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One highly opinionated feminist YA nerd's twisted, snarky and informative journey through the genre's perils, pitfalls and sparkles.

Review: "Fracture" by Megan Miranda.

Fracture”

Author: Megan Miranda.

Publisher: Walker & Company.

Pages: 272.

Summary (taken from GoodReads): Eleven minutes passed before Delaney Maxwell was pulled from the icy waters of a Maine lake by her best friend Decker Phillips. By then her heart had stopped beating. Her brain had stopped working. She was dead. And yet she somehow defied medical precedent to come back seemingly fine. Despite the scans that showed significant brain damage. Everyone wants Delaney to be all right, but she knows she's far from normal. Pulled by strange sensations she can't control or explain, Delaney finds herself drawn to the dying. Is her altered brain now predicting death, or causing it?

Then Delaney meets Troy Varga, who recently emerged from a coma with similar abilities. At first she's reassured to find someone who understands the strangeness of her new existence, but Delaney soon discovers that Troy's motives aren't quite what she thought. Is their gift a miracle, a freak of nature-or something much more frightening?

For fans of best-sellers like Before I Fall and If I Stay, this is a fascinating and heart-rending story about love and friendship and the fine line between life and death.

Cover impressions: Once your publisher starts promoting your book and mentioning it in the same vein as two of the most well received books in YA in recent years, immediately you have a lot to live up to. While I didn't adore “If I Stay”, I thought it achieved its objective – to present a young woman's life and her existential struggles – with a deft hand, one that is difficult to pull off for even the most talented writer. For Megan Miranda's debut (which is also a standalone, a refreshing occurrence in a field that churns out more multi-book series than it knows what to do with), the personal elements are much more successful than other parts.

The relatively short “Fracture” has many ideas running through it and, perhaps inevitably, not all of them work. The main issue arises from a lack of a central focus, which leaves the narrative prone to wandering off and slowing down to almost a complete halt. Sometimes the book can't decide what it wants to be – does it want to be a romance? A mystery? An exploration of human nature and death? Each segment succeeds to varying degrees, although none is given enough time to develop into something truly gripping, although the potential is clearly there, especially in the mystery elements, where Miranda creates some surprisingly tense moments and even surprised me when I thought things were becoming too predictable. Some scenes feel rushed and/or have no real resolution. A strong editor could work wonders for this book and turn it from good to great.

I've read some reviews which levelled complaints with the heroine Delaney and her coldness, but I actually found this rather refreshing. She provided a welcome change from the usual selection of blank faces I've become all too accustomed to in YA. I can definitely see many readers having a problem with this though. Her multiple boy troubles, however, grated on me. No less than 3 young men are presented as possible love interests for Delaney and none are given any page time to develop into a viable option for her (although, to give huge credit to Miranda, she turns the tables when things seem to be following an all to familiar YA romance route.) The story needed to either develop the romantic element further, concentrating on no more than two boys (you know how much I just love my love triangles!) or getting rid of the sub-plot altogether.

There's one element of this book that I have to discuss. Once again, here's another YA novel with a female antagonist who serves no purpose to the plot other than to be promiscuous and act as a straw-figure to compare the heroine to. She genuinely does nothing of any important besides act as the most minor of road-blocks in the possible relationship between Delaney and best friend Decker, and is almost always described in terms of her tight clothing or promiscuous nature, constantly talking about sex or getting naked. At one point she is described as "pathetic in her too-tight clothes, desperate for attention." We shouldn't have to keep going over this, YA. Stop demonising girls who have sex as sluts! Stop using it as a cheap shortcut to avoid characterisation of the already clich├ęd and damaging teen female antagonist role! The character was of no consequence and really didn't need to be in the book, so her inclusion felt all the more bitter and forced me to knock half a star from the review.

The potential within “Fracture” is evident and there are moments where Miranda really shines, especially within the mystery elements and Delaney's inner turmoil, but it's a work that needs to be seriously fleshed out. If certain plot lines, characters and situations could be tightened up and built upon, the book could be a very interesting and gripping piece of work. As it is, it's a perfectly readable story that fails to satisfy in the way it has the potential to do so.

2.5/5.

Fracture” will be released in USA on January 12th 2012. I received my ARC from NetGalley.com.

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Review: "Between the Sea and the Sky" by Jaclyn Dolamore.

Between the Sea and the Sky”

Author: Jaclyn Dolamore.

Publisher: Bloomsbury Children's Books.

Pages: 240.

Summary (taken from GoodReads): For as long as Esmerine can remember, she has longed to join her older sister, Dosinia, as a siren--the highest calling a mermaid can have. When Dosinia runs away to the mainland, Esmerine is sent to retrieve her. Using magic to transform her tail into legs, she makes her way unsteadily to the capital city. There she comes upon a friend she hasn't seen since childhood--a dashing young man named Alandare, who belongs to a winged race of people. As Esmerine and Alandare band together to search for Dosinia, they rekindle a friendship . . . and ignite the emotions for a love so great, it cannot be bound by sea, land, or air.

Cover impressions: I found Dolamore's debut “Magic Under Glass” to be a charming and creative book that could have benefited from some tighter plotting and characterisation. It certainly sparked my interest for her next book, a standalone mermaid story, especially after Dolamore mentioned how she wrote the book to the scores of Studio Ghibli films (indeed, I noted in my earlier review how her creative worlds would be ideal for Hayao Miyizaki's next film.) While the mermaid craze never quite took off the way that many bloggers and publishers thought it would, there is still a gap in the market for a strong mermaid YA to join the myriad of vampires, werewolves, angels and other assorted creatures of mythology already so well known to readerrs. Unfortunately this book did not meet my excpectations.

I found that many of the same problems I had with Dolamore's previous novel appeared in “Between the Sea and the Sky”. Wonderfully imaginative elements of world-building, including the mermaid-siren hierarchy, the relations between each of the species and the world of the winged creatures, the Fandarsee, were introduced to us but never fully developed. In “Magic Under Glass”, Dolamore introduced the strands of political and cultural complexities that I was desperate to know more about, yet such elements never came to fruition, and the exact same thing happens here. While there were moments of vivid descriptive scenes throughout her consistently strong prose, I never felt fully immersed in the world-building. To be honest, much of it felt very underdeveloped. I have a feeling this book may be marketed to a younger, more middle-grade audience. The prose and story-telling feels more suited to pre-teen readers, although it's very readable for all ages. I did find that the frequent dumping of exposition began to grate extremely quickly, especially since this is such a short book with very little action and a highly predictable plot.

I did not find Esmerine to be as interesting or well developed as Nimira in “Magic Under Glass.” The idea of the young beautiful mermaid dissatisfied with her lot in life and yearning for more on the surface is nothing new. In fact, it's a staple of the great mermaid tales going back as far as Hans Christian Andersen, maybe even further. I can understand the harking back to influential tales but so little is developed from that point onwards that it can't help but feel stagnant and unsatisfying. This applies to pretty much every supporting character in the book, although nobody is ever really given any real time to shine or become more three-dimensional. Of course, this doesn't bode well for the romantic element, which felt too heavily reliant on the childhood friends trope to explain Esmerine and Alandare's relationship. One part of the book that really left me scratching my head was the depiction of humans. While mermaids and the Fandarsee are granted some variety of characterisation, pretty much every human is seen as selfish, rude or extremely ignorant of other species aside from themselves. They seem to view all others as a side-show novelty. I could understand this possibly for one or two characters from more isolated parts of the country, but these interactions and knowledge of other creatures are well known, so it didn't make much sense to have every human act like a fool when in the presence of a mermaid (whom they are especially susceptible to falling under their charms) or Fandarsee.

While “Between the Sea and the Sky” possesses much of the charm and imagination of Dolamore's debut work, the same flaws are also still present and overwhelm the positive elements. Wonderfully creative elements and ideas are introduced but left to flounder instead of being given their deserved attention, while the characters and romantic element are pretty stock for the genre for the most part. The readability of its prose and short length make it ideally suited to younger readers, although the book itself is not without merit for readers of all ages. Once again, it's an ideal framework for a Ghibli film, but also hints are Dolamore's possible strengths as a short story writer.

2.5/5.

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Review: "The Pledge" by Kimberly Derting.

The Pledge”

Author: Kimberly Derting.

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry.

Pages: 320.

Summary (taken from GoodReads): In the violent country of Ludania, the language you speak determines what class you are, and there are harsh punishments if you forget your place—looking a member of a higher class in the eye can result in immediate execution. Seventeen-year-old Charlaina (Charlie for short) can understand all languages, a dangerous ability she’s been hiding her whole life. Her only place of release is the drug-filled underground club scene, where people go to shake off the oppressive rules of the world they live in. There, she meets a beautiful and mysterious boy who speaks a language she’s never heard, and her secret is almost exposed. Through a series of violent upheavals, it becomes clear that Charlie herself is the key to forcing out the oppressive power structure of her kingdom….

Cover impressions: The more YA books I see being released amidst the continuing dystopia trend (a fad that seems to have a lot more mileage than I originally anticipated, although the sales figures are a more mixed bag), the more I find myself questioning what makes a book dystopian. With “The Body Finder” author Kimberly Derting's latest, the first in a planned trilogy, I hesitate to call it, for lack of a better term, pure dystopian since it mixes more fantastical elements into the story. This discussion aside, what elements that the book uses that are clearly in a dystopian vein are unsuccessful.

The setting, the country of Ludania, is frequently described in terms of its oppressiveness and constant threat of danger but neither of these things were shown on the page. For a supposedly highly guarded society, there was a lot of freedom allotted to its residents. There seemed to be no real adult supervision of the secret club visiting teenagers, except for a few guards now and then, but when one of the characters is described as using heavily guarded security check-points as an opportunity to practice her flirting techniques, it sort of detracts from the sense of fear and urgency. This is an issue I've had with a few dystopian YA novels in recent times. We're frequently told of the dangers and need for constant vigilance but what we are presented with is a series of plot convenient instances and loopholes that detract from the atmosphere needed to create a truly tense story. A strong sense of urgency and fear is a must for dystopian set stories, in my opinion. On top of all this, Derting includes a more fantasy oriented element that is the driving force behind the central premise of the story. Charlie can understand every language, a dangerous skill in a world where social groups are broken up by which language they speak. As a student of semi-dead languages, this premise was a potential gold-mine for me, and I think there is a genuinely interesting world to be built from the idea of using language as a device of socio-political matters. Unfortunately, this book isn't it. The strong idea is never fully built upon, a matter made all the more frustrating thanks to the complete lack of detail given when it is used. The book was a step away from saying “It's magic, we don't have to explain it”, which is never a good answer.

The characters are as shallow as the plot, in particular the heroine Charlie and the first designated love interest Max (there are at least 3 men in the story who I thought could be potential love interests because they are constantly described by way of their handsome looks and enticing aura by Charlie. She may have claimed that her friend Brooklynn was the boy crazy one but she seemed just as single-minded). Neither rises beyond the stock YA romance traits, with Charlie's passiveness being extremely grating but not as much as Max's frequently rude, condescending and smug behaviour being written off as okay because he's so enamoured with a girl he's known for barely a few weeks – the book has a very short time-line – and makes her so weak at the knees I'm surprised she could perform basic human functions. It's yet another YA where the breeding pair fall into the typical gender roles. Maybe it's because I'm jaded and I've been reviewing these sorts of books for what feels like an era, but when the romantic hero, who has only personally known the heroine for a couple of weeks (there are references that he's had his 'protective' eye on her for longer), and he says “All I want is to keep you safe... it's all I've ever wanted”, alarm bells go off in my head. His case isn't helped by his frequent grabbing of Charlie as if he's allowed to do this because we all know they're going to end up together.

The Pledge” is a slow, mediocre book that shows a glimmer of promise for the rest of the series in the final few pages, but it's not enough for me to feign further interest. To see such potential wasted is a disappointment, made all the worse by the continuing trend for the sort of romances that make me want to pull my hair out. While the prose itself is serviceable, the constant switching of narratives from Charlie's 1st person to several characters's 3rd person points-of-view felt unnecessary given the lack of distinguishing features given to them. My biggest issue with the book is that it's so shallow. Nothing is given the depth required to make the story fully engaging – the world building is slack, the characters are stock, the romance is tired and predictable and the much needed tension is nowhere to be seen.

2/5.

"The Pledge" will be released in USA on November 15th 2011. I received my ARC from Simon & Schuster's Galley Grab programme.

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