Everything I know about witness protection programs I learned from television. But I’m pretty sure the real deal wouldn’t involve changing a 13-year-old foster child’s identity to enable her to help two parents and their son hide from a crime family. But that stretch of truth didn’t detract one bit from my enjoyment of Greetings from Witness Protection, Jake Burt's fast-paced and fun debut novel (ages 10-14).
Nicki Demere has been in and out of the foster system much of her life. Her dad’s in prison – or so she believes – and her adoring granny has died. Nicki is resourceful yet vulnerable (she's been given a diagnosis of anxiety disorder manifested in kleptomania, a topic handled adroitly by the author). Nicki's chances of being permanently placed with a loving family are close to nil. Enter a team of federal agents with a proposition. And in the short time it takes to train her to handle a taser, Nicki becomes Charlotte. A girl who’s never been inside an airport must start life anew, with an unhappy, snarky younger brother to boot. She feels like she’s carrying “the entire Trevor family on my back,” and she can’t even share her real name.
The story is at times hilarious, excitingly frightening, and told with great care. Yes, there’s a big action scene at the end, but the violence is minimal and the resolution, if not happily ever after, is very satisfying. Count me as a new fan of Jake Burt’s books. I hope there are many more to come.