Read a full summary of The Trace, book #1 in Adelaide Thorne’s Whitewashed series, right here! This page is full of spoilers, so beware. If you are wondering what happened in The Trace, then you are in the right place!
Special thanks to Adelaide Thorne—a new BSR contributor and the author of The Trace—who wrote this great recap! Visit her website to check out the books she’s written and to keep up with news about her new releases. See the end of the recap for links to her Goodreads and Instagram accounts.
***** Everything below is a SPOILER *****
What happened in The Trace?
After a year-and-a-half of homeschooling, Ella Kepler returns to school halfway through her senior year. Her first day back, she wakes up chanting the letters “E-N” after a weird dream involving a symbol and one of her classmates, Jimmy Daniels. Unable to fall back asleep, she hears voices outside her window. The strangers are talking about her, but when Ella looks outside, no one is there.
All day, she can’t shake the feeling that something is missing. Her best friend, Kara Watson, notices the apparent changes in Ella, particularly her sudden transformation from klutz to athlete. Ella’s classmates are shocked by feats of strength that reveal she is definitely not the same person she was before homeschooling.
In random places around school, Ella finds the symbol from her dream. Jimmy Daniels, also from her dream, offers cryptic advice and gives back her red friendship bracelet, which had fallen off. Ella and Kara have been wearing matching bracelets since they were kids.
After school, Ella and Kara notice two people watching them: a blonde girl and an older, bald man. Neither of the watchers make any attempt to communicate with Ella, though the blonde girl hatefully glares at them.
Throughout the weekend, Ella continues to feel strange. Her constant obsession with the letters “E” and “N” doesn’t dissipate, and she sees the symbol everywhere. While jogging around her neighborhood in an effort to release pent-up energy, she runs into Jimmy Daniels. He walks her home and lets himself inside.
Then they hear violent noises in Ella’s yard. Two martial artists are fighting two other figures. Both sides demonstrate impressive strength. Eventually, the martial artists win and ride off on motorcycles with the two defeated fighters. Jimmy offers more strange advice, then leaves before the police arrive.
Ella visits Kara the following day, and they try coming up with theories about what’s going on. Kara’s dad has been frail ever since Mrs. Watson died years earlier. Ella has a run-in with Kara’s older brother, Kyle, who is a bully who has always harassed Kara and terrified Ella. However, Ella is no longer afraid of Kyle and is able to ignore him.
While they’re chatting, Ella spots a motorcycle outside. When she runs out to confront the person, they’ve sped off. However, there’s a metal trinket, shaped like the symbol, in Kara’s driveway.
At school on Monday, Ella is called to the front office. Jimmy Daniels is waiting for her. He’s clearly injured but doesn’t explain why. The secretary tells Ella she was never called down. Confused, Ella waits, then ducks as something comes flying over her head. A strange-looking person with gray, mottled skin is unconscious. Ella tries helping him, then the angry blonde girl arrives and tells Ella this city is too dangerous. Ella and her parents need to flee.
An army of teenagers bursts into the school. One of them spots Ella and is shocked to see her. He and Ella share a brief interaction before he escorts her to her car. Then he runs off to fight one of the strange-looking gray people.
Jimmy Daniels is waiting at Ella’s car. He tells her to check on Kara, so she drives to Kara’s house, where the two share a farewell. On her way to meet her parents, Ella is stopped by a man on a motorcycle who says he is Agent Walker and that Ella needs to come with him for her parents’ safety. Agent Walker takes her to the Metahuman Training Academy, a secret division of the government. There, Ella encounters the bald man who has been watching her. His name is “One.” He is a telepathic mind-reader who only speaks with his mind.
One takes her to the leader of this MTA facility, who simply goes by “Leader.” However, Ella nicknames him “Sanders.” Sanders explains that Ella is a “Fallow,” a metahuman who was raised by civilian parents. Most metahuman children are sent to the MTA for training, but the Keplers chose to raise her.
Metahumans have heightened physical abilities that help them in the war against Grifters—the strange people at Ella’s school. Grifters are after Ella because they hunt down all Fallows in order to recruit them for their perpetual war against the MTA. Lately, Grifters have developed the ability to steal memories. The MTA believes Grifters will weaken the MTA by robbing people’s memories of its existence.
Sanders says that, for her family’s safety, Ella needs to stay with the MTA until the Grifters have moved on to another target. Ella discusses this over the phone with her parents, who admit to having concealed the truth from her. Her parents urge her to stay.
Ella eats dinner with the other metahumans. Food is served by bald men who look exactly like One. The clones are called “Tacemus.” The Tacemus are servants for the MTA.
The boy she’d met earlier at school sits next to her. He goes by “Sheedy.” All the cadets go by their last names. Sheedy says he knows a lot about Ella. Later, he reveals his first name is Ethan.
Ella spends the next day training with the other cadets. She’s put into the angry blonde girl’s class. Lydia Burnette hates Ella and gives her unfair treatment. However, Ethan and a few other cadets are nice. The majority of the cadets ignore her.
That evening, Sanders calls Ella to his office with the news that Kara has been kidnapped by Grifters. He believes the Grifters mistook Kara for Ella. The MTA views Grifters as stupid, but Ella thinks they must be smart and they took Kara for a reason. Ella decides to stay with the MTA until Kara is found.
Weeks turn into months as Ella trains. Every cadet has a training partner. Burnette is assigned to Ella, and the two share a very tense partnership. A proficient in telekinesis, Burnette can’t understand why Ella is failing to demonstrate any sign of having telekinesis like every other metahuman.
In the mornings Ella trains with Burnette, and in the afternoons she has private lessons with Sanders. Her every spare minute is spent reading about the Grifters. Ethan keeps her company, and the two become friends. Ethan is Commanding Officer of the academy, and all the cadets are under his command. He and Burnette used to be best friends and training partners. Ella likes him and it’s clear he likes her, but she doesn’t have the emotional energy to think about romance. She also befriends other cadets named James Reynolds, Brittney McFarland, and Bridget Avary. Ella observes friendship tension between the cadets and Burnette, plus Burnette’s friend, Gregory Koleman. She also hears the cadets speak about someone named Banks, who vanished from the academy and hasn’t been seen in months.
The MTA receives intel about the Grifters who kidnapped Kara, so the cadets go on a mission to an abandoned hospital to intercept the kidnappers. The cadets were prepared for a certain number of Grifters, but they get overwhelmed. Ella fights a one-armed Grifter on the rooftop. The Grifter demands Ella tell him “how she does it,” but she has no idea what he’s talking about. He says Kara will die if Ella doesn’t help him. Their fight is broken up by an explosion. Ethan orders the cadets to flee. The Grifters chase them and attempt to kidnap Ella, but the cadets fight them off and escape.
Back at the academy, they hold a memorial service for the ten cadets who died. Everyone is shaken up because the MTA normally has better intel and doesn’t fare this poorly. Ella is further convinced that the Grifters are smarter than the MTA gives them credit for.
Angry, she gets into a fight with Sanders, who brings up Kyle, Kara’s older brother. It’s hinted that Kyle blames Ella for the car accident that killed Mrs. Watson, an event Ella has never emotionally recovered from. Ella admits she feels guilty for Kara’s kidnapping and she’s allowed her anger to fester. Sanders warns her anger is destructive and she needs to let it go.
More time passes. Ella’s relationship with her parents grows strained as the differences between them become more apparent. Frustrated, Ella confides in Sanders and admits her parents have become like strangers to her. Sanders says that’s inevitable, as Ella is a metahuman and her parents aren’t. He tells her his parents died a long, long time ago.
Ella starts paying attention to the cadets who play chess in the library and notices the way they play doesn’t make strategic sense. She realizes some cadets use chess to secretly communicate. Ethan, a staunch rule-follower, doesn’t believe her, but she persists in her theory and stumbles into a clandestine meeting deep within the building. Ethan and Sanders are not present, but Agent Walker is, as well as Burnette and McFarland. On the table is the symbol Ella has been seeing everywhere. Agent Walker tells Ella they are the Society, in charge of keeping things moving within the MTA. The Society has information about the Grifters’ next move and believe they know where Kara is. There’s clearly more to the Society, but Agent Walker doesn’t tell Ella what.
The next day, the cadets are sent on a mission to a military Navy base. Sanders warns Ella again not to be ruled by her anger. One, the Tacemus, gives Ella a backpack and tells her to drive a specific motorcycle.
Ella tells Ethan she’s going to surrender to the Grifters. Ethan argues with her, but then Ella’s motorcycle abruptly takes off on its own accord. When she arrives in the middle of a swamp and no one else is there, she thinks her motorcycle malfunctioned. Then she’s grabbed by Grifters, who blindfold her and lead her into their caves.
Ella finds a note in her backpack from One, who tells her she is a telepath. That’s why she’s not telekinetic. If she cooperates with these Grifters, they’ll release Kara. Ella’s suspicions about the Grifters are confirmed: They’re smarter than the MTA believes, and apparently the Tacemus are working with them.
Durgan, the leader of these Grifters, tells Ella she and Kara are free to leave after Ella has successfully read his mind. This makes no sense to Ella, who can’t understand why her enemy would want her to have power over his mind. She is then sent to a prison cell.
Every day Ella and Durgan meet in his quarters, and he makes her practice telepathy. Since the Grifters are poorly feeding her, she grows weaker and thinner every day. The Grifters have also beat her up, and her body is taking longer to heal.
Eventually, she makes a break-through with a small Grifter child, who views Ella as a monster and is terrified of her. Ella is then able to read Durgan’s mind once. She sees the mission at the abandoned hospital from his perspective and realizes he only sent his Grifters to acquire medicine and supplies. Some other group of Grifters—led by the one-armed Grifter who threatened Ella—infiltrated that mission, and they’re the ones who killed the 10 cadets.
Durgan then reveals he is not holding Kara hostage. She accuses him of lying, so he opens up his mind. Ella sees that One told Durgan to lie, even though Durgan was reluctant. One knew Ella would only work with Durgan if she believed she could rescue Kara. Ella then sees that Jimmy Daniels, her former classmate, is working with One. Chron, the one-armed Grifter, is the one who has Kara. He is also a telepath, like Ella, but is unable to read minds consistently. Chron wants Ella to teach him, and he took Kara as leverage. Ella has no idea how Chron knew about her telepathy before even she did.
Durgan also reveals the Tacemus sent her to train with him because Ella’s telepathy requires empathy in order to work. If she can read a Grifter’s mind, she can read any mind, and the Tacemus need Ella to read their own minds. It turns out the Tacemus are the ones who remove memories, not Grifters. However, the Tacemus are unable to access the memories they’ve taken. Once they remove a memory, they forget what they removed. So they need Ella to read their minds.
Now confused and unsure who to trust, Ella forms a hesitant bond with Durgan. As she lets go of her prejudices, she sees more and more of his memories and realizes Durgan wants peace with the MTA. It saddens him how the MTA views Grifters as monsters and animals. He explains that, while some Grifters are evil, not all of them are. His most important memory is revealed.
Years ago, Durgan’s young son snuck onto a mission. When the MTA cadets saw him, they beat him up and would have killed him, except the Grifters chased them off. When Durgan returned from chasing off the cadets, he found another cadet helping his son. The cadet was Burnette, Ella’s angry fighting partner. But Durgan, hateful of the MTA, did nothing as his soldiers beat up Burnette. At the last moment, Durgan’s son asked Durgan to take pity on her, so he called off his Grifters and left Burnette to die alone. Afterward, Durgan regretting not helping her. Because of Burnette, his perspective changed.
However, most Grifters hate the MTA. Although Durgan is their leader, his power over his Grifters has waned, as the Grifters believe him to be soft and foolish. Grifters like Chron foster hatred among other Grifter clans. Durgan pleads with Ella to speak to the MTA on his behalf and explain he wants peace. All Ella wants is to find Kara and return home, but now she recognizes her telepathy can help people. She agrees to help Durgan.
How did The Trace end?
As Durgan and Ella are saying goodbye, he tells her the Tacemus wiped her memories. Durgan doesn’t know why, but he doesn’t want to lie to her anymore. Shocked, Ella wonders if “E-N” has to do with her missing memories.
On her way out, Ella and Durgan are confronted by Jurstin, who is Durgan’s first officer. It becomes clear Jurstin is working with Chron and wants to overthrow Durgan. They start fighting, and Durgan tells Ella to flee. Ella runs, fearing she’s leaving Durgan to die. On her way out, she finds Durgan’s son and warns him to get the rest of his family to safety.
Grifters chase Ella outside, where she finds her motorcycle still in the swamp. She escapes and drives to the Navy base she was supposed to arrive at two months ago. At the security gate, the MTA officer is suspicious and wonders where she’s been. He tells her Ethan Sheedy was captured by Grifters.
As panic rises, Ella spots One and mentally communicates with him, saying she knows what he’s done. One tells her her missing memories will help her understand why Chron kidnapped both Kara and Ethan and how to get them back. So Ella reads One’s mind and enters a flashback.
Two years earlier, Ella and Kara are at a school fair. Ella notices a guy is following her around. Then, chaos ensues as people start screaming and fleeing. Ella and Kara get separated, and Ella is pulled away by the guy, who says he’s trying to rescue her. Grifters chase after them, and the guy throws her onto his motorcycle. As they are whisked away, he tells her his name is Sheedy.
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