Debut author Kelsey Sutton took a big risk in deciding to write about a protagonist who can’t feel any emotions. After all, one of the biggest critici...moreDebut author Kelsey Sutton took a big risk in deciding to write about a protagonist who can’t feel any emotions. After all, one of the biggest criticisms of unsuccessful YA is about bland characters. And while there is an external reason for why Elizabeth is like a shell of a person, I am sorry to say that, instead of being a bold experiment in defying common YA problems by facing them head on, SOME QUIET PLACE merely fell into those very traps.
I’ll be straight with you: Elizabeth has no personality. And it’s not just her being her usual emotionless. She literally doesn’t have anything that distinguishes her from a blank slate other than what’s imposed on her from the outside. When describing Elizabeth, one has to resort to external descriptors: she has rotten parents, an absent brother, she likes to paint. This doesn’t tell us ANYTHING about Elizabeth. People need not be defined by the abuse of their families nor the fact that she paints with all the investment of one doing the dishes. Even sociopaths, who medically do not feel empathy, can have personalities. Elizabeth doesn’t, and that’s not a symptom of her problem.
The lack of personality is not just limited to the MC. Side characters are flat with (again) no personality of their own. Elizabeth’s father is the cardboard drunk and abusive character, while Elizabeth’s mother is the repressed and resentful housewife. Elizabeth’s best friend is the dying girl scared of dying. These are tropes, not to be confused with characteristics. With personality.
SOME QUIET PLACE furthermore falls into common YA pitfalls regarding its plot and mystery. Like too many other YAs that describe themselves as mysteries, SOME QUIET PLACE’s unfolding of its mystery is stuttering and unsatisfying. A great mystery reveals just enough hints in unexpected yet narratively consistent intervals to keep readers ensnared and invested. The “mystery” in this book—of what in Elizabeth’s past caused her to be the way she is—remains a mystery until its sudden anticlimax. The purported “hints” dropped throughout the book are not, actually, hints. “Hints” implies relevance to the plot and mystery; it’s not supposed to be a foray into a dull miniadventure leading into a dead end that the book insists to be a hint, but is in fact just pacing weakness, Insert Dramatic Red Herring Here. The so-called suspense in this book, unfortunately, was so unsatisfying as to frustrate me into apathy.
I could write more, but I’ll stop there and say this: It is completely possible to write from the point of view of a person who can’t feel emotions. But SOME QUIET PLACE was an amateur’s attempt, and sadly it wasn’t long before I realized that I could not feel anything towards Elizabeth and her predicament. And it’s not because I can’t feel emotions.(less)
When a strange caller informs young pianist Kiri Byrd he has the remains of her dead sister’s stuff—a sister who had been dead for years—Kiri’s life t...moreWhen a strange caller informs young pianist Kiri Byrd he has the remains of her dead sister’s stuff—a sister who had been dead for years—Kiri’s life turns upside down. Kiri struggles to piece together what she’s learning about her sister, but doing so sets her on a crash course towards a breakdown, and only by acknowledging it can Kiri hope to live with it, to make it a part of herself.
With the weight of the expectations I placed upon its spine after declaring its synopsis to be one of the best I’d ever encountered, Hilary T. Smith’s debut novel WILD AWAKE had a lot to live up to. Fortunately, it was more than up to the task. WILD AWAKE reminded me of the best type of our favorite and revered Aussie YA: it’s whimsical and more than a little odd, but ultimately grounded in the solid reality of common emotions.
WILD AWAKE has many strengths, one of which is its startling and beautiful prose. It startles you because Smith is, oftentimes, just noting in passing an everyday detail or thought—only she does so in a way that makes you pause and actually notice what you otherwise would not. The prose tinkles like water trickling over crystal. Its brightness combines with the darker undertones of Kiri’s situation for a full symphony of bass emotions and soprano wonder.
From the start, Kiri as protagonist stands out. She is many things, has many identities—a serious pianist, a quipper; a dutiful daughter, a monomaniac—but she owns them all unabashedly, deliberately. Unlike other, forgettable YA protagonists who claim to be artists or rebels or whatever, Kiri doesn’t say: she just is, and that makes her being genuine. She’s unafraid to plunge herself into making mistakes, with the result that she gets more out of life than those who hang back. The times when she descends into a whirlwind of monomania are thrilling yet terrifying to read, because you see why she does it, why she needs to let herself go like that, and yet despite how seemingly carefree she is in those moments, you know it’s barely masking a deep, deep hurt. I desperately wish Kiri was real, because I think that her fearlessness, whether or not it’s enviable or reckless, would make me a better person.
That being said, in the end, it’s difficult to say what this book is about. The synopsis emphasizes the mysterious circumstances of Kiri’s sister’s death, but besides for being the catalyst for what happens in the book, finding out more about Sukey and what happened to her becomes less and less of a priority as the book flows along, replaced by Kiri’s deterioriating mental state. Which is a fine direction for a story to go, but still, a little…disorienting.
Nevertheless, WILD AWAKE was a story that lived up to its promises. It is more than the sum of its parts, more than just delectable prose, sympathetic character, and endearing family mystery. Go in with no anticipation of conventions, and enjoy the wild-awake ride.(less)
ATTACHMENTS is perfect for when you want the book equivalent of a Meg Ryan movie marathon. Snappy dialogue, the adorable internal monologue of awkward...moreATTACHMENTS is perfect for when you want the book equivalent of a Meg Ryan movie marathon. Snappy dialogue, the adorable internal monologue of awkward, doesn't-know-how-attractive-he-is male lead, etc. Some of the dialogue is a bit TOO perfect, and the ending, while satisfying, feels like you took a shortcut to get there, but you're still solidly in Lincoln's camp all the way, rooting for his happy ending.(less)
ELEANOR & PARK is not the witty and light-hearted read that I had expected it to be. Instead, it has trouble deciding whether it wants to be a cha...moreELEANOR & PARK is not the witty and light-hearted read that I had expected it to be. Instead, it has trouble deciding whether it wants to be a charming romance or darker exploration into messed-up families. Either one would’ve worked for me, but straddling the two made for what was ultimately an unsatisfying read for me.
Don’t get me wrong: I enjoyed watching Park and Eleanor’s interactions unfold. They’re an unexpected couple, and it was fun to watch them slowly begin to open up to one another. However, I wasn’t convinced that Park and Eleanor’s relationship endured realistically in their world. I ended up being more interested in Park and Eleanor’s relationships with their families than their relationship with one another, and felt that one world seemed to always be intruding on the other, in terms of my understanding of each. After a while, I began to be more interested in reading about their interactions with their families, with the result that I felt confused about what the book wanted us to focus our attentions and interests on: the romance that initially sold the book, or the deeper but never thoroughly explored familial relationships that intrigued me more.
ELEANOR & PARK was, for me, a temporarily touching but ultimately forgettable love story where the heavy-handed emphasis on romance crushed the subjectively more interesting aspects of the characters’ lives, namely their relationships with their families.(less)