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“Running for our lives made me feel like an animal. Always keeping my head down. Wondering where the next meal was coming from. Where we could sleep without one eye open,” Sandra. –Contingency Plan

Contingency Plan

by Lou Allin
AR Test, Good for Reluctant Readers

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When Sandra Sinclair, recently widowed and the mother of twelve-year-old Jane, meets wealthy lawyer Joe Gillette, he wins her over with his kind and conscientious attitude. Falling in love faster than she ever thought possible, Sandra agrees to marry him. But soon after they move into their new home, things begin to change, and Joe’s controlling behavior causes Sandra to question her decision. When her new husband becomes seriously abusive, Sandra decides she and Jane must leave.

When Joe makes it clear that he will not just let Sandra walk away, she discovers it’s quite likely Joe arranged his first wife’s death and that Sandra is now part of his “contingency plan.” She soon realizes that even the law is no defense against this meticulous and egotistical man. Fleeing to an old family cabin on a remote lake, mother and daughter prepare to live off the grid. But when Joe tracks them down, Sandra must come up with a contingency plan of her own.

Contingency Plan is part of the Orca family of Rapid Reads books which are intended for a diverse audience, including ESL students, reluctant readers, adults who struggle with literacy, and anyone who wants a high-interest quick read. Since Contingency Plan focuses on Sandra, who was recently widowed, younger readers may have a difficult time connecting to her. While readers will empathize with Sandra’s grief, she is not necessarily a dramatic character that will keep readers’ interest. Much of the story is told in the past tense, which limits the suspense, and the ending of the book is anticlimactic and unsurprising. 

Some teen readers may reach for the book because they are interested in Sandra’s daughter. However, Sandra’s daughter rarely plays an active role in the story, which makes it difficult to emotionally invest in her. Plus, Joe has very little interaction with Sandra’s daughter. 

Even though Joe is very controlling, his abusive behavior is rarely physical, which may lead some readers to wonder why Sandra feels she cannot stay with him. Unfortunately, Contingency Plan isn’t a compelling story and fails to teach any life lessons. Reluctant readers who are looking for a story that focuses on family and will appeal to teens have many good options, including In Plain Sight by Laura Langston and Tell by Nora McClintock.

Sexual Content 

  • Sandra goes on an overnight trip with Joe. While having dinner, Joe smiles at her and Sandra proclaims, “the chemistry took my breath away. But it was more than sexual attraction.” Later, his “tender mouth nuzzled my ear, sending a tingle to forgotten places. . . We wouldn’t need that second bedroom tonight.” 
  • After being married for a while, Joe says that Sandra treats sex “like a chore.”
  • Even though Sandra is beginning to hate Joe, she feels that she has to pretend like she loves him. One night, “our lovemaking earned a solid-gold Oscar for me. For him, the usual silver star for excellence. My body responded in spite of itself.”


  • Joe gets angry at Sandra. Sandra describes, “he gave me a shake that rattled my teeth. But he didn’t slap me.”
  • A private detective investigates Joe because while backpacking in the wilderness, Joe’s first wife died. Some people believed Joe intentionally got lost and caused his wife’s death. 
  • Sandra takes her daughter and hides out in an old hunting cabin. Sandra knows Joe is in town asking questions, so she comes up with a plan to kill him. When Sandra hears Joe’s snowmobile, she jumps on her own snowmobile and drives towards a partially frozen lake. Both Sandra and Joe break the ice and fall into the freezing water, but because she is prepared, Sandra is able to make it out. “He bobbed to the top. . . Joe’s gloved hand flipped up his visor and he splashed. ‘Help me! For god’s s-sake, S-sandra,’ he splashed.” Sandra leaves him in the water and thinks, “At 15°C, it wouldn’t take long for the ice to refreeze.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Joe and Sandra drink champagne several times.
  • After getting married, Joe and Sandra have dinner with the family. One woman gets “tipsy” while “the wine and brandy were making everything a bit unreal.”
  • After their marriage, Joe often drinks alcohol. 
  • When running from Joe, Sandra stays in a cheap hotel where someone has a drunken party.
  • On a long trip, Joe takes amphetamines to keep awake.


  • Hell is used three times. For example, after looking at Sandra’s computer chat history, Joe yells, “What the hell are you doing gossiping on the computer with those bitches?”
  • Joe tells Sandra, “I have every right to know what my goddamn wife is up to.”
  • Joe calls Sandra’s car a “shitbox.”
  • Bullshit is used once.


  • None

Spiritual Content 

  • After getting married, Joe says, “May God hold you in the palm of his hand.”
  • After going on her honeymoon, Sandra tells her dead husband, “Thanks for your blessing, Andy.”
  • Occasionally Sandra prays simple prayers. For example, after lying to Joe, Sandra “prayed that [Joe] couldn’t feel my heart breaking out of my chest.”
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“Running for our lives made me feel like an animal. Always keeping my head down. Wondering where the next meal was coming from. Where we could sleep without one eye open,” Sandra. –Contingency Plan

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