Published: Hachette Book Group, 2009
Worth Your Time?
You’ll get the gist if you skim it. I’d suggest speed-reading, or else it will take you 3+ weeks to get through, like it did for me. It’s very long; like, 600 pages.
“I was sixteen years old, I was falling in love with a girl who didn’t exist, and I was slowly losing my mind.” [Been there, buddy.]
“Sometimes I wrote random stuff in the middle of my essays, just to see if my teachers would say anything. No one ever did.” [I DID THIS. Vague Harry Potter references, everywhere. In research papers for science class.]
“She was pretty, but that was it. And looking at her didn’t make up for having to listen to what came out of her mouth.”
The term “Ridleypop.”
In general, I’d say they’re all a little melodramatic. (Except Link).
The narrator, Ethan, is supposed to be a sixteen-year-old boy, but you can occasionally tell that he was written by a couple of women in their thirties. He’s a little sappy, and if I was friends with him, I’d probably make fun of him. Basically, his narration reminded me distinctly of my ninth-grade journal. So, it’s an accurate depiction of the teenage mind, at times, but painful and disturbing to read, as a third-party-outsider.
Lena is a cliche, now. I don’t know if she was already cliche in 2009, but basically, she is the Not Like Other Girls/Ostracized For-No-Good-Reason New Girl who just wants to fit in and be normal and go to the school dance and be popular.
Like, okay, that’s nice. I’m sure some people find that relatable. But she comes off as a little desperate, at times. And some of the hostility towards her (basically all of it) is founded on nothing? They hate what she’s wearing, or something? Because she doesn’t dress exactly like the rest of them? But like, she obviously looks good, anyway, so why does anyone care? It sort of felt like the authors were trying to subtly imply racial discrimination, but w/o actually making Lena a different race. She’s pale-as-the-moon white, but they hate her anyway, because she’s “different.” (Different, in this world, just means “nice.”)
I didn’t completely hate Lena, though. Or Ethan. There are some good moments of witty dialogue between the two of them and other characters, which I appreciated.
The adults in this book come in two categories: over-educated, lofty-colonial-voiced too-good-for-this-town-but-got-stuck-in-it-anyway types, and exaggerated Southern stereotypes. Lots of DAR-demonizing in this book, and a lot of focus on how the whole town respects the Confederacy, (except Ethan and Lena who are Different) but no actual explicit racial tension. The girls at school also fit into the Southern stereotypes, and they’re super mean for no reason. Except to each other, sometimes.
The evil villains in the book are textbook Mean and Scary, rather than emotionally layered, but I’ll forgive it because there’s an explanation for it. One of them sort of has a redemption moment, but it’s mostly just awkward for everyone.
I liked the paranormal side of the plot. I thought it was intriguing in the beginning, and super intense and emotional near the end, but the four hundred pages in between those two parts were kind of unnecessary. I honestly think this would be a great book if you just cut out two thirds of the repetitive narration, annoying sappy-romantic thoughts, and South-hatred.
I’ve got to talk about the South-hatred. The book is set in this small town in Gatlin County. Halfway through the book, I started underling the word “Gatlin” every time it was basically used as a swear word. Like, “This is Gatlin,” or “Things like that don’t happen in Gatlin,” or “No one in Gatlin reads,” or “Everyone in Gatlin likes war reenactments, except me because I am Evolved.”
We get it. You think small towns in the South are full of racist idiots who are stuck in the past. That’s great, thanks. You don’t have to bring it up on every other page of your six hundred-page paranormal novel.
As someone who lives in the South, and has literally never come across a Civil War reenactment, I found it a little insulting. And just, as a person, I found it a little unrealistic. Even in a small town, you’re going to come up against some disagreement and varying levels of passion towards a certain idea. The Internet existed in 2009.
This book needed more rebellious children. Link was good, but not enough.
Anyway, the paranormal side of things had a good mystery and build-up and plot twist (more of a plot surprise, I guess; it wasn’t the opposite of what I expected, just didn’t really know what to expect). Although, again, not all of the build-up was necessary. A lot of it could have been cut or shortened.
The descriptions are actually pretty great. I underlined several of them, just so I could take note, as a writer who struggles with description. And, surprisingly, the physical descriptions of places and people were not the thing that made this book too long. It was just Ethan’s internal thoughts that got to be too much.
Some of the dialogue is witty, fun, and realistic. Some of it’s a little sappy, but that’s fine if you’re into it.
A few of the characters suffer from the There’s-This-Thing-About-Me-That-You-Don’t-Know-And-I-Can’t-Tell-You-Because-It-Would-Hurt phenomenon, which is a useful plot device, and all, but it can really drag out a conversation. Especially when they have this argument more than once, which they do. And when they do eventually tell the person anyway, it’s just like… why did you waste so much time not-telling them?
I don’t know. Maybe I’m being too cynical about some of it.
But guys, this book is soo long. It does not need to be this long.
IF YOU’RE GOING TO MAKE RACISM SUCH A BIG DEAL IN YOUR STORY, ADDRESS IT HEAD-ON. PLEASE. FOR THE LOVE OF GATLIN. OR ELSE STOP TALKING SO MUCH ABOUT THE DAGGUM CIVIL WAR.
Who Would I Recommend This To?
People who are okay with insta-romance when there’s a paranormal quasi-explanation for it. And like reading all the sappy love-thoughts.
People who really hate Southern small towns.
People who like scary, sexy, villains with scary powers and little-to-no character depth.