Shortly after Mouse (the brain), Drew (the jock), and Jenna (good girl turned rebel) are assigned to do a group project on internet privacy, they discover their law teacher—unsympathetic when nude photos of Jenna were leaked online last year—has an account on a dating site. When they decide to set up a fake account to catfish their teacher, they don’t intend to procure racy photos from her, but when those photos are leaked anonymously online, well… they were the only ones with access, and someone has to take the fall.
Told in three alternating viewpoints, Easy Prey is a slow-burn revenge story where what happened gradually becomes clear until the climax, and then it’s a satisfying downhill rush to the end where the last questions are answered. It’s something of a twist ending, but it’s a twist ending done well, where the clues are laid out throughout the novel in each viewpoint, and you can guess before the details are explained, who did it and why.
The viewpoints, that of group project members “Mouse,” Drew, and Jenna, are all interesting and each of them is an unreliable narrator in their own way. At times the viewpoints could be a little bit awkward in how they dived into backstory explanations and flashback scenes, and I wish there had been a little bit more deception in who had done it. But the time the book was about halfway over, I was sure who had leaked the photos and all that was left was to figure out was the details of how they did and what they gained. I’m sure cleverer people than me could have seen what I saw even earlier. But the fact that it started to seem so obvious did throw me for a loop; I wondered if it wasn’t tricking me in some way and there would be another twist. Fortunately (since any other twist would have seemed out of place and without build-up) there wasn’t, and the latter half was still very enjoyable watching as it all played out and came together.
As a final note, over the course of the group project, the three decide to do two separate interpretations of a case. We hear a little about Mouse and Drew’s portion, but nothing about Jenna’s, which is played as a secret. I kept expecting to hear more about it at the end, since it was kept under wraps throughout the book, but it never happened.
4 out of 4 stars.
I liked a lot about this book. This book starts off getting you to make certain assumptions about the characters. Because most books have main characters who are the heroes, we’re lead to believe that Mouse, Drew, and Jenna are the heroes. Because the jacket flap describes it as a “whodunit,” we’re assuming that’s what it is, but really that’s merely the surface level of what it is. At its heart, Easy Prey is a story about one girl who was unfairly treated getting revenge on the people who leaked her photos online and a hypocritical teacher.
The great thing is the way the book treats the people who are the subjects of the revenge. We see inside Mouse and Drew’s heads, and through the conversations between the teacher, Mrs. Bailey, and the fake account Tom Anderson, we see a little bit of Mrs. Bailey outside of the person she presents herself as in the classroom. Mouse and Drew are, basically, jackasses. But they’re also people, and they have redeeming qualities. They have struggles where they are the victims, where they deserve more.
Mouse is particularly interesting to me. His father is really mean to him; he dismisses Mouse’s intellect and his accomplishments, and really just dismisses him as a person. He constantly compares Mouse unfavorably toward Jenna’s boyfriend, Troy, who’s Mouses’s cousin. Mouse gets excellent grades, he tries to bring the school’s attention to the rampant cheating in Mrs. Bailey’s class, he wants to go to MIT and is saving money to apply (since his father blows up at him for even wanting to go or thinking he could have the brains to get in) and trying to get scholarships. And he’s an alright friend to Jenna; he doesn’t abandon her when she’s labeled as a slut, he tries to support her (lends her his things, gives her rides).
But ultimately Mouse is, well, still kinda misogynistic. Like Drew, Mouse has a crush on Jenna, and despite Jenna repeatedly telling him she’s not interested, his ignores her. He feels like because he’s spent so much time with her, because he (thinks he) ‘gets’ her, she should be interested him. He gets mad when he thinks she might be interested in Drew (even though she isn’t), as if he has some right to her that Drew is impinging on. He thinks if he just behaves a certain way, and does certain things, he’ll be rewarded with Jenna’s romantic, instead of platonic, love. He kisses her in the backstory, for instance, even though she’s repeatedly turned him down and has a boyfriend at the time. True, he’s high, but still, that impulse didn’t come from nowhere; he has it all the time, he just knows better than to act on it when he’s not high.
Furthermore, despite in some cases (see: cheating in Mrs. Bailey’s class) standing up for what’s fair and moral, Mouse still supports the basketball team’s creepy competition to get as many girls to send them nudes as they can. He designs and sells an app to help them implement and get away with this competition. This action is explained by the fact that Mouse needs the money to apply to colleges like MIT and to save up to go to them, but it’s still a skeevy thing to do, even though I sympathize with his reasons.
A third thing that makes Mouse kind of a shitty person is how he behaves towards Jenna during the group project. In regards to personal stuff, outside-of-school stuff, he generally actually listens to what Jenna has to say. But when it comes to the content of the group project, not so much. The project involves analyzing a real-life internet privacy law case and arguing it. Mouse insists they work on this case involving Heather Morningside, even though he knows this case will hit close to home for Jenna. The gist of the case is that Heather’s boyfriend filmed them having sex and then distributed the video to his friends, who distributed it to their friends, and so on until it had gotten all over social media.
Mouse’s hot take is that they should argue Heather’s parents were irresponsible by not monitoring Heather more closely, which presumably would have allowed them to prevent her from sending her boyfriend nude photos. Now, this is shitty of him to do as a friend, and also a shitty argument. First of all, sending nudes, while demonized, I don’t think is actually illegal, even in Canada, so people sending them is not actually the problem. People who are not the individual in the photo distributing the photo to third parties (that is, sending it to others without the individual’s permission) is the problem under consideration. Secondly, as Jenna points out, the case is about whether Heather’s boyfriend is in the wrong, and thus it is that question they should be arguing as per the assignment. Thirdly, Mouse’s father does monitor his phone activity. And you know what he did? He bought a burner phone from another student with which he could do whatever he wanted without his parent’s knowledge. So instructing parents to monitor their kids’ texts and such is not just an invasion of privacy (which admittedly is not what they’re discussing), but it also essentially useless if the kid goes off and acquires a secret phone, as Mouse himself did.
Jenna tries to call out Mouse for shifting the blame away from Heather’s boyfriend, who did the leaking, and to Heather via her parents (essentially, he’s saying Heather is to blame for sending photos, but actually her parents should be held responsible for her behavior rather than her), and Mouse completely dismisses and patronizes her. He even says maybe she’s not capable of thinking about the case rationally because she’s a woman, and that if she just thought about it objectively she’d see that he’s right. Basically, he uses the age-old misogynistic tradition of telling woman “if you don’t agree with me, it’s not because you have an argument against it, it’s because you’re an overemotional female who lacks higher thinking capabilities.” Shockingly, this does not go over well with Jenna and her reaction mystifies Mouse, who seems incapable of recognizing other people’s intelligence (he’s constantly dismissing others for not being a clever as him).
Somehow, despite knowing the case is enough like Jenna’s that he expects her to not want to work with it, Mouse still ignores the cases’s similarities in his argument and therefore doesn’t seem to realize Jenna sees him as blaming her for her boyfriend’s actions via blaming Heather.
(Further furthermore, we’re told Heather’s boyfriend distributed a video, and that he and Heather discussed taping themselves having sex, but we aren’t told what happened with that discussion—I assume Heather turned it down otherwise they’d point out that she agreed—and all the other things they talk about in relation to case are whether Heather should have sent nude photos to her boyfriend, instead of talking about the video thing. It’s weird.)
But more than how Mouse behaves towards Jenna and more than his involvement in the competition and even more than his dismissive and patronizing attitude toward Jenna’s opinions on the Heather case, there is one thing he does which really makes it clear where his heart’s at. In the backstory, Mouse and Drew and Jenna and Jenna’s boyfriend Troy are at a party. Mouse gets high with Drew, and the two of them find Jenna’s boyfriend’s phone in the couch cushions. At this point, the basketball team competition to get girls’ nudes is still going on, and Drew says they should check Troy’s phone to see if he really is as squeaky clean as he says (he insists he isn’t involved in the competition, although he also doesn’t speak out against it). On Troy’s phone, they find the nude photos that Jenna sent Troy, and this is where it happens: Mouse and Drew find photos they know are personal and they know neither Jenna nor Troy would want them to have and what do they do? They immediately try and figure out how to send the photos to themselves so they’ll have copies. This goes wrong, and Mouse inadvertently send a public tweet from Troy’s Twitter account containing a random selection of the photos.
Yeah, Mouse and Drew leaked Jenna’s nudes to the public while trying to get copies for themselves. It’s shitty and disgusting in every way, and colors their reactions with Jenna elsewhere in the book.
Now, Drew. Drew is not quite as filled out as Mouse, possibly because it was Mouse, not Drew, who actually made them public, and therefore it was more important for the story that Mouse be fleshed out. I don’t remember much of Drew’s family life; he’s parents consider him inferior in every way to his older brother, despite them being very similar, and constantly compare Drew to his brother and Troy. Drew’s desires are pretty simple, he just wants to grow up and get a good job and have a house and a family.
There’s not much redeeming about Drew. He’s interesting, he’s often fun, but he’s almost endlessly annoying. He almost constantly hits on Jenna despite her repeatedly turning her down. He accosts her at her place of work and causes trouble for her there, and he shows up unexpectedly at her house as well. He has no respect for her privacy. At one point, Drew tells his sister that no guy has respect for a girl who sends him nudes, and if we judge his behavior toward Jenna in light of the fact that he broke into his friend’s phone and got nude pictures of her, this admission seems pretty damn accurate. He tells his sister that she has to be careful because guys don’t have the best of intentions, which is horribly on-point because he is that kind of guy who doesn’t have good intentions.
Drew doesn’t have quite as many explicitly asshole lines towards Jenna as Mouse does, but that’s because he’s better at hiding it than Mouse is (see: getting girls to send him nudes). But at one point Drew actually tells Jenna that if she had just kept acting normal (not changed her look), this whole thing would have blown over by now, which seems absurdly unlikely given how all her friends, except Mouse, abandoned her, everyone calls her a slut, and the school is basically against her and refuses to look into or punish anyone but her. It’s also absurd considering she gets fired from her job after the manager finds out she’s that Jenna who was involved in that sexting thing, an incident which had nothing to do with Jenna’s wardrobe and everything to do with Mouse and Drew’s actions.
Drew’s also very insecure. Over the course of the story, Drew’s basketball skills take a dip (we eventually learn this may have something to do with Troy, who in retrospect knew that Drew had a hand in torching Jenna’s life and wasn’t getting along with him and so wasn’t passing to him and stuff), and Drew feels like there’s nothing special about himself except the fact that last year, during the competition, he got more nudes than anyone else. At one point, he complains to Troy how hard it is to be the only white guy on the basketball team, how he constantly has to prove his right to be there. I know this is Canada, but it still seems pretty tone-deaf.
Anyway, his declining performance on the court encourages him to go back to the only thing he considers himself special at: getting girls to send him nudes. The Tom Anderson/Mrs. Bailey deception turns into a challenge between Drew and Mouse when Jenna says she’ll give 100 bucks to whichever one of them first gets Mrs. Bailey to send nudes and then immediately deletes the photos.
Drew gets there first, but in Mouse’s company, and the two conspire to save the photos elsewhere before allowing Jenna to delete the only copies they think she knows about.
As for Jenna herself. I liked Jenna, but she does some shitty things on the course of her quest for justice. She uses Mouse’s friendship to ‘borrow’ his computer, which she uses to frame Mouse for what happens to Mrs. Bailey. And then of course, she humiliates Mrs. Bailey.
But I’m actually okay with these things. Mouse and Drew basically deserve it, Mrs. Bailey deserves it even more than them.
I mean, if everything had gone right for Mouse and Drew, they would have had private copies of Jenna’s photos which I don’t think they would have shared: Mouse wouldn’t jeopardize his future and Drew wouldn’t publicly cross Troy like that. So they’d still be skeevy jackasses, but at least they wouldn’t have knowingly, willingly leaked private photos all over the internet and tanked Jenna’s life and relationship with Troy.
As for Mrs. Bailey, well. She took Jenna aside and privately condemned her for sending those nudes to Troy in the first place, trying to get her to speak about how bad she felt in front of her law class so that ‘other girls would learn from Jenna’s mistakes.’ That’s a terrible thing to do as well, but what makes Mrs. Bailey deserve it is that she’s a hypocrite. Despite condemning Jenna for sharing nude photos, Mrs. Bailey still sends nudes to this anonymous Tom Anderson and then has the audacity to get pissed about them leaking and the audacity to appeal to Jenna to help her catch the people responsible even when Mrs. Bailey couldn’t give two shits about who was responsible for Jenna’s situation.
Mrs. Bailey is as much of the problem, if not more, than Mouse and Drew, because at the very least Mouse and Drew didn’t mean to distribute the photos and even though they victim-blamed Heather Morningside, they never to-her-face victim-blamed Jenna.
So is Jenna a pure, untouched soul? Not exactly. She does some questionable things in pursuit of justice and in the end, posting Mrs. Bailey’s private photos publicly is not moral. Yes, I understand sympathize and think Bailey deserved what she got, but that doesn’t make it the moral high ground.
Yet, if Mouse and Drew had simply deleted the photos of Mrs. Bailey straight off, like they promised, like the claimed, Jenna’s revenge scheme would have been impossible. It relied on either Mouse or Drew or both saving copies of those photos that Jenna could then use. If Mouse and Drew had behaved honorably, nothing bad would have happened to Bailey. And if Bailey hadn’t been a disgusting, hypocritical asshole, she couldn’t have been targeted and in fact this whole scheme may not have ever entered Jenna’s mind.
What I loved about this book was that, like John Wick, the people who deserve to get hurt do get hurt, but at the same time, it’s not pure black and white. Mouse and Drew are still interesting, engaging, and sympathetic characters. Even Mrs. Bailey is somewhat sympathetic; for example, we learn she knows and is constantly frustrated by her student’s cheating but can’t prove it, and even though I think she knows Mouse isn’t her biggest fan, when she gets ‘his’ (really Jenna pretending to be him) email asking to be a group project leader with Jenna and Drew, she honors that request. And by making Mouse, Drew, and Bailey well-rounded characters, we see how Jenna’s scheme hurts them and betrays their trust even though they kinda deserve it, and because of this, Jenna doesn’t get to be completely in the green, morally-speaking.