Reviewed by R
Cadence is a girl from a white, affluent New England family where everyone is expected to be blonde and brilliant and a Democrat. Her entire life, she’s spent her summers with her extended family on her grandparents’ private island in New England. Though her mother and aunt’s marriages didn’t stick, everything seems wonderful.
The story opens by acknowledging that Cadence had an accident the summer she was 17 but has no memory of it. She recounts some events leading up to the accident that she does recall, the most significant of which is the entrance of Gat to the crew of cousins. He’s the dark-skinned, politically-minded son of her aunt’s live-in boyfriend, there to introduce/uncover tensions.
You have to open a book titled WE WERE LIARS expecting a certain amount of narrative trickery, and Lockhart delivers. As Cadence remembers more and more about her summers with him and her two cousins (collectively called “The Liars” by the rest of the family), she gradually uncovers more about her family and the events her brain has repressed. You know these are not going to be pleasant, and each slowly revealed detail is progressively more tragic than the last.
I know that many readers saw where the story was going, but oh well. This is not a book to be read for its plot twists. In my opinion, the absolute best thing about this story is the voice. The writing is so stylistically powerful that the story became secondary to the taste of the sentences on my lips. Her prose is dark and sparse, at times understated and at times melodramatic. Reading this book FEELS like sitting on a secluded beach at night, trying to see into the black.
If you want to live where people aren’t afraid of mice, you must give up living in palaces.We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
Reviewed by R (Disclaimer: The author provided a free digital copy of the book for review.)
If you imagine a soul passing on to the afterlife, what exactly would that process look like? Perhaps you would visualize a translucent spirit rising from the mortal body and ascending toward a heavenly light (or descending toward hellish flames).
But that’s been done.
In The Gateway Through Which They Came, debut author Heather Marie imagines that the ghostly souls—deemed “bleeders” by our narrator—wander about searching for a gateway. Except that Gateway is inside of a living person. In order to pass on to the afterlife, they need to walk through such a person.
Aiden is a Gateway, and he’s pretty used to it by now. Gruesome dead person appears. He converses with it a bit. It walks into him. He’s left with a wicked chill and a lack of consciousness for a spell. (Not unlike drinking too much in the snow.)
This normalcy is disrupted, though, when a bleeder shows him a vision of an ominous figure in a black cloak telling him it’s time. Time for what? You’ll have to read it for yourself to see. (But here’s a hint: evil.) On top of this, Aiden’s pseudo-ex-girlfriend and her family disappeared months ago without a trace.
The beginning of the story was a bit rough for me. Marie offers more exposition than I prefer. Almost every time a new character is introduced, we get full name, physical description, back story, plus Aiden’s commentary. Call me old-fashioned, but I like to take it slow.
However, the strangeness and darkness of the premise kept me reading. I wanted to know And once I met all of the cast and moved beyond the abundant exposition, I fell into the story which proves to be part horror, part mystery, part thriller.
The author sustains the suspense well by dangling questions in front of the reader like carrots. She drops just enough hints (and red herrings) to keep you guessing but lacking confidence in your theories. I probably batted around .500 with my predictions and am still kind of bitter about one of them.
Anyways. Like all good mysteries/thrillers, the answers Aiden unearths in The Gateway Through Which They Came often lead to…more questions.
And to evil, of course.
Overall, have faith that if the premise appeals to you, this story will deliver the goods…and the evils.
(Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)
*The Gateway Through Which They Came will be available August 25, 2014.
There can’t be light without dark. There can’t be good without evil. You know the saying.The Gateway Through Which They Came by Heather Marie
Reviewed by R
We all have that annoying friend who is passionate about worthy causes but isn’t really doing anything about it besides ranting. If you know someone like this, then it will be easy for you to conceptualize James, the protagonist and narrator of Destroy All Cars by Blake Nelson.
If you couldn’t guess from the title, James hates cars. You know, they pollute the world and blah blah blah. He also hates many other things. Consumerism. Humanity. His ex-girlfriend Sadie. Using a combination of journal entries and AP English essays, the novel follows James over the course of his junior year as he tries to get over Sadie and cope with humanity.
Something that immediately bothered me about the novel is its use of present tense. Who writes in a journal/diary about what happened to them that day in present tense? Nobody.
If you couldn’t already tell by now, I also found James obnoxious. This type of person is probably one of my least favorite people in the world. And, yes, I realize this is an intentional character flaw the author wants us to root for him to overcome. But that doesn’t make it fun to read two-hundred pages of his oversimplified, oft-ALL CAPS perspective.
On the flip-side, it’s a quick read. It’s often humorous. It’s a realistic portrayal of an egotistical teenager who doesn’t realize he’s egotistical yet.
So should you read it?
As James would say, don’t be a robot. Make up your own mind.
GO TO THE MALL AND LOOK AT THE PEOPLE. LOOK AT THEIR FACES AND TELL ME THEY HAVE REAL THOUGHTS…PEOPLE REALLY ARE ROBOTS.Destroy All Cars by Blake Nelson
Reviewed by R
If we were to clone any human being, who would you clone? Ghandi? MLK, Jr.? Mother Teresa? Jesus?
Or how about Jeffrey Dahmer? John Wayne Gacy? Jack the Ripper?
If that second set of names tickles your fancy, you may want to check outProject Cain by Geoffrey Girard. In this YA horror/thriller, Girard imagines a world in which the U.S. government has been secretly cloning serial killers in order to weaponize them. To better understand the extent to which nature or nurture shaped their murderous tendencies, some are raised in healthy, stable homes while others are brought up under conditions meant to replicate their original traumas.
Initially unaware of all of this, Jeff has been raised in the control group by the director of the cloning program. He was educated, kept safe, and treated to a relatively normal childhood. And with the exception of some strange visions, he supposes he’s a normal teen.
That is, until his father disappears and leaves Jeff to discover the truth of his origins. To make things worse, his father freed a group of other teenage serial killer clones and they start living up to their names. After Castillo—a man hired to locate the clones—finds Jeff, the two set out to stop the killings.
Though the premise may strike you as ridiculous, Girard lays the groundwork to make it more than believable. Fun facts about the U.S. government’s questionable experimentation in the name of National Defense are threaded throughout the story. While some are insubstantial conspiracy theories, others are undeniable fact (for example, the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment). This may feel a bit info-dumpy to some readers, but I found all of it fascinating. I kept Googling everything, and by the time I finished the novel, my wife was ready to strangle me because of my HEYDIDYOUKNOWs.
The story itself is interesting and suspenseful. It moves at a quick pace with short, fragmented sections, punctuated with some pretty gruesome scenes. The author forgoes quotation marks around dialogue, which creates a creepy, psychological tone that highlight Jeff’s own struggle to determine whether or not he is inherently evil and insane. I would have liked to know more about Castillo, but apparently Girard has already written a companion novel covering his side of the tale (Cain’s Blood).
This is definitely not a book for everyone—just those who would rather walk down a dark alley than stroll along a beach.
This is what a killer looks like.Project Cain by Geoffrey Girard
Reviewed by R
One of the downsides to being a book reviewer for an actual publication is that I spend most of the time reading what somebody else tells me to read. And given that I’m not one of their elite reviewers, I rarely receive the best of the best. So it is with a sigh of relief I completed my most recent batch and breathed in the freedom of being able to read what I wanted for the rest of the summer. I immediately picked up Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why, oft cited as a modern YA classic.
Clay Jensen comes home to find a package with no return address. Inside are seven cassette tapes with each side numbered from one to thirteen. He pops in the first tape to discover that they’re from Hannah Baker, a girl at his school who committed suicide a few weeks ago. In the introduction, Hannah voice explains that she has broken her story down into thirteen sections, each one focusing on a different person who had played a role in her decision to end her life. She goes on to explain that the only people who are receiving the tapes are the thirteen people in her story.
So it is, Clay listens to Hannah’s story and waits for his appearance.
Obviously, the first thing that stands out about this story is its structure. It operates with a simultaneous narrative, threading together excerpts of Hannah’s recordings with Clay’s thoughts, reactions, and experiences while listening. And Asher pulls it off beautifully. This approach creates an immediacy that places the reader in Clay’s shoes. His emotional reactions occur alongside ours, and we wait just as nervously as he does to hear about the unintentional consequences of his actions.
It should go without saying that this is a disturbing story. But in my opinion, those are the best kind. Not disturbing in the gory, perverse, or creepy kind of way; disturbing in a way that disrupts routine. It will make you reflect upon how you have hurt people and how you have been hurt. It will make girls reconsider saying stuff about other girls. It will make boys confront their sexism. It will make adults look out for warning signs in teens.
My only issue with the story is that the author doesn’t just hit you over the head with the theme—he bludgeons you to death with it. The idea that our actions may affect others in profound ways is repeated ad nauseam. It was a powerful story that could have spoken for itself. A little more subtlety and this might have been a 4.5 or a 5 for me.
No one knows for certain how much impact they have on the lives of other people.Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher