Review: “Tabula Rasa” by Kristen Lippert-Martin

Tabula RasaBBB Rating: 2 ½ stars

Summary: The Bourne Identity meets Divergent in this heart-pounding debut.

Sixteen-year-old Sarah has a rare chance at a new life. Or so the doctors tell her. She’s been undergoing a cutting-edge procedure that will render her a tabula rasa—a blank slate. Memory by memory her troubled past is being taken away.

But when her final surgery is interrupted and a team of elite soldiers invades the isolated hospital under cover of a massive blizzard, her fresh start could be her end.

Navigating familiar halls that have become a dangerous maze with the help of a teen computer hacker who’s trying to bring the hospital down for his own reasons, Sarah starts to piece together who she is and why someone would want her erased. And she won’t be silenced again.

A high-stakes thriller featuring a non-stop race for survival and a smart heroine who will risk everything, Tabula Rasa is, in short, unforgettable.


I really wanted to love this book. I am a huge fan of the “Divergent” series and also a reluctant fan of the Bourne films, so naturally this book seemed right up my alley. Admittedly, the sci-fi-like premise drew me in, especially considering all the newly-released research regarding neuroscience and brain plasticity in the news these days. Unfortunately, while some elements of the story were pretty fabulous, the book as a whole just fell a little too flat and failed to follow through on what I felt were some key elements. In the end, I felt like the author focused too much on the spectacle and not enough on developing a solid, plausible plot and characters that really resonate with the reader.

Warning! Spoilers Ahead!

The story begins with 16-year-old Sarah (Angel) being strapped into a seat reminiscent of an electric chair. Told from the protagonist’s point-of-view, we learn that she is undergoing the final operation in a procedure to remove her memories (fans of Joss Whedon’s “Dollhouse” would be able to imagine this scenario perfectly). We don’t know much about Sarah at this point nor the reasons she is undergoing this procedure in the first place—only that it is meant to give her a clean slate which gives the impression that she has experienced some traumatic events in her life.

As the procedure begins, readers are treated to a cringe-worthy description of the “halo” being attached to metal brackets in Sarah’s head and the sound of a drill whirring to life as it moves ever-closer to her skull. She’s awake the whole time, though she does mention that they have given her something to “calm her down.” One of the doctors (Larry) who is charged with talking to her throughout the operation mentions something about Hamlet (this reference was lost on me even though I’ve studied Shakespeare in great depth). As she contemplates this, she glances up to see a nicely-dressed red headed woman (Evangeline Hodges) standing at the window of the observation gallery above. She is immediately filled with rage upon seeing this woman, though she is not entirely sure why.

Just before the drill and needle make contact, the lights begin to flicker until the entire facility experiences a blackout, seemingly a result of the blizzard raging outside. Moments later, someone bursts into the room, places something in Sarah’s hand, then departs quickly before the power returns and Sarah is whisked back to her room by friendly orderly Steve.

The lead up to the inciting incident of the story is definitely what reeled me in. The mystery of why Sarah was placed in this facility had me dying to learn more about her character. Considering she resided in a corridor reserved for the most “dangerous” patients had me excited. Maybe she was a serial killer or a young secret agent who took down governmental agencies? The latter would have definitely lent itself well to the whole idea of “Bourne meets Divergent.” Sadly, this isn’t the case.

As Sarah settles into her room, she realizes that the mysterious figure has provided her with three pills that must be taken at 24-hour intervals. Without hesitation, she pops one pill and almost immediately begins regaining some of her memories (this one of her hanging from a crane over New York City). The force of these memories causes her to fall to the floor where she conveniently finds clothing (and an electronic keycard) hidden under her bed. She quickly gets dressed and escapes—not that she really had any reason to other than that someone was attempting to help her do so.

As she makes her way through the eerily-empty ward, she hears a helicopter moving ever closer. A few moments later, the helicopter fires missiles at the facility in quick succession—destroying her room specifically. Instead of running for cover, she begins to check on the other patients in the ward before finally having the presence of mind to run like hell. As she hurries down the stairs, she hears the unmistakable sound of “people who shouldn’t be there” stomping up the stairs. Recalling a conversation her friend/non-friend Jori (another patient) mentioned overhearing between the red-headed woman and another doctor, she finally surmises that someone is trying to kill her (as if the missile through her window wasn’t already a good indication).

Eventually she arrives in the lobby where she finds a number of wounded and dead staff members and soldiers with robotic voices who order her surrender. Friendly orderly Steve eventually gives her away only to be shot. Enter red-headed Hodges who is apparently the mastermind behind the attack. Sarah manages to escape by jumping out a window and hiding in an adjacent building where she meets Pierce (Thomas) who helps her throughout the remainder of the story.

What I liked about the story:

1) The premise seemed very promising. I liked the idea of mixing elements of sci-fi, mystery, and thriller with a young, Bourne-like heroine taking down the wealthy elite capitalist machine.

2) The intro was very intriguing and easily reeled me in.

3) Pierce (aka Thomas) was a very lovable, nerdy hacker with his own secrets.

4) Sarah (Angel) was fairly badass mixed with tenderness which I always love in a female protagonist.

5) The end felt like an ending and not a desperate push for a sequel.

What had me rolling my eyes the most:

1) Just about everything after Chapter 5. As I said before, I really wanted (and tried) to love this book. Unfortunately there were too many inconsistencies, too many ridiculous moments (such as Sarah aka Angel’s ability to catch things in her mouth like she was in The Matrix), way too much deus ex machina, etc.

2) The romance between Sarah and Thomas evolved much too quickly (three days?) and seemed forced if not comical. I pretty much gagged when Thomas said “I love you” as he lay dying, especially when he said it was on his bucket list to say it. Seriously?

3) Sadly, Sarah (Angel) was not the super-secret agent that I had hoped for. Instead, her actions prior to the beginning of the story were nothing more than an attempt to reap revenge for the death of her mother on someone who wasn’t even responsible for it.

4) Too many characters were introduced but not adequately developed (Steve, Larry, Dr. Buckley, Jori, 8-bit, etc.). When all was said and done, none of these characters were really necessary to the plot and could easily be omitted. Also, what was the point in having two names each for the two main characters? It simply wasn’t necessary.

5) Oscar and Hodges were too over-the-top, and Hodges motives for wanting Sarah dead were ridiculously vapid and contrived. Oscar was just ridiculous, period. I honestly kept imagining them as one-dimensional comic book characters rather than solid adversaries (Hodges kept appearing to me like Jessica Rabbit with the voice of Betty Boop).

6) The author does a lot of telling, but lacks the ability to show. I have a real problem with this as I didn’t feel as drawn to the plight of the characters or balanced on the edge of my seat as I should have. I just didn’t care what happened to them as the story moved forward. Likewise, the whole story had too much of a dreamlike feel to it thus I wouldn’t have been surprised if we found out that everything was just all in Sarah’s head at the end.

Overall I feel that if the author had spent more time really fleshing out the story, omitting all the unnecessary subplots and focusing on character development rather than action-for-the-sake-of-action, this story could have been epic. Unfortunately, that just wasn’t the case. In the end, I simply felt cheated.


One thought on “Review: “Tabula Rasa” by Kristen Lippert-Martin

  1. Pingback: Tabula Rasa by Kristen Lippert-Martin | booking rehab

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