Tessa is a "Variant", a human with special abilities and hers is that she can absorb another person's DNA and can shape shift to look exactly like that person. Tessa's ability to do this first surfaced when she was 5 years old. Her mother, unable to cope with Tessa's bizarre ability, abandoned her two years ago, Tessa has spent the past two years living at a compound run by the Forces with Extraordinary Abilities, (FEA) a branch of the FBI, training to take on special missions.
That time has finally arrived and Tessa's first mission will be to impersonate a girl, Madison Chambers who was attacked and left for dead. Madison is the fourth victim of a serial killer stalking the town of Livingston, Oregon. Madison was strangled and thrown into the lake where she was discovered by a jogger. She is now severely brain damaged and expected to die. Once she dies, Tessa will take Madison's place and her parents will be told that she has made a miraculous recovery. Tessa will then be embedded into the Chambers family with the hope of attracting the attention of the killer and provoking him or her into striking again. In the meantime, Tessa will try to learn all she can about Madison's life and to uncover the serial killer
While waiting for Madison to pass away, Tessa continues her training at the FEA compound. Tessa has a major crush on Alec, a man with incredible strength, but Alec is currently dating Kate, another variant who can read the minds of females. Alec seems to like Tessa too, but seems conflicted over his feelings for her. The person in charge of the variants is Major, a tough, badass man who takes no prisoners and no back talk.
When Madison dies, Tessa assumes her identity at the hospital with the help of several staff who tell Madison's parents and her twin brother, Devon, that she is gradually awakening from the induced coma. Tessa now living as Madison tells Madison's family that she does not remember what happened to her and not much about her family. This gives Tessa a chance to settle into her role as Madison. Everything seems to go well, with Tessa adjusting to life in the Chambers home. The FEA has also placed Alec in Livingston, where he will attend high school with Tessa so that he can provide back-up if required.
Because she has been diagnosed with amnesia, this provides Tessa with the perfect opportunity to ask Madison's brother Devon, and her best friend Ana about Madison's life before the attempted murder. As Tessa begins to uncover some very unsavoury facts about Madison's life, she also begins to wonder if another student is also a Variant. Tessa is continually hounded by Madison's former boyfriend, Ryan who seems intent upon renewing their relationship and won't seem to take no for an answer. Adding to the mystery is Tessa's discovery that her bedroom is being watched at night by an unknown person.
The situation comes to a climax at a party when the killer strikes again and Tessa as Madison finds herself drawn into a confrontation with the person she least expects but which the reader will find mostly predictable.
The premise behind Imposter is a good one, an X-Men type theme combined with mystery and some romance. Tessa is a strong character who is still struggling to master her variant and who also is a highly conflicted person. Because of her family background, the break-up of her family and the eventual abandonment by her mother, when Tessa embeds into the Chambers family she is overwhelmed by the kindness and love that they shower on her as Madison. It is something she has never experienced before and it makes her want to live her life as Madison. She faces additional conflict as a result of her relationship with Alec, whom she is attracted to and who continues to send Tessa mixed messages as he struggles to sort out his own personal issues. Tessa was very believable as a sixteen year old girl with special abilities; she was impulsive, desperate for affirmation and acceptance, and wishes for the life of a normal teenager.
She is helped along throughout the story by the impact character of Alec, who like Tessa was abandoned by his father. Alec's belief in Tessa's abilities help her to move forward with her mission. But while he helps Tessa on one level, Alec also proves to be a considerable distraction to her. Alec, who is two years older than Tessa, can't seem to get his act together when it comes to relationships, and this causes considerable tension between the three characters of Tessa, Kate and Alec, almost having disastrous consequences.
Imposter is the first in a series of books by Susanne Winnacker. It would be great to see Winnacker develop the characters of Tessa, Alec, Devon, Holly and Major more fully as this will help readers identify better with them. Imposter is mostly action-driven, and fleshing out the characters will make for a more appealing story. The set-up for the next novel suggests that Tessa will be the main focus of the storyline as she learns a rogue group of Variants may be after her.
Overall, Winnacker does a great job of attempting to keep her readers guessing the obvious - she gives multiple and conflicting hints throughout the novel, but readers will probably not be surprised by the ending. Nevertheless, the final confrontation sees numerous twists that ultimately make for a satisfying conclusion. Readers who like science fiction combined with mystery will enjoy this quick read.
Imposter by Susanne Winnacker
Toronto: Razorbill, An Imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. 2013