Mackenzie Wells Analyzes Key Relationships in Stacy Padula’s Gripped Book Series

By Mackenzie Wells, Athens, GA

In “Gripped 4: Smoke & Mirrors” by Stacy Padula, I loved seeing the dynamic between the three Dunkin brothers (Taylor, Jordan, and Marc), especially now as they are changing for the better. I think there have always been redeeming qualities in Marc’s relationship with Taylor. Even when Taylor was at his lowest, it is easy to see the closeness that he and Marc once enjoyed as well as how Marc’s hope for Taylor is stronger than his judgement of him. On the other hand, Marc does not grant Jordan the same benefit of the doubt. I believe the fact that they are closer in age and have both taken interest in the same girl are contributing factors.

“Gripped 4” reveals more about Jordan’s relationship with Taylor, which is sweet to see after only knowing Jordan as the “black sheep” of the family and only knowing Jordan’s strained relationship with Marc. Jordan is a devoted brother to Taylor, which shows a lot about his character and the potential relationship he could have with Marc. I probably relate the most to Marc, because he always tries to do what is right. Sometimes he gets so caught up in his own opinion about what is right, however, that he never stops to realize that he, himself, could be wrong. 

I loved getting to see more of Jordan in this book. He is friendly and gregarious, and he just immediately starts to grow on you. The fact that he has lived with his own tarnished reputation in order to protect someone else also demands respect. I also really liked Michelle Taylor in this book. She and Jordan are both such likable people that it makes me really root for them as a couple! I loved getting to actually see inside Michelle’s thoughts in this book. She is much more down to earth than many of her peers, but she is not too serious or stuck up. She is good friends with pretty much everyone, and she supports those who are different from her without necessarily condoning their actions. I like seeing her blossoming relationship with Jordan, but I can only fear what it will be like for Marc when he finds out. 

I think the physical attraction between Marc and Cathy is real, but I don’t think they will actually stay together in the long run. I noticed in the story’s flashbacks that every time Jason was behaving badly toward Cathy, she began to notice Marc more. I think Marc has been a little bit idealized in her mind, and she is just using him to deal with her hurt from Jason. I definitely think that Cathy should have broken up with Jason when he was acting so self-destructively. There is a certain point when she was right to stick it out and try to help him, but he crossed that point and brought her down a dark path with him. I think after their breakup, it might have been good for her to have been single for a while, but I also think she would have been more tempted to go back to Jason if it were not for Marc. 

For such a smart kid, Jason did not make many intelligent decisions in this book. It is impossible not to be frustrated by him. I have a degree of sympathy for him because he is so incapable of dealing with disappointment and dejection, but at the same time it in no way excuses his actions. He hurts other people as well as himself in a blind desire to drown out his feelings. 

Another interesting dynamic in “Gripped 4” is to see how the different grades relate to each other. I have seen in real life how different classes can have their own reputations. There is no easy explanation as to why there are such different dynamics between them. I think, in some ways, they are probably reinforced through time as a “good” class or a “bad” class by hearing it over and over again. But I also think that just the personalities of the leaders in the group play a role. If everyone in the group is uplifting, then they will be conducive to a positive atmosphere. However, if the whole group is competitive and prone to comparison, then they will continue tearing each other down and finding issues with each other.

After finishing “Gripped 4: Smoke & Mirrors,” I am greatly anticipating learning the whereabouts and safety of Taylor Dunkin. I am also interested to see what exactly happened with Missy, because I think she has the key to understanding more about Taylor’s situation. In connection with these, I believe it will be interesting to see what Mr. Dunkin seemed to know when Jordan spoke to him on the phone. On another note, I am intrigued to learn more about what truly happened to Michelle at that party. My new hunch is that Day Angeletti may have had something to do with it, because her involvement would have been enough to make headlines. But Michelle would be likely to protect her, because she turned her life around. Lots to ponder before the release of Gripped 5!

About Mackenzie

Mackenzie graduated in 2020 from 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 in making a change in the young adult community.

Articles by Mackenzie

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.