Sunday, April 13, 2014

Review of Nearly Gone by Elle Cosimano

Don't let the cover dissuade you from picking up Nearly Gone, the first novel by Elle Cosimano. I'm not sure who chose the cover art, or who they thought the audience of this novel was, or what message they were trying to convey, but as far as I'm concerned, the decision makers took a smart, clever novel and made it look like a Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition photo spread.
Within the first few chapters, Cosimano has introduced a lot of tough issues, none of which were central to the plot as I understood it from the summary, but I was excited to see what she planned to do with her setup, and relieved I wasn't in for another teen-who-doesn't-realize-how-good-she's-got-it. Shiny heronines with perfect hair and money to burn are not engaging- give me some grit! Give me some life! 

Let's break out of these tropes, please
We're given Nearly Boswell, who is mired in reality. Her father abandoned her as an infant. Her mother strips at a local gentleman's club to make ends (barely) meet. Her best friend is the wealthy son of Nearly's landlord, abused by his father and suffering from depression. Her other best friend is the daughter of first generation immigrants and equally as determined to win the chemistry scholarship Nearly believes to be her ticket out of the trailer park. Nearly's got frizzy hair, too-big clothes, and a name she hates. If that wasn't enough material for a plot, Nearly also has the ability to "taste" people's emotions through touch and is the target of a serial killer.

Other than Vince, the school bully, everyone seems to like Nearly (despite her claims that she's a loner and an outcast). Despite her tendency to be a bit judgy and rush blindly into dangerous situations that are clearly setups, I can't help but like her pluckiness. She's smart and proud of it.  She doesn't back down from a challenge, she speaks her mind, she faces the assholes at her school head on, and she leaps on top of a drug dealer's car with a baseball bat, threatening to "destroy his fucking car" in defense of a friend. That's pretty bad ass (maybe also kind of foolhardy and reckless, but hey, at least she's got gumption).
Personal favorite moment of the book
Though unlike Tina Fey, Nearly gets what she wants
before she has to start swinging
Which therefore confused me when she submitted to the demands of Reece, the attractive transfer to her school, and narc assigned to provide the police with evidence that Nearly has something to do with the rampant murders at her high school. Sure, Reece has a certain bad-boy but gentle-underneath charm. He's got the tattoos and a motorcycle that some of us can't resist (though that nipple ring really doesn't do it for me). But when he demands that she change her "image" in order to convince others that he could actually be interested in her... that's offensive. Especially because he *is* sincerely into her, just as she is! We all love a good makeover scene, but someone who can take on drug dealers, bullies, and serial killers should be able to set boundaries with her boyfriend. This is me, kid. I like me as I am. Take it or leave it! Even though he turns out to be a misunderstood fella with a heart of gold, we should be wary of guys who refuse to be seen with us unless we're wearing sexy clothes. That's my soapbox for this post.
Always trust the Genie.
The main plot of the novel, however, is not what Nearly does or does not wear, but the race against the clock to solve the mysterious clues left for her in the personal ads before another one of her classmates is murdered. I was promised that I would feel like I was in a Bones episode- and it delivered! I was actually creeped out to the point where I couldn't read the book while home alone! Even though I feel like I could figure the clues out faster than Nearly (the benefit of being removed and having clues printed in black and white rather than living out the confusing mess of possible signs and signals), there were still a lot of suspense for me about who might be involved (for a long time I suspected her Chemistry teacher!).

I didn't really understand the point of Nearly being an empath. I don't think it added much to the story other than to give her and the reader a clear reason whether to trust or be wary of others. It didn't help her to solve the mystery. If anything, I was surprised that more people didn't take her fear of touching and being touched as a sign of potential abuse or trauma. Or germophobia.  We never understood why or how she had this ability. I think it would have been a stronger story without that paranormal detail.
Maybe she suffers from mysophobia?
About halfway through the book I felt like this read could have been a 4 or 4.5 book, but things unraveled a little at the end. I didn't think Cosimano pushed things as far as she could have or explored themes to their full potential. I was also bummed when Olexsa and Gena delivered a very clean "this is everything you missed so the story wraps up perfectly" in the hospital. I prefer to be shown things, rather than told things. Overall, I think this book has some flaws, but I would not hesitate from recommending it! I look forward to reading more from Elle Cosimano and seeing how her writing style develops in future projects.



The Plot Thickens Badge
The Fantasy Makeover Badge

Review of All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill

All Our Yesterdays is an exciting, page-turning inaugural novel by Cristin Terrill.  We switch perspectives between Marina, a pettish, snobby teenager, and the older version of herself, Em, who travels back in time to save the world- and herself- from the dangers and misuse of time travel.  Sounds like a paradox, right?Each time she makes the journey with her cell neighbor and friend, Finn, she tries a different method of stopping the future and leaves instructions for the next version of herself.  

In previous reviews I have expressed my frustration with time travel novels, but Terrill skirted many of my common complaints and either explained away inconsistencies satisfactorily, or provided such a rich sub-plot that I wasn't concerned with how she chose to make time travel work.  The only time I felt myself really perplexed was at the end when some actions held, and some were reversed (SPOILER: when James's suicide remained true, but Finn's murder and Marina's memory of that day were erased).  I guess we can chalk that up to Terrill's earlier explanation that time tries to correct itself?

Their time travel machine, Cassandra, looks nothing like this.
But doesn't this man look majestic?
All Our Yesterdays had a lot going for it: solid dialogue, strong, self-aware female character, gradual and realistic romance, reasonable character evolution, insightful flashbacks.  I was quickly sucked into Terrill's world and wanted to read it again immediately after finishing the final page.  And yes, I checked to see if there was any fanfiction written on it yet (there's not. *sad face*  Friends, you all need to join this fandom and write me some good fanfics).

While there is a lot to enjoy in this packed novel, I knew it was love when Finn took James and Marina (and us!) home for the first time.  This is not a lengthy scene, but what we learn about Finn and his family life moved me and resonated with me on a personal level. Finn's nervous about sharing his home life with his friends and at first glance, it's because of his family's relative poverty compared to the lifestyles of James and Marina.  When we hear his mother's voice for the first time, calling to Finn to help her in the other room, I felt like I was hearing an echo from my own life.  We come to learn that his mother has Multiple Sclerosis.

I have been waiting for a character like Finn Abbott for a long time.  I was very pleased to see a parent with a mental illness represented in Fangirl, and I've been waiting for an author to tackle the circumstance of having a parent with a physical illness. These family dynamics are underrepresented in YA fiction, despite knowing a lot of people in my life who have been affected by a parent with an illness.  I have seen so much of Finn reflected in my friends and in myself and Terrill really grasped the personality nuances that come with growing up with a sick parent.  I was very impressed.

If you're looking for a well-rounded, action-packed novel that understands complicated friendships, family dynamics and character evolution, look no further!  All Our Yesterdays has it all!




Perspectives Badge: Children of sick parents
I'd Marry You If You Were Real Badge: Finn!
Feminism Forever Badge: Em's first concern is making a better world for Marina
Trumps Tropes Badge: Better than your average time travel novel!
Good writing badge: Proper use of flashbacks and exceptional character development

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