By Olive Edwards, CONTACT:

“Nobody knows what happened that night… nobody but Macey.”

Age rating: KS4+

Rating: 4/5 stars

Book link:

Scrolling on TikTok many months ago, likely procrastinating some sort of homework, I stumbled across a video of Emma Smith promoting her debut novel, Guided. Intrigued by how young she was – only eighteen at the time of publishing – and by her journey of writing a novel while still in school, I saved the video and followed her, making a mental note to return to her account when I next needed something to read. Alas, the video got lost in the depths of my favourites, and it wasn’t until January of this year that I found her account again, this time ordering the book in an attempt to force myself out of a post-new-years reading slump.

I am not one to finish a book that I am not enjoying, and as I tentatively start a new novel I tend to linger on my favourite moments, scared of the ending not being as enjoyable as the opening. This was not the case for Guided. I started reading it the morning of a sleepover, ignoring my friends as I sped through the first fifty pages, struck by the relatability of the characters and the easy-to-read style in which it was written. I saw a few reviews complain of the ‘slow-pace’ of the beginning of the novel, but I actually found it quite the opposite; while the plot does not progress much, it is full of character development and helps to set the rest of the book at the perfect pace as we are provided needed background information.

Following seventeen year old Macey Collins, the book explores her involvement in the tragic death of twelve year old Lexie on a Guides camping trip. The novel does explore many a sensitive topic, so may not be best for younger readers, but is a refreshing take on the ‘teenage girl experience’ written by an actual teenager. Leading you through the terrible consequences of peer pressure, change, and bullying, Guided somehow turns the bleakest of topics into an atmospheric and genuinely very enjoyable read. If losing her boyfriend, friends, and herself, was not enough, the guilt is eating Macey up and people start to figure out she knows more than she is letting on.

I do feel the need to clarify that this book does not have a happy ending, not in the slightest. By the end of the book, we are as lost as Macey; confused at what we have just read, both shocked and yet entirely understanding of why people have done what they have. Despite my understanding of why the book was taken in this direction, it is probably the part of it that would take Guided from a five stars to a four for me. My other qualm with this book is impossible to describe without spoilers, but is a twist in the end that felt to me not fleshed out as well as it could have been, as we see little lead up to it and very little resolution.

One Goodreads review perfectly summed it up for me, saying that she felt there was some “loose ends” that needed tying up. However, there is now a sequel to Guided, and whether this answers the questions I was left with I am unsure. Despite the ‘unsatisfactory’ ending, I would strongly recommend this book to anyone who wants to get into reading but might lack the attention span for some slower books. Similarly, I would recommend this book to anyone who loves a good subplot, funny or interesting background characters, and fantastic worldbuilding and storytelling. It is not hard to imagine yourself in Macey’s shoes, especially with her age and gender, being in a British secondary school. At the same time, Macey is not the character that you feel sorry for in this book, no matter how much you may see yourself in her. Instead, the moral of this story lies in the tragic fate of twelve year old Lexie.

My judgement for this book is slightly clouded by how impressed I feel at a sixth-form turned university student balancing schoolwork with writing, editing, and publishing a novel. There is no doubt to me that Emma Smith is an incredibly talented, creative and inspiring author and I look forward to reading her other four published books, as well as her upcoming novel. Emma goes by ‘emmasmithbooks’ on most social media platforms, and is incredibly involved and responsive to her community, so I would definitely recommend following her to get an idea of upcoming projects she is working on! You can also find Guided and her other books on amazon; they are free on kindle unlimited, otherwise only costing 3 pounds for the eBook.

Beautifully haunting, and so enjoyable to read, Guided is a must for your 2024 TBR!