The Themes, Characters, & Writing Style in ‘Gripped 4: Smoke & Mirrors’ Make it a 5-star Read for All Ages

Written by Timmy Weiss, Weston, MA

Timmy Weiss is a senior at St. Sebastian’s high school.  He is a varsity tennis and varsity soccer player, as well as a part of MPA (men with positive attitudes), the newspaper named The Walrus, and the peer mentoring club. He enjoys traveling, spending time with family and friends, volunteering, and going to sports games. Soon he hopes to study communications in college. 

After reading Gripped Part 4: Smoke & Mirrors by Stacy Padula, I would recommend this book to middle schoolers and high schoolers because it shows how kids can easily start using drugs.  It is important for middle and high schoolers to learn how drug use can start so that they are prepared and so they know the possible effects of drug use.  This book of the series detailed many times how a good kid like Taylor can get caught up in painkillers that completely ruin his life.  Having kids understand drug abuse can start for any person is extremely important.

The topics covered in this book are relevant for teenagers because it discusses many situations teens will be put in.  Parties, being offered alcohol, being offered drugs, sexual encounters, and lying and hiding things from parents and friends.  The most important lesson that the book gives us about these topics is to be extremely cautious.  We learn through the book how all of these things can be extremely detrimental to all aspects of the kids’ lives.  Their academics can drop, their relationships and friend circles can change, and their drive to push themselves in athletics could start to falter.

Parents should also read this book because they will further understand the severity of teenagers’ behaviors.  Many parents expect their kids to do the right thing and not be stupid, but it doesn’t really work like that.  The book proves through characters like Cathy and Alyssa that innocent people make bad decisions when surrounded by people involved in dangerous behavior.  

What I liked best about Gripped Part 4: Smoke & Mirrors was the immense drama at all times.  There was always something happening that kept you on your toes such as Jeff taking the vicodin and what would be the consequences to everyone, or why couldn’t Taylor pick up Jordan at the airport.  The other things that kept me turning the page was the constant dialogue between characters.  I don’t like books where there is little dialogue between characters, thus I enjoyed the abundant dialogue in this book. Additionally, the way that the book goes back in time and then back to the present is very cool.  Almost no books do that, but I enjoy reading this style although it frustrates you when you can’t gain closure about a timeline starting at the beginning of the book until the end of the book.  For the same reason it keeps a reader engaged to read more.  I enjoy it because in the present we know things that in the past the characters don’t, which is nice because it keeps the reader “in the know.”

Looking ahead to Gripped 5, I am very curious to see what will happen to Taylor.  Is he in great danger?  Is his family in great danger?  Does the mafia know the police are investigating him?  I’m also very interested to see if this whole scenario of trying to help Taylor will bring Marc and Jordan closer together, or if once Jordan tells Marc that he’s been texting Michelle if Marc will be mad. I’m interested to see what shapes up between Cathy’s relationship.  Will she choose Jason or Marc?


After spending her first month of high school grounded, Cathy Kagelli is finally allowed to socialize and uncover what her boyfriend, Jason Davids, has been up to without her. When Cathy realizes Jason has been experimenting with a variety of drugs, she devises a plan to save him from himself… but she just may lose herself in the process.

Meanwhile Taylor Dunkin finds himself playing a game with even higher stakes because his life, his reputation, and the safety of everyone he loves are all on the line. Taylor’s two younger brothers, Jordan and Marc, have been at odds for years, but they are brought together to decipher the mysterious clues Taylor is leaving regarding his whereabouts. As secrets are revealed, the Dunkin boys’ relationships will be changed forever. In Taylor’s weakest moment, he made a deal with the devil, and now there is a reckoning. But who will pay the price?

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.