someone to make them feel loved. However, they were both too young and were each dealing with too many struggles to be what the other needed them to be. I think their relationship was too obsessive, and they were seeking to lose themselves—and their pain—in each other, which was a recipe for disaster.
Another noteworthy relationship in the book series is between Chris and Lisa’s two best friends, Cathy Kagelli and Jason Davids (although Cathy also is seen dating Marc Dunkin at a later time). I definitely think that the chemistry between Cathy and Jason is more palpable than the chemistry between her and Marc. She and Marc seem to be together more out of convenience and physical attraction, as opposed to true affection for each other. While Jason was definitely bad for Cathy and dragged her down in middle school, in high school it seems that he has pulled himself together and could actually help her. If he has truly changed for the better, then I am definitely rooting for him and Cathy to end up together.
Although he only makes a smattering of appearances, I really like Jason’s oldest brother, Matt Davids. He is a role model for the younger students, even if his own brothers do not choose to model themselves after him. When he and his girlfriend, Ally, drive Chris home from Courtney’s pool, Chris describes the two of them as using their leadership positions to try to direct younger kids on the straight-and-narrow path. Chris says that “the senior class certainly gave the younger kids a reason to look up to them, and Matt Davids led the charge” (163). I also like Chris after this book. He definitely hits the lowest of the lows, and he drags others down with him, but we have seen from the flash-forwards that he pulls his life together. I think he is an inspirational and dynamic character.
Mackenzie is a recent graduate from the University of Georiga who has degrees in English and Public Relations. She has always adored talking about books, and she loves the opportunity to help others bring their books to life. She is an avid reader (obviously), a dog lover, and a tea enthusiast.