This week I added two 2010 debut novels to my reading roster. I read The Dark Divine by Bree Despain, and Boys, Girls and Other Hazardous Materials, by Rosalind Wiseman.
First off, how beautiful is the cover art for The Dark Divine? It seems barely appropriate for a book about a pastor's daughter, but then, Grace Divine isn't your average preacher's daughter.
Here's the Amazon synopsis: 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.
I enjoyed this book quite a bit. I thought the world of Grace Divine really came alive, with realistic characterization. Her parents annoyed me immensely, but they also felt true-to-life. I empathized with Daniel, and felt Grace's urgent need to help him. Some of the plot elements of the mystery were a little predictable regarding the ending, but the plot advanced so quickly I couldn't mind. The ending was beautiful and unsettling, and left me looking forward to a sequel (which is rare for me, I usually dislike stories that are obviously preparing for a sequel). I'd like to know more about what happens to Grace, her brother Jude, and her friend Daniel.
Boys, Girls and Other Hazardous Materials by Rosalind Wiseman is a YA novel I had mixed feelings about. First, the synopsis, courtesy of Penguin Books' website:
Looking for a new beginning after a terrible mean girl past, Charlie Healey realizes there’s no escaping high school drama.
Charlie Healey thinks Harmony Falls is the beginning of a whole new life. Middle school was brutal. But high school is Charlie’s big chance to start over and stay out of drama, except that on her first day she runs into Will, her ex–best friend, who had moved away. Now a varsity athlete and hotter than Charlie remembered, Will hangs with the crowd running the school. But Charlie doesn’t understand their power until an innocent delivery guy falls victim to a near-deadly hazing prank.
Torn between doing what’s right and her secret feelings for Will, Charlie must decide whether to turn in her very best friend or live with the guilt of knowing what he did.
This was a really interesting story. There was one thing that really bothered me and made it hard to read on, although this largely a "personal problem" - I was so bothered by Charlie's reaction to her friend Sydney's distress. Sydney, is sexually harassed by some of the guys, and when Sydney publically humiliates him in return, Charlie tells her friend that she's gone too far and become like him. Yeah. Having been sexually harassed in HS, I think Sydney was in the right, but it also made Charlie feel fake to me. That's not how friends act in my world. Maybe it's just that I didn't really like Charlie.
Which is strange, because the secondary characters in this book were great. I loved the secondary characters of Charlie's friends, Sydney and Nidhi. It was wonderful to read about girls being genuine friends as opposed to frenemies, even though Charlie certainly had some frenemies in her past.
I also really liked the unique depiction of high school. There are some untrustworthy adults and some very wise ones in this novel; the bulk of educators seem helpful and genuinely caring. While there are some unsavory elements to the school, overall, it seems like a pretty decent place. I liked that this high school wasn't the stuff of nightmares one sometimes reads about in YA novels.
And I was thrilled to see a realistic depiction of sexual harassment in HS. It's never named as such in the book, but without a doubt in my mind, a bunch of guys hassling a girl because she turned one of them down is classic sexual harassment (it's not just for the workplace anymore). I think it's realistic, anyway, because it mirrors my experience -- little torments that add up to misery, and adults that deny what's happening (in the book, Sydney is told that she should take the unkind attention as a compliment; for me, I was told, "Don't you think you brought this on yourself, by dating around the way you have?"). While it's not the focus of the book, I liked that this was addressed.
Sometimes this book felt a little issue heavy and on-message to me (not surprising, perhaps, given Wiseman's background) but it was overall a good story. It had a very satisfying ending; happy, but not overpoweringly so. There's a note of conflict in the ending, but wrongs have been righted and love has been satisfied. What can I say? I love a happy ending.
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