I absolutely hate it when a book doesn’t live up to my expectations. With this one, there are parts that are good. Like, really good and really interesting. I like the characters. The plot is fascinating. It’s clear the author has talent.
But the execution was ultimately so poor that it completely ruined my enjoyment of the story. I was able to finish, but boy, was it a slog to get there.
The plot summary, courtesy Amazon:
Seventeen year old Ava Walker has everything a girl could ask for. She’s captain of the cheer squad, has tons of friends, and could easily have any guy she wants. Being popular is easy.
Lying about her entire life, on the other hand, isn’t.
Since she was little, Ava has had a connection with the dearly departed. She knows seeing dead people is abnormal, but they never try to communicate, so she does her best to turn a blind eye. The older she gets, the worse her visions become. With more and more ghosts showing up, her secret is on the verge of driving her mad.
The only person Ava ever trusted is her best friend, Devon. Only, she hasn’t really talked to him in years and lately he hasn’t been acting like himself.
To make things worse, her evil stepfather, Mark, is hitting the bottle harder and harder. Ava hates the alcoholic psycho her mother married a few years ago. To him, beating women is a sport. Lately, the beatings are getting worse. Ava fears it won’t be long before her mother is among the ghosts invading her life.
She wishes Mark would just die. When he suddenly does, her life changes forever.
Just when she thinks her family is safe, Mark shows back up.
Not all ghosts are silent, and dear old Daddy wants some serious revenge.
Be careful what you wish for…
Doesn’t that sound awesome?
I was so excited when I read the first page. I loved it. I loved Ava’s voice and the narration (although given what happens later in the story, there’s some foreshadowing that comes off heavy-handed). I was thinking this was a character I could get behind.
I am many things: popular, captain of the cheerleading squad, con artist, pathological liar. Oh, and you can add haunted to the list.
Have I mentioned yet that I see dead people?
That’s pretty cool, right? Popular, cheerleader, con artist, I see dead people. I’m so with this.
And then it kept going. And going. And going some more. And with each page that Ava continued to be possessed by Exposition Man, my desire to read dropped a little further. Because with each page, I was asking myself, “When is something going to happen?”
It’s not till we’re in Devon’s point of view, several pages in, that we’re even aware the two of them are at school. (And he, too, is possessed by Exposition Man until a hot girl named Lilith shows up.) And it’s not until the very end of chapter one that something actually happens.
Which brings me to another, personal pet peeve. Dueling first-person viewpoints are difficult to pull off. You have got to have two (or more) voices that are so distinct there’s no worry about getting them confused. (The Help does a good job of it, but it’s the only one I’ve seen.)
Here, I don’t think it worked so well. The names at the top of each section were helpful, but if I put the book down and walked away, it took a few moments for me to remember whose viewpoint I was in.
It didn’t help that most of the people in this book seemed to be talking heads. I know dialogue tags get a bad rap, because too much “he said, she said” can get repetitive.
However, when you’ve got more than two people in a scene (and even when it’s just the two), dialogue tags are practically a necessity. The lack of them here meant that I had to repeatedly go back and reread conversations to figure out who was saying what.
One or two sentences without dialogue tags? Completely fine, and probably better in certain circumstances. Ten or more? Yeah, that gets confusing right quick.
And speaking of confusing, I can’t count the number of notes I have that say: “How does she/he KNOW this?” Every single character was possessed with ESP, even the ones who weren’t supposed to have special powers.
Here’s an example from Devon’s point of view:
Whatever faith she [Ava] had left in him faded with his words. He might have been her father. … The fact he refused to argue with her further solidified her decision. She didn’t need him.
She didn’t need any of us.
How in the nine hells of Dante can he know Ava’s reaction right then? He might be able to surmise things by watching her react: see her face fall or the light in her eyes dim or her shoulders slump or something. But there’s absolutely no discernible reason for him to be able to give us an entire paragraph on what she’s thinking.
I wish I could say this was a lone incident, but it seemed characters always “knew” or “could tell” that so-and-so was feeling a certain way, but we were never given any indication of how they knew that.
By the end of the novel, this had frustrated me so much my notes had devolved from complete sentences to nigh-incoherent swearing each time it happened. (When one character, in fact, asks another “Wait, how did you know that?” my note reads, “Everybody in this book is a damn mind reader.”)
Overall, I liked the characters, particularly Ava. She went through some crazy, crazy crap, but she stood up against it. I believed it when she hurt, and I cheered for her when she fought. I rooted for her to overcome. I liked how protective she was of her family. (That being said, we’re hit over the head with that fact so much I wanted to scream at the book, “YES! I GET IT!”) And the final sacrifice she makes is really, really fitting.
There were also several bits of description I really liked: for example, when they first enter the border between Earth and the Nether.
Everything seemed opaque and gray. The trees did not rustle, nor did their leaves hold any color. The gnarled trunks were surrounded on the ground by twisted roots that shot this was and that. The dirt beneath my feet, black as night, crunched underfoot. The stench of death lingered on a mist of cool air.
This is another thing that’s frustrating. So many times all we have are the aforementioned talking heads, when bits like this prove just how talented Rae can be with description.
I liked the story, the angels versus the demons and Ava’s part in the war. I wish it had been fleshed out a lot more. It was like seeing just the tip of this really neat, shiny world but not getting the chance to fully explore it.
I just hate it because there was so much potential here. It’s clear Rae has some great ideas and knows how to create good characters, and like I said, Ava’s narration is phenomenal. But there was just so much more that didn’t work that I felt extremely let down by the end of the story.
Disclaimer: I downloaded this book on the Kindle when it was free for a weekend back in July.