Note: This review was previously published on my previous blog on September 15, 2013.
Title: The Skinjacker Trilogy: Everlost, Everwild, Everfound
Author: Neal Shusterman
Genre: Supernatural, Urban Fantasy, YA
A white Toyota slams into a black Mercedes, and just like that, Nick and Allie are dead. But something happens on their way to the light. Their souls collide, and they spin into Everlost, a parallel dimension hovering on the border between life and death. Here, child ghosts wander through deadspots--destroyed places that have "crossed over" into Everlost--and Skinjackers possess humans to remember what it felt like to be alive.
To Mary Hightower, Everlost is the only eternal place, more real than the living world. It is her duty to gather and nurture new souls like Allie and Nick. But Allie doesn't trust Mary. Plunging headfirst into a world of monsters and secrets, Allie and Nick soon learn that all is not what it seems and sometimes those souls with the best intentions may be the ones to destroy the world.
Although Everlost exists parallel to the living world, it might as well be its own realm. Like any well-built fantasy, the protagonists must learn the rules of their new world, develop their powers, and confront villains who wish to dominate and destroy. Since I write epic fantasy, this is all in my wheelhouse and I have to say I found it greatly amusing. Though the point of view was third person omniscient, the author mostly kept inside the character's head, drifting away only to offer key bits of explanation to the audience. This allowed the book to run at a fast pace.
I, personally, judge an author by the quality of their villains, and Mr. Shusterman writes them just the way I like: full of empathy. The antagonists may do horrible things, but they never lose their humanity. In the end, they're tragic figures, presented with the choice of changing or clinging to what they think they desire. Some crossover to become heroes, while others lose themselves forever.
Allie and Nick both find love--but surprisingly not with each other. Their separate romantic arcs illustrate the power and limitations of love and its ability to change people. I'm picky with my love stories, but these two hit all my favorite buttons. The romance strengthened the characters rather than weakened them and did not take away from the plot. The emphasis was on emotional (and dare I say spiritual) connection rather than physical. A bittersweet edge ran through the romance, for as pure as the love might be, when your characters are ghosts, you know happily ever after is out.
The Skinjacker Trilogy hits all my preferences right on the nose, so how can I help but to recommend it? It's a weird, fun, and solid adventure series from Neal Shusterman, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
A Certain Slant of Light is A Heart-Wrenchingly Beautiful Tale About Love, Language, and the Human Spirit
Title: A Certain Slant of Light
Author: Laura Whitcomb
Genre: Romance, Fantasy, Literary Fiction, YA?
A long time ago, Helen died, but her soul did not make it into Heaven. For over a century, she has existed as a ghost and a writerly muse, attaching herself from one literary figure to the next, watching their lives but never being more than a whisper in their ear. Helen’s latest haunt is an English teacher and aspiring writer named Mr. Brown. One day, as Helen stands beside him in his English class, a boy notices her.
The boy is not what he appeared. James died as a young man and also became a ghost, but very recently, he discovered he could enter an “empty” body. Possessing a high school boy named Billy gives him access to the world again and allows him to see Helen. As the two ghosts begin a whirlwind romance, Helen wonders if she, too, can enter a body and be with James. After so much time spent watching in the distance, is it possible that Helen can once again partake in life?
It has been a long time since I read a book I unabashedly loved. But that is how I felt about A Certain Slant of Light. It is sweet and romantic, full of yearnings and emotions, with beautiful prose and a genuine affection for words and literature. I loved Helen and James. I loved their old-fashioned courtship and their passionate yet somehow innocent romance. This rendered the second half of the book hard to read, as the tension started to ramp up and I became genuinely afraid of what might happen to them. But, though it took a lot of pain and struggle to get there, the ending was happy and left me as a pile of mush, basking in emotion.
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Genre: YA, Literary, Fantasy
Elizabeth Hall is dead. She died when her bicycle was hit by a cab, a senseless accident, and when she awakes, she finds herself on a boat taking her to Elsewhere--the afterlife. Elsewhere is a society similar to our own, except that here everyone ages backwards and once they become a baby, they will be sent back to earth. Most people in Elsewhere have had lived their lives, but Liz died when she was fifteen. As she copes with the sudden loss, she must grapple with creating a new “life” in Elsewhere. But is there a point to “living” when you’re already dead?
I first found out about Elsewhere when the title appeared on Goodreads list of YA books with dead protagonists. I’m writing a YA book with a dead protagonist called Company and part of the marketing process is to research similar books. However, I honestly did want to read Elsewhere, because the idea of a society of people aging backwards intrigued me, and while most books about dead protagonists featured ghosts (my own included), this one attempted to build an afterlife.
Elsewhere is a good book to read when you’re sad. The book has a languid and distant melancholy to it. This is to be expected; the book deals with death. There is grief and loss and mourning. And that, I feel, is the strongest part of the book. Liz’s grieving process is vivid and real. When she arrives at Elsewhere, she is not eager to explore this new land; rather, she sinks into a depression and gets stuck mourning the life she lost.
However, I feel like Liz never fully comes out of that depression. Even as she acclimatizes to her new “life” in Elsewhere, there is a lingering sadness that permeates the novel. In some ways, this has to do with the style of writing. The prose is simple, matter-of-fact, and not terribly descriptive. Anything that might elicit emotion is glossed over. As a result, the sadness is never too sad, but the happiness is not all that happy, either. In fact, everything is such an even keel of lukewarm, I started to feel like I was reading about a person coping with a low-key but persistent case of clinical depression.
Title: Sister of Blood and Spirit
Author: Kady Cross
Genre: YA, Fantasy, Paranormal, Romance
Lark and Wren are twins. White-haired Lark was born living. Red-haired Wren was born dead. Nonetheless, the two continue to communicate. Being known as the girl who talks to her dead sister has a way of making Lark’s life miserable. After being labeled the school freak and attempting suicide, Lark hopes to re-enter high school without attracting unwanted attention. Unfortunately, she is soon confronted by a group of students who ask for her help. Among them are Kevin, the medium Wren called out to when Lark lay dying; Mason, the boy who held Lark as she bled out and begged her not to die; and Ben, a handsome boy who seems weirdly cool with the supernatural.
It seems Lark’s new acquaintances have trespassed onto an ancient hospital, where an angry ghost attacked them and left spiritual wounds on their body--wounds invisible to everyone but Lark. Lark realizes the angry ghost has marked them as his own and will continue to suck their spirits dry unless someone puts a stop to it. Lark prefers that person not be her. But when Wren guilts her into helping, Lark will put everything on the line to save a group of people who may become her friends.
I picked up this book at the library because the ghostly themes reminded me of a book I’m currently writing. I liked the concept of supernatural sisters. I was interested to see how the author addressed the afterlife. I wanted to like Sisters of Blood and Spirit, I really did. But I didn’t. Every element felt under baked, and the more I read, the more bored I became.
Although she is an abandoned orphan in the Dusklands at the outer edge of the Amber Empire, Sylvie is born with a “legacy”—a gift of magic. She can spin elaborate illusions, fantasies of her own creation. Knowing that only those with noble blood can wield magic, Sylvie treks to the Amber City to claim her rightful spot in Empress Severine’s court. She hopes to find a place to belong. Instead, she’s thrust into a dangerous game of intrigue and politics.
Ragged and poor, no one takes Sylvie seriously, least of all the Empress. But Severine is intrigued by Sylvie’s power. She offers her courtiers a wager: if Sylvie can polish her legacy by Carrousel, her allies will gain favor and Sylvie will receive position in the court. A handsome nobleman named Lord Sunder with the unnerving legacy of causing pain agrees to sponsor Sylvie, but wagers against her. With no allies, no upbringing, and no idea what she’s gotten herself into Sylvie—newly renamed Mirage—will have to use all her powers to outwit her enemies and beat them at their own game.
On the one hand, Amber and Dusk is not a particularly ground-breaking novel. All the major tropes of the YA/ Fantasy/ Romance/ Dystopian genre are here in full force. Determined heroine with more power than she realizes? Check. Mysterious past that becomes important in the third act? Check. Love triangle? Check. Decadent and cruel empire with a rebellion growing in the wings? Check. If you know the genre, you’ll recognize many of the same elements at work here.
Author: Stephanie Garbar
Genre: YA Fantasy Romance
After seven years of dreaming of escaping to the magic and splendor of Caraval, Scarlett Dragna’s wish has finally come true—at precisely the wrong time. Her invitation to the exclusive five-day fair arrives right as she is about to be married to a count she’s never met. Marriage is the only way Scarlett can think of to keep herself and her impetuous sister Donatella safe from their father’s wrath. Donatella, however, has other plans. When her sister seizes the opportunity to visit Caraval, Scarlett has no choice but to follow her into a world where illusion and reality intertwine, where dreams can be purchased at the cost of dark secrets, and where to win the ultimate prize, Scarlett may have to pay the ultimate cost.
I bought the book because it had a strong concept that had a lot of potential. Not only does Scarlett get to visit this carnival of magic, but soon her sister is kidnapped and Scarlett is forced to play a game with the Caraval master to get her back. Why is Scarlett singled out? What sort of game will she be forced to play? How will she overcome the obstacles to emerge the winner?
I wrote a complaint about Beautiful Creatures and how it failed to appeal to my “inner teenage girl,” and one of my criticisms was that it didn’t have any “hot men” in it. But this complaint sort of made me uncomfortable, because: A. It seems shallow and B. Who’s to say Beautiful Creatures didn’t have a hot male lead? It’s not as if there is one type of “hot.” What appeals to one person does not appeal to the next.
Continuing the trend of bad paranormal romances, I also watched The Covenant on Netflix, which was an equally terrible story, but, as I was telling my friend Rita, if it got nothing else right, at least it knew to cast “hot” guys. I ended up feeling more affection for this bad movie, because at least it knew its audience and tried to cater to them.
But this got me thinking. If you’re reading or watching something in the YA fantasy romance genre, do you feel you’re owed a hot male lead to fangirl over? After all, a lot of the appeal of fantasy and romance and books and movies in general is to have something you desire but aren’t likely to get in real life, be it an adventure, superpowers, or a “hot” romantic prospect. If an adventure book doesn’t provide you with a good adventure, doesn’t it fail to deliver on its promise? If a romance doesn’t provide you with a hot lead, does it, too, fail to deliver the goods?
I have a confession. I liked Twilight.
It was not a perfect book or movie, but what it did really, really well was appeal to my inner teenage girl—this creature that still resides deep within me, buried underneath all these intellectual thoughts and theories of stories, that just likes what she likes. The writer part may gnash my teeth at the poorly paced romance, but the teenage girl side loves the thought of a beautiful guy stopping a car with his bare hands to save me.
When the studios got their hands on Beautiful Creatures, they all but announced that they were hoping for the “next Twilight.” A $9 million opening weekend and $19 million domestic total made it clear they didn’t succeed. Thanks to Netflix, I finally got the chance to watch the movie and after the credits scrolled I was dumbstruck with confusion. “Who was this movie made for?” I asked myself out loud.
Writer. Critic. Dreamer.