Drennan Spitzer's Reviews > Determinant

Determinant by A.M. Hargrove
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Oct 12, 2012

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Read in October, 2012

** spoiler alert ** A.M. Hargrove's Determinant is a hybrid of Young Adult science fiction and Young Adult romance. Think Meyer's Twilight, only substitute aliens for the vampires and werewolves. This means that Determinant should appeal to the young adult reader, particularly the female, who enjoys Twilight, but it also means that thematically Hargrove's novel suffers from the same retrogressive treatment of gender and male-female relationships that we see in Meyer's phenomenally popular series.

Although the third in Hargrove's The Guardians of Vesturon series, Determinant can certainly be read as a stand-alone novel. Here, Hargrove tells the story of January St. Davis, a college student, who must struggle financially and socially, mostly because she has been completely shunned by her family. After contracting smallpox during an internship with the Centers for Disease Control, January is saved by Rykerrian Yarrister, a charasmatic, attractive male from the planet of Vesturon. Rykerian quickly falls in love with January, and the plot becomes a combination of interplanetary warfare and politics alongside the developing romantic and sexual relationship of January and Rykerian.

Determinant is a quick read, as suits the intended audience. Hargrove's writing style is not particularly polished, and some sections of the novel lack the kind of development that I would have liked. Although not terribly well written, Determinant presents characters who are likely to appeal to this audience in the insecure and somewhat needy January and the overly attractive Rykerian. I wanted more science fiction and less love story. However, I think that many young readers, particularly female readers, will prefer the story of the developing relationship, both emotional and physical, between the two main characters.

Please be aware that the remainder of this review may contain plot spoilers.

What I found particularly interesting about this novel is Rykerian's insistence on chastity in his relationship with January. Several times, she makes overtures indicating that she is ready and willing to have sex with him, but Rykerian, a member of the royal family of Vesturon, insists upon sex only within the boundaries of marriage, for this is the cultural and social expectation upon Vesturon. The upshot of this is, as one may expect, that January and Rykerian, after several makeout sessions, decide to get married, although January is only 19 and has aspirations to finish college and become a medical doctor. What follows are several relatively graphic sex scenes, all couched in terms of their enduring love, bordering on near obsession, for one another and January's pregnancy.

On the one hand, I appreciate the message, particularly for young adult readers, that chastity in a relationship carries value and that, however difficult maintaining one's purity may be, there is a payoff for it in the end. At the same time, it seems somewhat inconsistent to so heavy-handedly insist on this message but then feed readers what amount to fairly titillating descriptions of January and Rykerian's physical relationship after marriage. I feel as though the book is simultaneously saying, "Maintain your virginity!" but, "Here, fantasize about sex," albeit within the structure of marriage, all at the same time.

I also question the implications of January's decision to leave her education and professional aspirations behind in order to marry Rykerian when she's only 19. And yet, the very structure of the plot makes any other choice almost impossible. Earth, as we know it and as January has known it, has been ravaged by plague, violence, and anarchy to such an extent that she cannot return to college and the life she has known once she recovers from smallpox. And because of her family and financial problems, January has all but failed out of college anyhow. The circumstances of the plot, of January's life all but force her to become dependent on Rykerian and to accept the life that he offers her. Rykerian becomes the traditional male stepping in to save January not just from disease but from the mess that her life has become. January's goals and dreams recede, for the most part, once she begins to fall in love with Rykerian, although we are left with the sense that she may someday become a healer on Rykerian's home planet of Vesturon, a calling not terribly far removed from January's goal of being a doctor. Still, the implication seems to be that young women are better off not pursuing their own goals but in marrying young and becoming whatever best accommodates their husbands, husbands who somehow save but also infantilize their wives.

Thematically, then, Hargrove seems to present gender and gender roles within relationships in ways that feel retrogressive and at odds with my own constructions of feminism. Young readers certainly assimilate the thematic implications of literature, and this is particularly true of female readers of novels that deal with intimate relationships. This presentation of gender, chastity, and the role of the romantic / intimate relationship in the development of the central female character, again, feels quite similar to what we see in Stephenie Meyer's Twilight saga. I think it's time that we move beyond this and offer young females something that speaks to their own empowerment.

NOTE: This review originally appeared at www.drennanspitzer.com Please visit me there!

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