ARC Review: Some Quiet Place by Kelsey Sutton

Some Quiet PlaceSome Quiet Place by Kelsey Sutton
Release date: July 8th, 2013
| GoodreadsB&NThe Book Depository |
My rating: ★★★☆☆

*This is a review of an uncorrected proof, and quotes/excerpts may therefore differ from the final copy.

As someone who very rarely reads books from the young adult paranormal category—and I do mean rarely (read: mostly never)—I approached Kelsey Sutton’s Some Quiet Place with a strange mix of apprehension and anticipation. It is only recently that I’ve begin to warm up to this genre, and even so, I’ve opened myself up to a mere few, such as the likes of Kendare Blake’s Anna Dressed in Blood. I have to face it: my paranormal shelf is a pathetically small. I suppose that is partly why I became interested in Sutton’s book. I wanted to expand my tastes and shatter misconceptions I have about this genre, but I also found the premise genuinely interesting.

I don’t know what it is to feel.

I can’t experience the freedom of grief, the abandon of ecstasy, the release of fury. And of course I can’t be curious about these experiences.

I don’t have the luxury of people around me. I can’t weep, I can’t lust, I can’t cower in terror, I can’t celebrate. Not in a true sense; I’ve grown talented in the art of pretending. The only sensation I’m capable of—not an Emotion but something physical—is a sort of … nothingness that’s always there.

Elizabeth Caldwell can feel no Emotion, not since she was a hit by a car as a child. While Emotions don’t affect her, she does, however, see them. On the day of a car accident, something in Elizabeth changed. Her eyes made discernible what no other human can see: Elements, like Fog, or Emotions, like Courage or Regret. As real as anyone, they roam the earth as invisible beings. One touch from an Emotion is enough to affect humans, but not Elizebath—and they’ve given up on ever influencing her. All but one: Fear. He’s determined to find the cause of what prevents Elizabeth from feeling, and when an evil presence begins stalking her, uncovering the truth may be Elizabeth’s only key for survival.

Because Elizabeth lacks any ability to feel, I worried. I worried because although Elizabeth doesn’t feel, she falls back on pure logic to understand people and the world she lives in. I wondered how little room—if any—this would leave for a personality. As much as I welcome smart characters, I won’t stick around if they’re sucked dry of life, but Kelsey Sutton shattered those worries on page one. Sutton impressed me, and quite instantly, because Elizabeth proved shockingly rounded. More than that, the prose puts evocative language to such good use that the main character’s resigned and muted qualities failed to bother me.

“You were going to live next door and we would grow old in the same nursing home. Chuck oatmeal at each other and watch soap operas all day in our rocking chairs. That was my day dream. My perfect life. I don’t want to keep asking myself why until the end, but…” A lone tear trails down her sunken cheek. This time I don’t reach out to wipe the water away; I let it go. Down, down, until it drips off the side of her jaw. This is humanity. This is life and death in one room.

For a good while, I believed Some Quiet Place would get a four-star rating out of me. The writing has quality and, for the most part, characters are complex and interesting. They’re solid and never hollow, and while the book is not perfect, I wanted to love it and let it enchant me. But then, slowly, the novel wore off its charm, and I looked passed Sutton’s well-written sentences. A little dismayed, I hate to say that I began noticing bothersome aspects.

If there is one predominant feature through all of young adult literature, it has to be love triangles. It’s tough enough trying to find young adult novels that don’t pair main characters up with at least one love interest, and it’s just as challenging—if not more—to stay away from love triangles. They’re rampant with no hint of dying out, and it surprises me how many authors choose the same romantic route. Some Quiet Place starts out well, like a nice showcase of good writing and the possibility of something more blooming between Elizabeth and Fear. Unfortunately, Kelsey Sutton introduces Joshua Hayes, who unknowingly becomes a wrecking ball. This is a problem, and for obvious reasons.

Scooting aside the issue that love triangles are annoying, I’m frustrated by a lack of committed relationships in young adult literature. Elizabeth Caldwell could have had something solid with either Joshua or Fear, yet her absence of feeling complicates her relationship with both boys. It’s Fear, though, whom she shares the most with, and it always felt like they had stronger compatibility. (I should also admit my inclination toward Fear over Joshua. Fear is “the bad boy,” while Joshua remains the opposite. Fear displays a disturbing quality a few times that screams possessiveness, and that didn’t go unnoticed by me. At the same time, Joshua’s character bored me while Fear proved more interesting.) The idea that Elizabeth will, for some reason, “need” Joshua in the end—which is what Elizabeth believes—constantly pops up as if to remind the reader why he’s there. This made the love triangle feel strained and forcefully added in.

We’re silent, a fragmented pretense of belonging, and we all know it.

Some Quiet Place is not, however, a paranormal romance—at least it doesn’t feel that way. There is little to no lusting or yearning, which has much to do with Elizabeth’s unique situation, and there are other issues besides romance that Sutton tries to address. Issues such as bullying, abuse from Elizabeth’s father, and the great mystery that surrounds Elizabeth’s accident. These other issues, however, feel somewhat like background noise. Take Maggie, for example. She is Elizabeth’s only friend who is dying of cancer, but her role didn’t feel as important as it’s meant to be. It’s true that Elizabeth’s own disconnect contributed to my own, but Maggie seems insignificant if she can’t mean anything to the main character. And when Elizabeth should be uncovering the truth about who and what she is, Joshua becomes a distraction or she’s thinking about Fear. While there were moments where I wasn’t sure who Elizebeth would end up with—Fear or Joshua—it is unfortunate that the romance out-does the book’s other conflicts.

This book starts out on good footing, but as the story progresses, it trips over its own feet. Despite that and slow pacing, I can’t deny the talent in Kelsey Sutton. She can write, and she does write—perhaps with more overshadowing romance than I prefer or deem necessary, but potential for growth is there in an already good writer. For that reason alone, I look forward to seeing more from this author and intend to read her future work.

The truth is, I hide my real nature, because if I don’t, my nothingness would consume me. I would become a wondering creature, with no connection and no soul. My life in Edson isn’t perfect at all, but it is a life—the only one I’ll ever have. So, even though I can’t hold any feeling for my place in this family or this town, I will hold onto it because I can.

Thank you to NetGalley and Flux for providing a free copy of Some Quiet Place in exchange for my honest review.

ARC Review: Underneath by Sarah Jamila Stevenson

UnderneathUnderneath by Sarah Jamila Stevenson
Release date: June 8th, 2013
| GoodreadsB&NThe Book Depository |
My rating: ★★★☆☆

*This is a review of an uncorrected proof, and quotes/excerpts may therefore differ from the final copy.

I’m in the zone, quiet, just me and the other end of the pool beckoning me, coming inexorably closer with every stroke. My happy place. One of the reasons I swim. Really, the only reason I—

ohgod, ohgod—
NO! no. no. no. no—

It sounds like a scream, and I pop my head up, my legs floundering in the pool. Who’s dead? My hands go reflexively to my ears as I try to block out the sounds threatening to drown me.

The wake of the person in the next lane washes over me, pushing chlorinated water into my nose and mouth. I cough and sputter, my sinuses burning, and take a quick glance around. But I’ve realized by now that nobody was screaming. It was all in my head.

Having odd, New Age parents might, under certain circumstances, interfere with a child’s popularity status, but Sunshine “Sunny” Pryce-Shah is admired and accepted by her peers. Above all, she has her older and well-liked cousin, Shiri, to guide her and confide in. Or she used to, and now Sunny’s world is slowly beginning to fall apart. In the stir of Shiri’s suicide, amongst hurt and heartache, a frightening ability awakens within Sunny: she can hear people’s thoughts, or—as Sunny calls it—“underhearing.”

What I expected from this novel was complete uncertainty, not knowing whether Underneath and I were a destined match. I did, however, find the premise curious enough to not only dip a finger in but take a full-body dive. In the end, what I am left with is a back-and-forth bounce, questioning if I like Stevenson’s novel. I did, in fact, enjoy the story, but do I really like this? Well, yes… and no.

If there is one thing I can say about Sarah Jamila Stevenson, it’s that she knows how to write. Her characters are nothing if not rounded, all in coexistence with quality writing and good humor. Because humor—sometimes subtle and quiet, but always evident when mingled in—can easily overthrow critical aspects, I’m thankful that this is not the case. What I find is a balance between easy-flowing text and important issues. This provides an appropriate mood, acknowledging important issues without side-stepping them. With so many troubling tensions laid down—from death and abuse to more trivial problems—what worried me, then, is how Stevenson would handle each one.

More often than not, I find books with jagged pacing. Either quickened or dragged out, the uneven quality lacks a true sense of closure. When an abundance of conflicts arise, I only hope that the author neatly resolves each one. And so I waited. I waited for Stevenson to whip out the ironing board and work out all these crinkles. As I came closer to the last page, however, I began to doubt Stevenson’s intentions in smoothing the storyline in time for the conclusion. Yet in the moment I read the last page—truly, not realizing it was the last page—relief escaped me.

Dearest Sarah Jamila Stevenson: You did it.

The way Stevenson approaches and handles conflict is what I appreciate most about this novel. Nothing feels unesessarily drawn out or lugged at an erratic speed. Sunny contends each issue separately and with a clear head, or as clearly as possible in light of Shiri’s death. Not to forget, of course, Sunny’s mysterious new talent. Rather than mope or blow matters into a hurricane of melodrama, she often suffers quietly but strives for solutions. One of the obvious challenges Sunny faces is how to move on from Shiri’s death, which has left her scared and feeling alone in the world—emotions that her underhearing amplify.

Events that follow Shiri’s funeral prove sour as life takes a plunge. Unable to control her new ability, isolation and worry plague Sunny after discovering what her so-called best friend, Cassie, really thinks of her. This becomes a turning point for Sunny, as the incident ends their friendship. Dejected and booted out from her own herd, tentacles of isolation start to creep and envelope Sunny, but they retreat once she integrates into a new circle. While I feel that such occurrences among friends and “frenemies” prevail in the high school setting, I am left confused.

I wonder why the two former best friends remain fixed in opposition toward each other. It is, after all, a petty tiff in which little—virtually nothing—is said. What is underheard, however, would be a slap to anyone’s face. In this regard, I understand Sunny’s dejection and avoidance, but where does this leave Cassie? Is she simply mean-spirited to use a small argument as enough reason to turn against a friend? I can’t help but toy with the idea of drama here. If more drama about Cassie’s self-absorption, or at least a confrontation, had been added, I think the relationship’s end would have solid ground. As it stands, Cassie might be a complex individual if you peel her layers, but it is in the way she conducts herself that show shallow character.

Two subject matters that bear heavier weight in Underneath surround not only the aftermath of Shiri’s suicide, but the fragility of family. One of the more resilient characters, notable for her growth, is Auntie Mina: Shiri’s mother. Described as submissive and weak—traits that often frustrated a more independent Shiri—I was happy to watch Mina flourish into independence. Her journey is not an easy one, and the death of her only child is something that will either kill or help push her into a brighter direction. With the support of family, Mina finds an inner-strength and—standing tall with dignity—fights her demons.

Family, in fact, plays an important role in the novel. The Pryce-Shah household thoroughly charmed me, and I haven’t felt as amused and touched by a fictional family in some time. Truly, the Pryce-Shahs sparkle with a kind of refreshing quality that can only make me smile. During a time that must be one of the family’s more difficult periods, I loved seeing each member band together. It’s everything a family is and should be: protective and loving, as well as supportive enough to know when it’s time to let go.

I open the front door.

I sense my mother and Auntie Mina both standing behind me, and my mom grabs my arm, but I pull away. I glance at her; she’s holding a golf umbrella.

“Just in case,” she says, the tiniest wry smile twitching at her lips. “I don’t think we’ll need it, but you never know.” I show her the phone in my hand, the numbers 9-1-1 already punched in. She squeezes my shoulder gently this time.

After all that’s been said, why, then, don’t I love this novel? Because while I do enjoy Stevenson’s writing, there are a few aspects that prevent me from feeling enthralled by it. There are some books, while likeable and easy to jump in to, I struggle to find a connection with. Underneath is one of those books. As a character, Sunny’s level-headedness and maturity impress me. At the same time, she does feel overdone in a clean-cut role, especially when it comes to her morals. It’s during such instances—as well as some others—that I feel the writing turns stiff and contributes to my lack of emotional attachment. It’s not that don’t find the characters unrealistic or unrelatable, because I found enjoyment in the time I spent reading Underneath. As much as those small dull moments do little to woo a reader, however, my unattachment is also to blame.

Underneath comes across as a light novel, yet it also grapples with several issues that span from Shiri’s death, Sunny’s underhearing, hopeful romance, betrayals, and domestic abuse. Stevenson conveys the seriousness and discomfort that arises from these conflicts, but through use of humor and steady resolve, she doesn’t allow them to fray the plot. As one can see, Underneath contains a paranormal element, but the novel as a whole comes across as realistic fiction. Although there are times when the story and Sunny’s character fall flat, Underneath is a delightful novel about the pains of loss and relationships. It’s a novel that inspires, because despite life’s hardships, there is always a tomorrow.

We’ll always have yesterday… and today, and tomorrow.

Thank you to Netgalley and Flux for providing a free copy of Underneath in exchange for my honest review.