Friday, October 29, 2010

Book Review: Hailey's War by Jodi Compton

Title: Hailey's War
Author: Jodi Compton
ISBN: 978-0307588050
Pages: 336
Release Date: June 2010
Publisher: Crown Publishing
Genre: Mystery; Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4.0 out of 5

Publisher: Twenty-four-year-old Hailey Cain has dropped out of the US Military Academy for reasons she won't reveal. She has had to leave Los Angeles and it would be too big a risk for her to return. Now working as a bike messenger in San Francisco, Hailey keeps a low profile, until her high school best friend Serena Delgadillo makes a call that will turn her whole life upside-down. Serena is the head of an all-female gang on the rough streets of LA. She wants Hailey to escort the cousin of a recently murdered gang member across the border to Mexico. It's a mission that will nearly cost Hailey her life, causing her to choose more than once between loyalty and lawlessness, and forcing her to confront two very big secrets in her past...

My review: Hailey's War is a unique mystery story. A young woman, Nidia, is missing, presumed kidnapped and believed to be in great danger. But this is not a detective story. There are no police involved. There is only the young, female protagonist, Hailey Cain, who has made it her mission to save Nidia at great risk to herself. What's interesting and extremely unusual is: Hailey doesn't know the kidnapped girl. We don't know what motivates Hailey or why she is obsessed with saving Nidia. In other words: the biggest mystery in this story is Hailey Cain herself.

Hailey is the book's strongest suit. Jodi Compton created a layered, complicated character that keeps you guessing as to what motivates her but allows you to relate to and root for her. As much as Hailey's complexity is the book's greatest plus, the lack of any other well-developed characters is its most important shortcoming. More involvement in the lives of some of the other characters would have made for a more in-depth and interesting story. Instead, we get a book made up of only one truly three-dimensional character.

Hailey's a loner and seems to have difficulty communicating and sharing. There are only two people with whom she is close. The first is her cousin, music producer CJ, who she tell very little about her life because she doesn't want him to worry. The second is her best friend, Serena, who happens to be the head of a Los Angeles girl gang!

Hailey's father was a soldier who died when she was eleven. Hailey loved him and to her, he was a warrior which helps explain why, by the age of thirteen, she'd set her sites on West Point. Hailey was ultimately admitted to and excelled at West Point, but was discharged for reasons known only to her. She was two months from graduating.

Hailey then finds herself lost and floundering, feeling like a failure, a disappointment to her father and herself. She starts drinking a lot and lashing out in anger at unexpected times. She takes a job as a bike messenger, disregarding her personal safety to be the best at a job for which she was overqualified going in. When she's not working, Hailey climbs the Golden Gate Bridge and talks jumpers down, inviting them to have a meal with her.

At every turn, the author shows us Hailey behaving in ways that force us to ask: why? And when Hailey accepts a job driving Nidia, whom she's never met, to a Mexican town in the High Sierra's, no questions asked, we cannot help but question not only her behavior but her sanity. Some mysterious force, a secret from her past seems to be compelling Hailey to risk her life for strangers. When she goes above and beyond helping a fellow human, putting herself in the path of serious harm, it's as if she's looking for a fight. We cannot help but view Hailey as a woman at war with others, but even more so with herself, out to prove she can win or die trying.

Hailey is reluctant to reveal the truth to anybody Her behavior and the situations she puts herself in seem plausible at first. But as the conflict builds, we are forced to suspend belief more and more. It's the only way to enjoy the story until, at the end, things seem more fairy tale than real. And it is not until the very end that the answer to the biggest secret of the book is revealed. Truthfully, I'm not sure I liked having to wait until the very end to learn the why's of what caused Hailey to take such risks. On one hand, it clarifies Hailey's risky behavior but on the other, it raises more questions that remain unanswered.

I thought this book was a riveting character study, but again, it was only the one character. Personally, I would have preferred further development of some key characters such as CJ and Serena. I was also disappointed with the book’s devolving into less and less realistic scenarios after it's strong start with believable situations. It was a fun and intense read and I would recommend Hailey’s War to people who don't mind more than a little fantasy in the midst of their drama, sparsely populated or otherwise.

I received A copy of Hailey’s War by Jodi Compton from Crown Publishing’s Read It Forward program.


  1. Hailey sounds like a fantastic character to read about!

  2. it has been awhile since I read and reviewed this one, but I think you hit it pretty spot on.

  3. It is a pretty inventive technique to keep the reader in the dark entirely about a character's motivation. That would certainly keep me reading to find out why. But if things got more and more unbelievable, it is a real challenge to provide a believable solution/ending to make the reader happy, I would think. Maybe the reason the author didn't develop any of the other characters was to further illustrate just how much of a loner Hailey was?