I hope you're all having a wonderfully spooky Halloween, everybody!
I decided to do something on my blog that sends shivers of terror down my spine at the very thought of it.
Click these links... if you dare.
"The limitations of the [Bechdel] test itself highlight many other issues with media and entertainment, something [Cassandra] Clare and many other writers, of YA and otherwise, don't seem aware of. You can pass the Bechdel Test ridiculously easily if you wanted to. Have two women talk about the weather on the bus and it passes. Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency suggested an additional rule to the test: the conversation must last longer than a minute. That minute plus long talk can be about anything non man/romance related and technically it'll pass, so two women slut-shaming someone or having an insultingly sexist conversation can still passed. The problems with the test are evident."
Christina and I wrote a piece on The Book Lantern about Cassandra Clare's flop of a movie, Ally Carter's claims that we should support stories like The Mortal Instruments for the good of women in film or something, why the Bechdel Test isn't the get out of sexism free card, and how it's possible to be a woman criticising another woman and not be a misogynist. You can find the post here.
Christina is now on BookLikes too, you can find her here.
The Book Lantern ladies are always so thoughtful and in-depth with actual research and a ton of pure awesomeness. Also, I am obsessed with the Bechdel test and apply it to every movie I watch.
Since May, I've been reviewing chapters of Colleen Houck's Tiger's Curse, inspired by Reading With A Vengeance and Mark Reads. We're almost halfway there now, so here's the master post.
Why did I take so long to read this?
Oh, Vanessa, you foolish girl. I remember reading this book on and off on my commute to university, and then for whatever reason, putting it down and picking it back up again at odd intervals. It’s not that it wasn’t holding my interest – simply put it down to me being very easily distracted.
Then I got back into reading it over my holidays and could not put it down. At all. Then after I got home, I put it down again and picked it back up only a few days ago.
The Diviners is an extremely well-researched historical fantasy novel, steeped in the supernatural and with a wonderful cast of characters. It’s immensely enjoyable, well-written, and suspenseful.
The book begins in the roaring ’20s, with Evangeline ‘Evie’ O’Neill, being sent away from her boring hometown in Ohio to her uncle in New York, who curates the Museum of American Folklore, otherwise known as the Museum of the Creepy Crawlies, along with his assistant Jericho Jones. To Evie, this is her ticket to freedom, an excuse to party hard, and drink as much ‘giggle water’ as possible.
It seems to me from reading reviews that Evie is either loved or loathed. She can’t go half a sentence without flinging in some 1920s slang, and she can be rather ditzy and self-centred. However, she is also courageous, adorable, and hilarious to read. I mean, she sealed the deal for my favourite character spot the moment she kneed an overzealous admirer in the nuts with this exchange towards the beginning:
‘“You can’t blame a fella for kissing the prettiest girl in New York, can you, sister?” Sam’s grin was anything but apologetic.
Evie brought her knee up quickly and decisively, and he dropped to the floor like a grain sack. “You can’t blame a girl for her quick reflexes now, can you, pal?”’
No, no, don’t worry – I don’t base my judgements on whether or not a character is awesome because she can roundhouse kick a man into submission, but Evie’s conduct just before is quite amusing, saying she’s coming to New York to be a nun, getting more and more irritated with Sam’s advances. She’s also confident and charismatic, able to charm the socks off anyone she sees, like T.S. Woodhouse, the young journalist investigating the Pentacle Killings and receiving tips on the sly from her as she smirks and basks in the attention. What’s this? A three-dimensional female character in a YA novel who doesn’t turn to putty in the hands of love interest #1 or #2, who knows she’s anything but plain and has her head seriously screwed on despite her public appearance as a featherbrained flapper? YES.
The main plot of The Diviners revolves around…. well, the Diviners. These are people with special psychic powers, who seem to have all gathered in New York. In fact, towards the end of the book, the main murder mystery takes a backseat, as clues are divulged more and more, leading to a rather satisfying ending with the promise of a brilliant sequel.
While it is satisfying in that regard, I had been following the Pentacle Killings. You know, Naughty John, the ghost who is ritually murdering people in exceedingly gruesome and terrifying ways? Who whistles and sings whilst he’s hacking people to bits? (The multiple viewpoints angle this novel has is really quite good – I really loved getting to know certain characters, and the heightened sense of fear and panic that follows when you read them hearing that peculiar whistling or that singing. No! Not poor Ruta! Not poor little Tommy!)
It seems as if Bray became a little more interested in X (the storyline building up to the Diviners in the sequel) as opposed to Y (the Pentacle Killings, which I mention we have been following for the past 400 pages) towards the end of the novel.
The aforementioned scenario is very hastily resolved, with Evie and Jericho taking off for Naughty John’s haunted house in New York and being split up, with Evie having to keep her wits about her despite her utter terror at the prospect of potentially being another one of Naughty John’s victims. While I really did like the sense of fear seeping through the page, and was completely and utterly hooked… it kind of lost its steam when Evie was able to defeat him with – well, I don’t wish to spoil it, but it didn’t live up to expectation.
1920s New York is stunningly realised in The Diviners. Everything about New York here is written in the most immersive way possible – the sights, the sounds, the smells, the people walking around. It’s not just some bland background the characters plod down as they go from one point to another, which I am extremely grateful for. That’s true escapism there. If a book can provide such great entertainment by pulling me out of reality, then sign me up.
Disclaimer: A digital copy of the book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.
A little over a year ago, I read Kendare Blake’s excellent Anna Dressed in Blood. Only a few months ago, I read its less-than-stellar sequel, Girl of Nightmares. I bring up these two books because that’s what Marvin’s Curse reminds me of the most – boy meets girl, but the girl is a ghost who must deal with the trappings of Hell.
However, while Cas in Anna Dressed in Blood was well-rounded, and Anna was a nice girl who could become extremely terrifying, Marvin and Stella… eh…
Marvin is supposed to be a kid with a lot of issues. His father died recently, and seemed to be replaced immediately with a new stepfather, who wanted them all to uproot to a new house to make the transition easier. Marvin attends a special school, has been in therapy, takes medication, and he has the particular burden of being able to see ghosts, who usually try to attack him. Or at least make him listen to their woes.
Oh, and the new house overlooks a graveyard.
After an argument with his parents, Marvin storms outside to find a girl his age hanging around in the graveyard. She carries all the hallmarks of being one of the spirits that bother Marvin every waking moment, but for some strange reason, she has no memories whatsoever. The only clue to her backstory is a business card for a pawnbroker’s shop in the realm of Moghador, which happens to have a gateway right in that very graveyard. Marvin resolves to help Stella regain her memories, and also keep the truth away from her. However, it turns out that Stella may have a lot to do with Moghador, and that mysterious pawnbroker’s.
One of the strengths of Marvin’s Curse is its main character. Marvin is initially presented as angry and lashing out for little reason, but soon enough the pieces start to fit together. He may be irrationally angry at his stepfather, and may lash out at anyone or anything that comes too close, but this behaviour makes sense for somebody who’s in the second stage of grief, since it’s hinted that Marvin’s father only died recently. Ever since his father’s death, Marvin’s been able to see ghosts and spirits, and for somebody who’s only just getting over a death, having ghosts surround you and describe how they can’t pass on and want to use you as a sponge for all their negative feelings would suck. Believe me, I’d be a bit angry as well.
As Marvin progresses through Moghador and learns about the dark secrets surrounding Old Kedigan’s shop, he does actually grow as a character. Sure, he still has a short fuse, but he learns that his behaviour sometimes has consequences, and that he has to start taking responsibility. His father’s ghost is still around and wants him to take up the family business. The men on Marvin’s father’s side are all spiritual mediums, and the baton always passes down to the next son. The ghost of his father hasn’t passed on yet because he wants to see if Marvin will be alright with his new gift.
Stella, on the other hand, is merely okay. She starts off as a confused young woman in a graveyard who decides the designer label in her jeans is as good a name as any. (Stella McCartney, for the curious amongst you.) She gets more and more clues to her identity as the mystery unravels, but I wouldn’t say she’s the most dynamic character I’ve ever seen. Stella’s still very similar to her first appearance even by the end of the book, and hasn’t really learned anything. Well, she’s learned about how she died and how she came to be abandoned in the graveyard with no memory, but she hasn’t grown as a character in a meaningful way. You’d think learning about all the bad stuff that’s happened to her would affect her personality in some way, but it really doesn’t.
Stella by far has the most terrible things happen to her, but there’s no real outward show of these things affecting her. Except yelling: “You pig!” or “You monster!” at Old Kedigan or another demon once in a while, she mostly stays the same. She sees innocent people dying in Moghador, is hit with the revelation that she had some part in it, learns the full extent of the horrors the villain partakes in, and how much he hates Stella that he dragged her into death with him. You know, things that would really shake your foundations.
Alright, I’ll stop there because I’m repeating myself, but I did find Stella a bit of a weakly-written character. Marvin learns and grows on his journey, and Stella doesn’t. The only real thing I can recommend about Stella is that she gets in a mildly funny line once in a while and argues with Marvin like they’re a married couple.
Another negative is just how juvenile the prose can be at times. This is Debra J. Edwards’ first YA novel, and the dialogue and prose just aren’t up to scratch for what realistic teenagers would be saying. Real teenagers don’t always communicate in snarky quips. Nor should the prose make these silly little asides in the name of comedy. Nine times out of ten, in every single book I’ve read, a snarky aside is about as jarring as a terrible pun. The equivalent of a boxing glove sprouting out of the page and knocking you for six.
Along with snarky asides, there are moments where exclamation points are used rather unnecessarily. Whenever I read a book that has a sudden exclamation point, like: “I saw a figure coming out of the front door. It was Bobby!”, it makes me feel like I’m reading a novel for very young children. So, whenMarvin’s Curse had a few of these moments (and it did – I unfortunately lost my notes (blame my computer) for how many there were in the first 100 or so pages and got tired of highlighting every time I noticed one), it kind of took away from the reading experience.
‘Marvin took a deep breath… then another. In his sweaty hand was the St Christopher, quite ironic given where he was. He clutched it tightly as he took a third and final gulp then burst through the doors taking up position in the middle of the room adopting a stance not dissimilar to Peter Pan!’(Page 152)
‘The chain swung out, the silver catching the light. Go to sleep, damn you!
A large brick by all accounts!’
‘This man was as wide as he was tall!’
‘“Oh, that figure,’ said Marvin’s dad, dreamily. ‘She reminds me of your mum…”’
Marvin squirmed and shuddered. Too much information!’
There’s also some really iffy dialogue here and there. Thankfully, it’s only really towards the end, but it really cheapens the novel when the villain sounds like some laughable cartoon character who goes: “Mwahaha!” and “This cannot be! You have defeated me!”, whilst the protagonists spout: “You’re my father? No! No! That cannot be! That’s impossible!” and “How could you!?”
For example, check out some of Old Kedigan’s last words:
‘A twin! I longed for a son. TWO boys they said. Liars! Then on arrival, one dead, one alive. Not a son, just YOU!’
‘You know that when you died, I did cry… with relief!’
While Old Kedigan never came across as very intimidating to me (since he just seems to be a bitter old man who screams and rants rather than doing anything threatening), I was expecting something rather good out of the ending to Marvin’s Curse. Heck, I’d stuck around for a long meandering plot cul-de-sac in which Marvin and co., make a futile attempt to break into his warehouse and steal back some stolen memories. There’s quite a few mentions of Old Kedigan even allying himself with a few demons, the most powerful of which being a figure known as Erasmus Flint. Where is Erasmus Flint after Moghador has been released from Old Kedigan’s control? He doesn’t do anything. He just stands around whilst all of the wayward souls he had in his thrall find their way towards the light. It’s not even out of a change of heart or anything like that. Real intimidating, eh?
If you are looking for a quick, easy jaunt through a YA paranormal novel, you could do much worse than Marvin’s Curse. It has its odd charm here and there, but unfortunately it’s let down by some deficiencies in the writing and dialogue, along with a rather unconvincing villain and a less-than-stellar (no pun intended) ending. 2/5.
First of all: many, many thanks to my wonderful friend the scarecrow for gifting me a copy of this book, along with The Cuckoo's Calling! Go check out her reviews. They're hilarious, eloquent, and I now have a 'to-read' list as long as my arm. :)
How refreshing it is to just settle down with a book, and for once, not be transported to some faraway world where fantasy rules, but to where the most important focus of the story is friendship. Yes, I am aware that last sentence was simply dripping with sap. But Aristotle and Dante Discover The Secrets of the Universe (or AADTSOTU, as I'm calling it for the sake of brevity), managed to hit this wonderful point within me, where I at once recalled exactly how I felt during my teenage years, and was able to sympathise fully with both Dante and Aristotle.
Now, normally I am sent running a mile in the opposite direction by any novel that is about teenagers and their emotions. I'm hardly an old fogey in my early twenties, but the majority of books I've read in which the teenagers were disagreeable little sods who constantly feigned that they were deep and mysterious is enough for me to have made the judgement that I would stop reading any books in that same vein. Really, you can blame Dash from Dash and Lily's Book of Dares for that.
If the main characters in a novel are teenagers, that's fine. If its main characters are teenagers who feel out of place in the big world and see the frightening approach of adulthood – it's on shaky ground, but otherwise fine. If they go on about their emotions the whole time – NOPE NOPE NOPE.
However, AADTSOTU proved to me that the above formula can work, so long as the author casts his mind back to his teenage years, and realises: “Hey, I didn't read Charles Bukowski. I didn't sit around listening to The Smiths all day and thinking I was cleverer than my peers. I didn't understand a word of Charles Baudelaire's poems. I was just a regular teenager who occasionally worried about my place in the universe.”
Take some time out to applaud, people. That's a much more honest interpretation of your teenage years than being the smart aleck kid who was hyperlexic and into maths, 'a philatelist trapped by unknowable anguish', and/or had a hobby of memorising the last words of famous historical figures, or offered their own deep and introspective look into teenage life. The extract below makes me actually believe that this is a conversation going on between two young friends struggling to find their feet in the world.
'The quiet over the phone was strange. “Do you think it will always be this way?”
“I mean, when do we start feeling like the world belongs to us?”
I wanted to tell him that the world would never belong to us. “I don't know,” I said.
In fact, the scarecrow and I had a conversation about how AADTSOTU often read like a John Green book that stripped away all of its frills and just got down to brass tacks – an enjoyable story capturing the life of two real teenagers. Sure, Dante and Aristotle have their moments where they ponder deeply about life, but it always comes up as a natural point in their conversations, or Dante's viewpoint of the world. They actually grow and develop throughout the novel, which is wonderful to watch – they're not instantly these purveyors of deep and wise thoughts about being on the cusp of adulthood. Other authors might have just slapped Dante and Aristotle's conflicts up right, front and centre, but no. Here they're just quietly addressed, with the focus simply being on the friendship between Ari and Dante.
I love the sheer simplicity of Alire Sáenz's writing. He's also one of those writers who can emotionally uppercut you out of nowhere with a carefully crafted and placed sentence, or even a full paragraph.
'“Dante's my friend.” I wanted to tell them that I'd never had a friend, not ever, not a real one. Until Dante. I wanted to tell them that I never knew that people like Dante existed in the world, people who looked at the stars, and knew the mysteries of water, and knew enough to know that birds belonged to the heavens and weren't meant to be shot down from their graceful flights by mean and stupid boys. I wanted to tell them that he had changed my life and that I would never be the same, not ever. And that somehow it felt like it was Dante who had saved my life and not the other way around. I wanted to tell them that he was the first human being aside from my mother who had ever made me want to talk about some of the things that scared me. I wanted to tell them so many things and yet I didn't have the words.'
'The day he came home from the hospital, he cried. I held him. I thought he would never stop.
I knew that a part of him would never be the same.
They cracked more than his ribs.'
Aristotle and Dante are two boys brought together by fate. Aristotle is angry because he feels like his family are keeping secrets from him, and he's struggling to come to terms with growing up. Dante, on the other hand, is patient, understanding, and attracted to Aristotle the moment they lay eyes on each other at the local swimming pool. The two boys strike up a friendship that is warm, genuine, loving, and... words really fail me. This book is just lovely. It's like a nice warm bath you can sink into. A bath that comes with a function that punches you in the gut every few chapters.
I really loved Ari's voice, which struck a good balance between being dry and sullen, yet carrying a range of emotion. You can hear the cracks in Ari's voice when terrible things happen later on in the novel, and it's heartbreaking. Alire Sáenz certainly didn't restrict himself by writing from the perspective of one main character. I came out of this book feeling like I know both boys incredibly well, and of course, I had a little bit of a tear in my eye on the last page. That's the sign of a skilled writer to me – one who can balance the voice of his characters and not write: “The Adventures of My Flawed Protagonist! ...And His Friend.”
Nope. Both boys have equal representation in the eyes of the author. Ari might be the voice of the novel, and Dante moves away for quite a good portion of the book, but that doesn't mean Alire Sáenz just forgets about him. The characters grow, develop and change. Aristotle isn't the person that Dante left behind when he moves away for a year. Dante's markedly different too, but AADDTSOTU doesn't make a show of that. There's just subtle hints and changes in priorities for both boys as they transition from boys to men.
It's not just Aristotle and Dante who carry the book, though. Whilst Dante's parents are presented as a fairly perfect couple, Aristotle views his parents as deeply unsound. They love him on the outside, but they keep these secrets from him and Ari feels rather despondent because of it. His mother will never talk to him about his brother, who is serving a jail term, and his father refuses to speak about his time serving in Vietnam, and is emotionally distant from his son.
I really don't want to spoil this book, but there is this brilliant moment towards the end where Ari realises that he's made his mother cry by bringing up some bad memories for her, and she's now terrified that Aristotle will walk the same path as his brother. It's not like Aristotle doesn't have the chance to learn about his brother – there's a box with all of his brother's information in the dining room that he occasionally comes into contact with. However, Ari doesn't think he's ready for it, and knows it would upset his family if he confronted them with the truth. Far from being the angry young man from the beginning of the story, he's now a lot more empathic and open, and I adored that.
The ending, by the way, is absolutely beautiful and worth the price of admission alone. I say I had a tear in my eye, but bear in mind, it's not a sad ending. It's extremely uplifting and the final few chapters manage to tie up all the loose ends in one simple motion. I really don't wish to spoil it, because it's incredibly heartfelt and deserves to be read without any spoilers to mar one's enjoyment.
'My father was right. And it was true what my mother said. We all fight our own private wars.'
To sum it all up – in the immortal words of our friends over at Tumblr, this book gave me the 'feels'. It has absolutely wonderful characters, and a simple yet beautifully crafted story about two teenagers growing up and pondering where they fit into the universe, and what secrets it may hold. Why are friends so important? What is love like, and how do you know when you come to experience it for the first time? When are you supposed to do 'adult' things, and why do they feel like they've suddenly been sprung on us, like one moment we were young and carefree, and now we need to arrange getting a driving licence and finding a job? Questions all of us have probably asked growing up. AADDTSOTU addresses them in its own, lovely little way and it's an absolutely stellar read I would recommend to anyone.
Disclaimer: a copy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review. I made it to 25% before deciding it wasn’t really for me. Naturally, this is only a review of the first quarter of the book. (75/300 pages.)
I really hate giving up on books, but I really couldn’t get into £6.19 per Witching Hour. I didn’t want to keep putting it off, so I decided to throw in the towel when I’d gotten to a fair percentage to form my opinion.
£6.19 per Witching Hour is set in a world where supernatural creatures live secretly among us. Point for originality there. However, our half-elf heroine Julia works for a recruitment agency in Croydon that specialises in getting work for unemployed vampires, witches, trolls, fairies, etc. The job sounds mundane, but when your work day is interrupted by a giant angrily bursting in with a chainsaw and demanding his late unemployment cheque, and you have to keep your composure shortly afterwards because you know you have to interview a fairy who wants a new job in the tooth-collecting business, it’s never going to be an ordinary day at the office.
This could have been an extremely fun concept. From the outset, I was perhaps wondering if the world at large knew that these supernatural creatures existed, hence the need for such a recruitment office. Nope, the world is as secretive as ever, and people remain oblivious to that guy on the night shift having fangs, or that girl who doesn’t show up some days of the month because there’s a full moon in the sky.
‘Every creature understands they are living in the twenty-first century. We have our own clubs, gyms, and shops and we live among humans without jeopardising our own identity. Most of the employers who deal with us want to employ paranormal staff. They don’t like to employ humans, but sometimes they don’t have a choice.’
Alright, fair enough. That kind of reminds me of the UK version of Being Human, in which George and Mitchell work as night porters in the local hospital because finding other work isn’t going to be quite so easy.
The main problem I found was that there’s a lot of really stiff dialogue, which is used a lot. Characters don’t seem to be able to use contractions in their speech, and I find myself completely taken out of the story every time I have to read:
‘”Fine, whatever. You are lucky that I am not dead,” I said. “See you later.”‘
‘”Not yet. Rufus said we have to finish our shift and he sends you his regards.”‘
‘”[...] I am seeing him tomorrow. He is a solicitor and he is gorgeous and I think that he might be the one,” she cheered, looking excited.
‘”I am tired of this dating but I want to be in a real relationship.”‘
‘”You were right when you phoned me. I did put you and Jennifer in danger because I employed an incompetent person, a manager to be precise, so I am sorry.”‘
‘”Calm down, Julia. I am not joking at all. I have been thinking about your promotion for a while. You have worked really hard in the past year, bringing a lot of business to the company.”‘
Along with the awkward dialogue, some of the descriptions can be a bit out of place or simply too obvious.
‘I couldn’t move. My body was in shock and I was paralysed.’
That second sentence didn’t really need to be there. We know that the giant with the chainsaw has barged into the office and scared the living daylights out of Julia, and her co-worker Jennifer. It’s only natural to assume that Julia wouldn’t be able to move, we didn’t need to know she was in shock.
‘Sometimes I got negative vibes off her, especially when she was staring at me with those Hungry eyes.’
(Thank you for the ear-worm, but I don’t quite see why ‘Hungry’ suddenly became a proper noun.)
‘I Hung up[...]‘
‘I felt as if I was already sweating and my heart was beating too fast.’
To Mazurkiewicz’s credit, English is not her first language. The grammar is generally all right, and the novel does pick up a nice flow from time to time. However, I feel some proof-reading, editing and revisions could have really improved on the novel’s shortcomings.
Another of these shortcomings was the fact that Julia just wasn’t particularly interesting as a character. She’s extremely passive, and I just could not get a feel for her outside of the fact that she works at a recruitment agency, recently broke up with a control freak, and her best friend and confidante is a human. But those are just facts about her; I want to see if she has some personality outside of those!
Rather than giving us a window into the world that these characters inhabit, with little details of their lives described, and their interests outside of their jobs, £6.19 per Witching Hour just uses a huge amount of dialogue in place of description. It doesn’t help either that Julia’s thought process is written in this very informal and awkward way. The sentences are either too short and snappy, or they run on for a mile before smacking head first into a full stop.
I was interested in the concept, and wanted to learn more about the world these supernatural creatures inhabit, and how it would translate into modern day London. The title itself is a play on the minimum wage in the UK (as if you needed me to tell you that), and so perhaps there could have been some clever insight into the terrible system we have in the UK for getting people into work. While I wasn’t able to press on any further, let me say that £6.19 per Witching Hour isn’t the worst book ever. It certainly had its moments, and perhaps if I weren’t tired of the whole secretive paranormal world trope, I might have looked on it a bit more favourably. As it is, the lacklustre main character and the stilted, awkward dialogue and sentence structure really hampered my enjoyment. Had it been edited a bit more, I’m sure I would have dug a little deeper. 2/5.
I hate the ‘bad boy’ trope. No, seriously. I cannot stand the idea of them. I look back on the days in which I fell for Edward Cullen and other mysterious, dangerous boys in books. If I ever find the parts for my TARDIS (it unfortunately broke down a few months ago, and do you know how hard it is to find a mechanic who can read technical notes in Circular Gallifreyan?), I’d probably go back to 14 year old Nessa, slap Twilight out of her hands, and give her a long speech whilst shaking her by the shoulders. My Bad YA Deluge of 2012 also had me crawling up the walls from all the supposedly dark and enigmatic guys with a rough attitude that the heroines may or may not end up with, that I was supposed to fall for, because usually the narrators are just blank slates for the reader to project themselves on to.
TL;DR – I really hate ‘bad boys’.
Nenia Campbell seeks to subvert this idea, by having her heroine falling for a bad boy, who, it turns out, is scarily obsessed with her. Val lives in a world where good guys are viewed as insipid, and bad boys are the romantic ideal. After meeting the mysterious Gavin Mecozzi in a pet shop and discovering he is going to be her partner in Art this year, Val starts getting creepy e-mails and messages on her social networking sites. She’s too scared to simply hit the block button, and she can’t help but feel that Gavin (who seems to be a nice guy) and her stalker are linked.
Val is at times a very dull character to read. Yes, she’s an everyday girl just trying to keep her head above water with high school and social drama. However, she’s quite passive and the third-person narration doesn’t really aid much in getting to know her as a character. Things happen to Val, rather than her making these things happen. Sure, there are moments where she plucks up the courage to confront Gavin on several issues, but they’re fairly few and far between. Her friends aren’t very memorable either, fun little quips and banter aside.
Gavin, on the other hand… I wouldn’t say I loved this character, because by the end he’s a despicable toad, but I did like him enough to begin with. I thought he might be an actual nice guy, and the idea of him being the stalker was just a red herring. Nope! Despite being a supposedly respectable teaching assistant and renowned chess-master, Gavin has a creepy fantasy he likes to indulge in, and Val has stirred it within him. Gavin wants to be the hunter, and for Val to be the hunted.
When the book gets towards its ending, with a fairly nail-biting and creepy scene during a simple chess game that left me quite scared for Val, it really gets going. Gavin leaves out his diary for Val to read, and it contains some rather disturbing, in-depth looks into his psyche. I won’t detail them here, but Christ on a bike, son, get a hobby. It hasn’t just innocently escalated from a crush into stalker behaviour. Nope, it’s as twisted and repulsive as it gets.
Of course, one might question the logic of leaving your diary out in the open like that, considering how his plan to discredit Val when she tries to tell the authorities. I certainly would have torn out a couple of pages as evidence.
But still, what an absolute bastard Gavin was by the end. I won’t spoil it, but Val is turned into a nervous wreck and the way he manipulates her is disgusting. If I met him in real life, I’d deck him across the face. I swear to me ma. In fact, Gavin is only incarcerated after crafting a scheme to get Val out of sight of somebody who could keep her safe, just to antagonise her further. I say lock him up and throw away the key.
Early on, like I mentioned earlier, I was wondering why Gavin was going to be the stalker at all. Not in a “No, really, why him?”, but in a “Seriously, the stalker ought to be somebody else, in a shocking twist, perhaps.” Thankfully, little hints are dropped every now and again to make sure you know that something isn’t quite right with Gavin from day one. Plus, his speech patterns are so similar to the threats the stalker sends to Val that I eventually gave up on my idea of Gavin being a red herring. The messages started to be sent right around the time Val met him, so you’d think putting two and two together would be a rather simple thing. It’s not like Val never figures out who her stalker is, though. Also, speaking of that court case towards the end of the novel – print screen everything, Val! Don’t just freak out and delete your messages, archive them and keep the evidence! Even if you don’t want to testify in court, you can hand in your evidence to the defence attorney. I’m sure there would be a consistency between the syntax in Gavin’s journal entries and the sinister e-mails.
Even though I was often annoyed with Val for going to confront Gavin, it was more so in a “WHAT ARE YOU DOING WHY DON’T YOU JUST KEEP THE HELL AWAY FROM HIM!?” I will say though, that some of Gavin’s behaviours are a bit transparent – he has a habit of becoming a bit wistful with his musings from time to time, and really dropping the hints of what he wants to do with Val.
I wasn’t one hundred percent sure on the idea of Val living in an era of bad boys being idolised in comparison to ‘good’ guys. Apparently the time Val and company live in is one which prefers bad boys… which I didn’t really see, or feel much of in the story. It just seemed like a regular high school, with the same kind of relationship drama you’d see anywhere. Nobody looked down on the good guys, really. Nobody really looked up to the bad boys/weird guys either, as Val’s friends tell her they think he’s creepy early on. I guess it’s supposed to be like our world in that some girls swoon over bad boys in various forms of media, but it just didn’t feel developed enough.
So, all in all, what did I think? I was enjoying Fearscape enough to breeze through most of it, despite the snags. The part near the end when Gavin reveals his true nature was unputdownable. (Oh man, how I hate that word.) Gavin is awful, and if I were Val’s friend, I would punch him for her whilst collecting up evidence to get this repugnant pustule as far away from her as possible. 3/5.