07 March 2013

Pretty Girl-13 by Liz Coley

Thirteen-year old Angie disappeared from a Girl Scout camping trip; this book opens three years later when she walks back into her house, having no idea that three years have passed. She doesn't know where she has been, who she was with, or what happened to her - she can't believe the sixteen-year-old looking back at her from the mirror. As she attempts to reenter her life, she begins having blackouts; after a few therapy sessions, it becomes clear that Angie is suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). In the face of the extreme trauma Angie has suffered, her mind has fractured, creating alternate personalities who protect her and face her abuser.

The novel tracks the course of Angie's first months back home, and her struggle to integrate these 'alters' back into herself so that she can have one whole persona, while at the same time facing their memories about the abuse she suffered. For the most part, this was a riveting book - the emotions crackled off the page, the characters were alive and vividly painted, and the plot turns were decently developed. Some of the 'science' behind the treatment of DID seemed a little fanciful to me, but I'm no expert so who knows. Angie did seem to recover remarkably quickly, but then, it's almost believable, because she's such a strong character to begin with, and has withstood so much already in her young life, that it seems entirely realistic that she would take charge of her situation and work as quickly as possible to remedy it. I wish her parents had been better drawn characters - they were a bit one-dimensional, and in my opinion their responses to Angie, to her return and to her abuse, didn't ring true.

I found this novel to be an engaging and insightful look at the workings of a child's mind in the fact of horrible trauma, and the amazing ability of the human mind and psyche to heal itself. It might not have been a perfectly scientific telling, but as a work of YA fiction, this book is a win for me, I highly recommend it.

The Elementals by Francesca Lia Block

Flap Copy from ARC: "The Elementals" is the story of a young woman named Ariel, who is facing the challenges of being away at college for the first time while her mother battles cancer at home. Ariel is also deeply haunted by the disappearance of her best friend, Jeni, and to uncover the truth of what happened to her friend, she is going to find herself lured into a group of strange and mysterious characters. As the answers begin to unravel, Ariel will be forced to make the most chilling decision of her life."

Faeries ... potions ... mysterious rituals ... forbidden sex ... need I say more? 'The Elementals' by Francesca Lia Block is a novel with some mature adult themes but enough juvenile allusions to anchor it strongly in the YA category. The author has a beautiful, lyric quality to her writing that draws the reader into the strange world of her creation; I found myself sucked in and unable to put down the book, even as the antics of the main characters frustrated and annoyed me. I wanted this book to be great, because the quality of writing is top notch, but the plot itself was mediocre and predictable.

Ariel (cue the first Shakespeare reference) has just arrived at college but is haunted by the disappearance of her best friend and by her mother's illness. She is socially awkward, deeply introverted, and a lover of poetry (yes, she quite neatly fits a certain stereotype). As she half-heartedly searches for her friend and at the same time begins her own downward spiral into depression and confusion, Ariel meets a strange trio of older students, who live off campus in a huge and mysterious house where alluring parties and bizarre practices abound.

I found the twists and turns of the plot to be predictable and a bit boring, and I kept waiting for Ariel to mature into some sort of better character, a person with whom I could relate, or at least sympathize. But those hopes never materialized. I give this book two stars - the writing is wonderful, but the story is unworthy of its beauty.