Margot Mertz Takes It Down by Carrie McCrossen & Ian McWethy: YA Book Review
Overview: Margot likes to make money on the side by putting her hacking skills (both through her computer and her social charm) to the test to clean up internet errors for her classmates (and sometimes teachers and other adults). She finds it interesting, and it's quickly filling back up her college fund her uncle squandered away. This time, though, Margot may have bitten off more than she can chew. Overall: 5
Characters: 5 Margot is great. She has a witty, dry sense of humor and is super intelligent. She's my favorite kind of lead character that doesn't take life too seriously while simultaneously taking life way too seriously. She's a bit of a loner, standoffish, and completely capable on her own - even though that's probably not best for her. Once she's zoned in on a goal, she'll go to any lengths to achieve it, which predictably leads her astray. She does have super supportive, chill parents that keep Margot's best interest at heart.
As far as friends go, Margot really only has one. Sammi helps her on coding jobs for a small fee, and they end up spending a lot of time with each other. Margot's childhood best friend, Beth, moved a couple years ago and cut off contact with Margot. Still, Margot texts her almost every day so they can pick up where they left off when she's ready. This friendship was maybe the most compelling part of the book as you see Margot using their text thread more like a diary. By the end of the book, she's forced to confront that the friendship is really, truly over. It's a narrative you don't see play out like this often in YA, and I really enjoyed seeing that part of life illustrated in the book.
The last major character is Avery. Margot starts dating Avery because he's friends with all of her prime suspects for her latest investigation. What she doesn't expect, though, is that unlike most people at her high school, Avery seems genuinely intrigued by who she is as a person. While her motivation is always half for a job, she starts to fall for Avery as the story goes on. Of course, this relationship follows the usual path in YA where the main character has to learn that starting a relationship for impure reasons never ends well, but Avery facilitates much of her character growth.
Plot: 5 This book is almost like an undercover mystery. It's much more about going through suspects and taking daring risks to uncover clues than I anticipated it would be when I picked it up from the library shelf. This kind of mystery/thriller is perfect for me as it's relatively low stakes (the mission is important but it's not murder related). While the book could've been 50 or 100 pages shorter and maybe had one fewer layer to solving the case, I was impressed at how intricately plotted the book was. I also thought that the plot brought up important narratives about how flawed our systems are for protecting teen girls and unequal power dynamics. When Margot is shown the revenge porn site at her high school, she doesn't immediately turn it over to the police because she knows that the blowback on the girls will far outweigh whatever punishment is brought against the boys who created it. And while the ultimate moral of the story is that in an issue that big, adults need to be involved, in many ways the adults in court, the police, and the school fail Margot and the victims of the site much in the ways she predicted they would. I liked that the book didn't flinch away from that truth while still wrapping up the book in at least a somewhat hopeful way.
Writing: 5 There's something really interesting about playwrights who turn to writing YA. They write some of my favorite lead characters that have life and personality that bound off the page. Margot really reminded me of the main characters in Katie Henry and Don Zolidis, and I noticed that one of the co-authors of this book was also a playwright.
Another interesting connection between this book and one of my other favorite YA books of the year, Fresh, is the use of footnotes to inject extra sarcasm, personality, or context into the story. There seems to be a real trend in YA lately of books written by characters who are aware they are writing the book which is an interesting, meta twist. Both of these books had similar energies and subject-matters and would be perfect next reads for fans of one or the other.
Also, another thing I noticed about this book was just how current it is. It's full of references to TikTok, memes, Instagram Live. I don't think it dates the book. It honestly makes it feel more alive, current, and relevant. It handles the existence of the internet in a way that many books struggle to, and I think this book is a great example of how to blend in its existence naturally in a way that speaks to how actual teens incorporate it into their daily lives. At this point, admitting its prevalence is more of a glaring error.
If I'm being honest, the more time that goes on, the more I struggle to find YA books that I still whole-heartedly connect with, but this one grabbed me from the start. It was fast paced, relatable, and managed to hit all the right notes.
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