In author Jeanne Ann Off’s mystery, 16-year-old Kelsey Kelley has been searching for stability since her father deserted her five years ago. Now she’s found some fulfillment helping her mother scrape together a living by exercising racehorses and cleaning stalls. She has friends and even someone to daydream about: Blaine, the racetrack’s young security guard.
At first, Kelsey doesn’t worry when she overhears talk of fixing a race; but when her favorite horse loses against the odds and others come down with unusual illnesses and injuries, even Blaine can’t escape her suspicion. Her anxiety isn’t helped when her father arrives, remarried, reformed, and looking to reconnect. As conspiracies give rise to violence, Kelsey is left wondering just who she can trust.
Acid and Bribery grapples with themes of abandonment and faith. Kelsey’s father isn’t exactly the man she knew — he’s found God and changed his life — but is the change enough to warrant her giving him a second chance? And in the wake of her parents’ break-up, can Kelsey really believe in what she feels for Blaine?
The author’s horseracing expertise provides interesting plot twists and atmosphere, although sometimes the details overwhelm the story. (For example, Kelsey often explains the intricacies of the racetrack to her father, for the reader’s benefit.) The writing confusingly switches from third-person to first-person within the same paragraph. In addition to these drawbacks, Kelsey stumbles on many clues throughout the story but she’s slow to share them, which is strange for a girl who confesses deep emotions to casual acquaintances.
But the mystery in Acid and Bribery is secondary to the emotional conflicts: Can Kelsey forgive her father? Can she fall in love without being haunted by doubts caused by her parents’ failed marriage? It is this more personal story that may appeal to certain readers, particularly teen girls coping with divorce in their families.
Also available as an ebook.