The Tension of Opposites by Kristina McBride YA Novel Review


Title: The Tension of Opposites

Author: Kristina McBride

Publisher: Egmont USA

ISBN: 9781606840856


May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

When Tessa’s best friend Noelle disappears right before the start of eighth grade, Tessa’s life changes completely–she shies away from her other friends and stops eating in the cafeteria. Now, two years later, Noelle has escaped her captivity and is coming home, in one piece but not exactly intact, and definitely different. Tessa’s life is about to change again as she tries to revive the best-friendship the two girls had shared before Noelle–now Elle–was kidnapped; puts up a futile resistance to the charming new guy at school; pursues her passion for photography while trying to build the bravado to show her photos to the public; and tries to balance her desire to protect and shelter Elle with the necessity to live her own life and put herself first.

I am surprised by how much I enjoyed this book.  This is one that I approached with a great deal of caution, because I wasn’t certain how I felt about the subject matter.  It could have very easily come across as exploitative or sensationalist, but by telling the story through the eyes of Noelle’s best friend, Kristina McBride produced a touching and thoughtful story about friendship and learning to move forward in life. 

Tessa was twelve when her best friend Noelle disappeared.  Only her bike was left behind, and it was as though Noelle had vanished into thin air.  Ever since that day, Tessa has been stuck in reverse, unable to do anything other than keep looking backwards.  There is no forward for her, only the constant glancing back into her past.  Everything came to a screeching halt that day, and only her camera keeps her company now.  Tessa is assailed by guilt and loneliness, and she can’t believe that Noelle is gone forever.

Two years later, Tessa gets a call from Noelle’s brother.  Noelle is alive, and she’s coming home.  Now Tessa has so many other feelings to deal with; elation that her friend is still alive, bewilderment that it took her so long to contact her family.  When they are reunited, things don’t go as Tessa has envisioned all this time.  Noelle is like a different person, and she is on a path of self-destruction. Tessa feels that it’s her responsibility to save Noelle from herself.  What she hasn’t counted on is that Noelle doesn’t want to be saved.

I liked Tessa.  A lot.  While her single-minded devotion to Noelle was occasionally irritating, she is a character I could empathize with.  She’s got a lot of issues to deal with herself, including guilt and and an inability to open up to others.  Losing Noelle was like losing a chunk of herself, and she doesn’t want that to happen again.  Plus, how do you just carry on with your life when such a large part of it 3is suddenly missing?  These overwhelming feelings torment Tessa, and keep her from forming close relationships with other people. 

When Tessa meets Max, her life changes again.  Here is a guy who is determined to draw her out of her shell and get to know her better.  Tessa resists, and their courtship stutters along.  How can Max ever hope to compete with Noelle for Tessa’s affections?  Max has got to be the most understanding guy in YA fiction, because he puts up with a lot of rejection from Tessa. 

Tessa’s struggle to find herself felt very real.  Even when Noelle was gone, her world revolved around her friend.  Noelle was always at the back of her mind, holding her back and keeping her confined within a shell of herself.  When Noelle returns, Tessa is forced to re-evaluate who she is and how much Noelle means to her.  Noelle is having a hard time adjusting to her new normal, too, and the clash between them kept me glued to the book.  There are so many emotions for them to work through, emotions that neither one of them wants to acknowledge.  

The Tension of Opposites delivers an emotion packed read about what it means to be a friend, and about finding the courage to live for yourself.

Grade: B+

Review copy provided by publisher

The Rise of Renegade X by Chelsea M Campbell YA Novel Review


Title:  The Rise of Renegade X

Author: Chelsea M Campbell

Publisher: Egmont USA

ISBN: 9781606840603


May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Sixteen-year-old Damien Locke has a plan: major in messing with people at the local supervillain university and become a professional evil genius, just like his supervillain mom. But when he discovers the shameful secret she’s been hiding all these years, that the one-night stand that spawned him was actually with a superhero, everything gets messed up. His father’s too moral for his own good, so when he finds out Damien exists, he actually wants him to come live with him and his goody-goody superhero family. Damien gets shipped off to stay with them in their suburban hellhole, and he has only six weeks to prove he’s not a hero in any way, or else he’s stuck living with them for the rest of his life, or until he turns eighteen, whichever comes first.

To get out of this mess, Damien has to survive his dad’s "flying lessons" that involve throwing him off the tallest building in the city–despite his nearly debilitating fear of heights–thwarting the eccentric teen scientist who insists she’s his sidekick, and keeping his supervillain girlfriend from finding out the truth. But when Damien uncovers a dastardly plot to turn all the superheroes into mindless zombie slaves, a plan hatched by his own mom, he discovers he cares about his new family more than he thought. Now he has to choose: go back to his life of villainy and let his family become zombies, or stand up to his mom and become a real hero.

What a fun read!  Until I saw the trailer for this book, I had no interest in it.  At all.  Then I watched the trailer and thought that it looked interesting, and the premise had me hooked.  I am a comic fan to the core, and The Rise of Renegade X puts a new spin on superhero stories.  The protagonist, Damien, is a young supervillain in training.  His mom aspires to be one of the most evil villainesses in  history, but Damien finds out that she has a little secret.  One that she has been keeping from him for the entire sixteen years of his life.  One that will turn his world inside out, and make him question everything he believes about himself.  Yeah, it’s pretty bad.

On Damien’s 16th birthday, instead of receiving a V on his thumb like he expects, which proves that he’s a supervillain through and through, he is appalled to discover that he has an X.  That’s really, really bad, and it puts his entire future in jeopardy.  It means that the father he never knew, the father he never cared about, the father he never bothered to even give a thought to, is a superhero!  Argh!  What self-respecting supervillain has a superhero for a dad?!

Mixing humor and lightening quick pacing, The Rise of Renegade X delivers an engaging coming of age tale about a good kid who longs to be bad. Forced to move in with his goody two shoes father’s family, Damien is in for a rude awakening.  He learns, the hard way, that even the best laid plans can be derailed, and that sometimes there is more to life than what you think you know.  As he makes both friends and enemies, he tries to scheme and manipulate events to produce the outcome he longs for.  It takes a lot more to being evil than having a supervillain for a mother, though.

In addition to dealing with his identity crisis, Damien also has a complicated love life to reconcile.  His ex, Kat, cheated on him and broke his heart, and even though she’s now his best friend, he’s not ready to trust her again.  New classmate Sarah is a dork, but she’s smart and a whole lot more interesting than anybody else at his new high school.  Sarah puts a fire under his quest to discover himself, and she proves to be a good person to have around when things take a turn for the dangerous.

I loved the characters, I loved the setting, and I loved this book.  My only quibble is that Damien didn’t end up with the girl I thought he should.  I guess there is no accounting for taste, even if you’re part superhero.  And part supervillain.  The book hits stores today, so go read it!

Grade: A-

Review copy provided by publisher

Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken YA Novel Review


Title: Brightly Woven

Author: Alexandra Bracken

Publisher:  Egmont USA

ISBN: 9781606840382


May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

When Wayland North brings rain to a region that’s been dry for over ten years, he’s promised anything he’d like as a reward. He chooses the village elder’s daughter, sixteen-year-old Sydelle Mirabel, who is a skilled weaver and has an unusual knack for repairing his magical cloaks. Though Sydelle has dreamt of escaping her home, she’s hurt that her parents relinquish her so freely and finds herself awed and afraid of the slightly ragtag wizard who is unlike any of the men of magic in the tales she’s heard. Still, she is drawn to this mysterious man who is fiercely protective of her and so reluctant to share his own past.

The pair rushes toward the capital, intent to stop an imminent war, pursued by Reuel Dorwan (a dark wizard who has taken a keen interest in Sydelle) and plagued by unusually wild weather. But the sudden earthquakes and freak snowstorms may not be a coincidence. As Sydelle discovers North’s dark secret and the reason for his interest in her and learns to master her own mysterious power, it becomes increasingly clear that the fate of the kingdom rests in her fingertips. She will either be a savior, weaving together the frayed bonds between Saldorra and Auster, or the disastrous force that destroys both kingdoms forever.

Sydelle made this book for me.  She is the kind of heroine I can’t help but admire.  She’s emotionally strong, resourceful, and determined to do the right thing.  Even when the right thing puts her in harm’s way.   She dreams big, doesn’t shy away from difficult tasks, and is determined to save the people she loves from the invading kingdom of Auster.  That’s a lot easier said than done, especially when the most powerful people in her homeland of Saldorra are working at cross-purposes, each faction trying to wrest power for themselves.  Not a pretty situation to walk into blindly, but Sydelle does exactly that, and her ignorance of the political wrangling almost brings ruin to everyone.

It’s very easy to empathize with Sydelle.  She wants to leave the tiny village she’s lived in all of her life, and she wants to see what’s out in the world.  Her yearning for change takes an unpleasant form, though, when a wandering wizard brings an end to the draught that has plagued the village for the last ten years.  He’s offered anything he wants in exchange for the rain, and what he wants is Sydelle.  Suddenly, the prospect of leaving home, and entrusting her future to a mysterious stranger, doesn’t seem as exciting.  When the village is overrun by enemy troops, she doesn’t have much choice, and she’s forced to set out with North to the capital, to try to convince the Queen and the wizards to stop the war.

During their journey, Sydelle learns just how powerful she is.  As she comes to terms with her own hidden abilities, she also tries to save North from the demons eating away at him.  I enjoyed reading along as her character gained confidence and developed into someone who cares deeply enough for her family and friends that she’s willing to die for them.  As she and North are pursued by the evil Dorwan, she even gains courage from each frightening encounter with him.  Sydelle was such a rich and interesting character, because she changed steadily throughout the book, maturing into a passionate, and compassionate, young woman.

North is so flawed that I had a hard time warming up to him.  I wanted to feel a bit of sympathy for him because his personal life is in utter chaos, but his behavior didn’t allow me to until almost the end of the book.  By then, I felt it was too little too late on his part, and I never accepted him as a good match for the much stronger and more likable Sydelle.  He used her from the very beginning, kept her in the dark about his true intentions, and was an ineffective protector at best.  It is a very good thing that Sydelle was such a resilient character, because when the chips were down, North often wasn’t around to pick them back up!

Brightly Woven is a solid fantasy title with a strong heroine.  It’s easy to relate to her as she is placed in one perilous adventure after another.  She never backs down from a challenge, and her inquisitive nature keeps her chasing after a resolution to her suddenly complicated life.  I just wish that her partner on her journey had been more worthy of her company.

Grade: B

Review copy provided by publisher

The Dark Divine by Bree Despain YA Novel Review

Title:  The Dark Divine

Author:  Bree Despain

Publisher:  Egmont

ISBN:  9781606840573

My next selection for the 2010 Debut Author Challenge is The Dark Divine.  This has a simple but very effective cover.  The contrast of the wispy purple against those impossibly pale legs intrigued me.  What secrets are hiding in this book?  That is the thought that prompted me to pick up this title.

From the back of the book:

Grace Divine, daughter of the local pastor, always knew something terrible happened the night Daniel Kalbi disappeared–the night she found her brother Jude collapsed on the porch, covered in his own blood–but she has no idea what a truly monstrous secret that night held.

The memories her family has tried to bury resurface when Daniel returns, three years later, and enrolls in Grace and Jude’s high school. Despite promising Jude she’ll stay away, Grace cannot deny her attraction to Daniel’s shocking artistic abilities, his way of getting her to look at the world from new angles, and the strange, hungry glint in his eyes.

The closer Grace gets to Daniel, the more she jeopardizes her life, as her actions stir resentment in Jude and drive him to embrace the ancient evil Daniel unleashed that horrific night. Grace must discover the truth behind the boy’s dark secret…and the cure that can save the ones she loves. But she may have to lay down the ultimate sacrifice to do it–her soul.

Reuniting with your first love is supposed to be a time of reflection, giving you an opportunity to reminisce about the good old days, and to see how you both have changed and matured.  Not in Grace’s case.  When Daniel moves back to town after a long absence, life isn’t all roses and sparkles for Grace.  Instead, mysterious and scary events keep happening, like her little brother getting kidnapped and rumors that the Markham Street Monster has returned, leaving a trail of mangled animal corpses in it’s wake.  As Grace tries to solve the puzzle of weirdness surrounding her, the same solution keeps rearing its ugly head and it’s an answer she doesn’t want to consider: Daniel.

The Dark Divine kept me turning the pages late into the night.  I could not put this one down.  I had to uncover the secrets threatening Grace, and I couldn’t rest until I did.  While I questioned her common sense many times, I found Grace to be a sympathetic character.  She gets caught up in Daniel’s spell, and even though she tries to avoid him, she can’t.  She has loved him her whole life, and it was devastating when his mother took him away and moved out of town.  Now that he’s back, Grace has some ugly truths to face.  Daniel and her brother Jude had a falling out, and Jude can’t forgive his old friend for what he did.  Grace knows that something horrible happened between them, but nobody will tell her what.  After Daniel leaves, it’s like he never existed.  Her family doesn’t talk about him, and his name has become taboo.

The sinister events that begin to unfold deliver plenty of excitement, and Grace tries to stay detached from Daniel.  She knows that he’s trouble, but her traitorous heart  won’t let her turn completely away from him.  Both of them were well-rounded characters, and they both run through a gamut of emotions. Confusion, fear, grief, rage.  They have so many feelings to work out, and their path to healing their broken relationship gives the book its heart.  Some of the other characters weren’t as believable, and I was especially disappointed with Grace’s best friend, April.  While the interactions between Daniel and Grace kept me on the edge of my seat, the relationships with many of the side characters just felt flat and not very compelling.

I did love the ending, and I am hoping for a sequel.  I felt connected with Grace, and I would love to visit with her again.  She is brave, caring, and willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to save Daniel from the terrible burden that he’s forced to carry.  The Dark Divine is a very solid debut, and I’m looking forward to more from Bree Despain.

Grade: B+