Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Book Review: Need
Back Jacket: Zara White suspects a freaky guy is semi-stalking her. She memorizes phobias and chants them when she's nervous. And okay, she hasn't exactly been herself since her stepfather died. But moving to a shivery Maine town to stay with her grandmother is supposed to be the perfect fix--so her mom says. Except, this new plan of getting away to help Zara stay sane? Yeah, not working. Turns out the semi-stalker is not a figment of Zara's imagination. He's still following her, leaving behind an eerie trail of gold dust. There's something not right--not human--in this sleepy Maine town, and all signs are pointing to Zara.
Review: My problem with this book is that it couldn't decide what it wanted to be. Even the climax shudders along like a VW bus low on gas, picking up speed one moment only to stagger haltingly the next. Is it going to build itself into a paranormal frenzy wherein pixies bash the door in while Zara and her semi-boyfriend have no choice but to wait for the inevitable moment in which the wood finally splinters? Is it going to devolve into a caricature of teenage interaction* and the most boring flirtation you've ever been witness to?** The answer is both (and within the same paragraph). Even the general writing was scattered. Sometimes I will read an astounding book where each sentence informs the next with powerful results, but Need is jumpy and disorganized, and there is no real purpose from one sentence to the next. My reading experience went thusly: Reluctantly submitting myself to the first few chapters, which grew into the pleased realization that the book was getting better, at which point it got exponentially worse, only to build into mounting resentment that it wasn't over yet.
Zara was not a compelling character for me. Despite her "quirks" (henceforth to be known as "quarks," which is my version of contrived quirkiness) like being a walking encyclopedia of phobias and her socially conscientious hobbies (Amnesty International), Zara felt empty. There was no there there. It was as though Jones developed individual characteristics and glued them haphazardly to an empty slate and then named it Zara. The difference is this: instead of growing organically from the character, the quarks were what made the character.
As for Nick, the supernaturally fast boy from track (don't take my language to mean anything, I am only dropping massive hints) who takes an interest in Zara, my opinion is not much higher. There has come to be a stereotype in YA novels of male main characters (possibly since the release of Twilight, because according to every paranormal YA blurb, all books are "like Twilight" now anyway) who are smokin' hot, secretly supernatural, over-protective, unswervingly devoted while being simultaneously hard to read, and hot-tempered. Nick, sadly, does not depart from this characterization.
Also, it is apparently a requirement for paranormal books to begin with a girl being stalked, whereafter she takes to Google to confirm her suspicions about said stalker's paranormality. Because, you know, of course that makes sense. And I'm not blaming this book for being a paranormal book; it's to be anticipated that some characters will reveal themselves to be not fully human. I don't even like a whole lot of "WTF? I can't believe this" when the human characters do find out. But it's hard to suspend my own disbelief when they barely so much as blink. This is actually something else that cooled my opinion for the book: Zara can't seem to prioritize. She doesn't seem to get upset when she ought to. There is a scene where she and Nick need to get out with relative speed; at first she is reluctant to even leave the house (but once they decide they really are going, she runs upstairs to grab her Amnesty International letters so they can mail them. Because of course getting your mail out is the first thing weighing on your mind when you're in imminent danger.) But when Nick informs her that they'll have to shovel the snow off the driveway in order to get out, Zara's reaction is basically, "But...but it's a half-mile long! And I've never shoveled snow before!" I would have been infinitely more impressed had she grabbed that shovel and dug like a beast.
Conclusion: You already know how I'm going to rate this book, I'm sure. It's not so much that it's actually bad as that there are so many books that do it better. I've no doubt that there are readers who would enjoy this book, so I'm sometimes reluctant to be so opinionated. But I've grown weary of giving mediocre books such safely neutral ratings. In terms of characters, plot, and writing, this book could pass as a 3/5. I suppose my issue is this: just because there are a lot of mediocre books doesn't mean mediocre should become the passing standard. If there is one place where I can experiment with being a mouthy critic, it is this blog, and my experience of reading this book was a 2/5.
*One example is constantly referring to the king of the pixies as "the pixie king guy" or the "head pixie guy."
His eyes melt me. "Really. I'd never let anything happen to you."
"Oh. Right. Hero-complex thing....That's so funny" (p. 185).
P.S. Fun fact: according to Justine magazine, "If you grabbed Stephen King and Stephenie Meyer and asked them to co-author a book, they would come up with Need." This comparison is more than a little entertaining, given King's blatant lack of regard for Meyer's writing. More likely, if you grabbed Stephen King and Stephenie Meyer and asked them to co-author a book, they would answer with an undeniably emphatic NO.