Saturday, June 30, 2012

"Oh yeah, being a witch rocks sometimes."

4 out of 5 stars

*e-ARC graciously provided by the folks over at NetGalley*

There are many things to love about this book and only a couple which will cause the eyes to roll dramatically and several “Oh, please”'s to be shouted. The writing is decent, moving along at a steady clip and keeping the reader involved. The action, while not exactly heart-pounding, is still fairly vivid, the dialogue is zingy, and some of the situations are downright laugh-until-your-sides-hurt funny (starting with the first scenes in which a cat flies through a chimney; trust me, it's a lot less horrific and a lot more hilarious than what it seems). Overall, Poltergeeks is a fun, quick, engaging read, with a great deal of humor and very little angst, which is welcome in an angst-ridden genre.

The protagonist, Julie, is a completely believable teen. She has moments of attempted maturity, of resignation to her duty, not to mention a willingness to sacrifice herself to save those she loves. Then she slips into behaving like your typical teenage girl: She pouts, she gets distracted and does stupid things, often at the most inconvenient time possible, she doesn't know how she feels about her friend, Marcus, who's just blindsided her with his declaration that he thinks she's beautiful, but flies off the handle when her other best friend, Marla, expresses interest in Marcus, and she worries about being normal and accepted at school (though she eventually comes to a “screw that” realization about being normal and accepts her particular peculiarity). She's a well-rounded creation, with a lot more personality and spunk than many of today's YA heroines. The book is narrated in a 1st person P.O.V., so we get to experience the story through Julie's eyes; she's snarky as hell, so it's quite entertaining to hear her inner (and outer) monologues. (My favorite expression of hers is “Conspiracies suck monkey butt.” Call me juvenile, but that just tickled my funny bone.) The other characters, though not as well-developed, are still human enough to support their presence. Marcus is a presented as a weedy, rather unassuming science geek, who happens to be the school's biggest target for bullies; he's not macho, he's not dark and brooding, and (Yes! Yes!) he's not stalker-creepy. In fact, he's rather unapologetic about his brains and ability to use them, which, dear god, is absolutely wonderful in a male lead. Marla is the local Goth girl, complete with black eye makeup, white skin, piercings and variously textured (leather, latex, fishnet) black clothing. We're given a hint as to a deeper back story; she was once just as picked on as Marcus, but mysteriously managed to make herself an unappealing target sometime in the past. However, that's about as far as we get when it comes to knowing Marla, possibly to give further drama to later story developments.

Speaking of these three characters, you would imagine they would engender some sort of love triangle. Nope. Yippee! No angst-ridden love triangle in a YA novel! Just a sweet and simple romance which builds up between Julie and Marcus, more on Julie's side as she comes to terms with her emotions-—Marcus already knows how he feels about Julie. The only sickly part is her insistence on referencing his actions as “pure” and “virtuous,” which gets old fast. (Oh, and I've got to mention a guardian character introduced in the story when Julie's mother goes into hospital. This guardian is an immortal spirit who has to take over a body in order to manifest on this plane. Eventually, the spirit takes over the body of a Great Dane. Yup, there's a talking dog. Gotta love that.)

However, the character of the mother is where the author makes his first mistake and is the source of many of the eye rolling and “Oh please” moments mentioned above.

(Julie receives a phone call from her mother, who's just woken up from a magically-induced coma in which she was near death.)

Julie - "Mom, it's you! I'm so glad you're alive! While you were in the hospital, I managed to discover my destiny, trap and destroy the evil spirit which has been making our lives miserable, and save you from kidney failure by waking you from your coma!"
Mother - "You're grounded, young lady! You didn't listen to me in the first place, even though this was all a set-up by an outside influence and the actions that have taken place were inevitable, but you're still in big trouble for reacting to them and doing your best to take care of yourself, your friends, and me. Which means you're grounded for the foreseeable future, until you learn to behave yourself and remember to ask me before you do anything, even if it's only to go to the bathroom."

Sorry, nope, uh uh. We don't see a lot of her mother in the novel except at the beginning and the end, but when we do see her, she's inevitably chastising Julie for something or being judgmental or being one of those mothers who is feared will “lose it” when she hears about some inoffensive action. Basically behaving in a way which only makes a child take bigger risks and act out more, not to mention resentful. Julie speaks of how she's able to talk to her mother, how she's able to confide in her mother, but I never see any evidence of that in the interplay between the two. It's her mother yelling/lecturing and Julie complying (after putting up an inevitably futile argument). So much for equal discourse. The author gives thanks to his editor for convincing him that “teenage daughters fight with their mothers. A lot.” Well, I'm very sorry to tell you Sean Cummings, but your editor gave you some bad advice. Yes, some teenage daughters fight with their mothers. However, there are a majority of teenage girls that not only not fight with their mothers, they get along very well with them. They respect each other, they're close and loving. The daughters confide in their mothers and respect their advice and wisdom; the mothers listen to their daughters and respect their individuality and choices. I know this because I had such a relationship with my mother. I never was grounded; I never lost my phone or other privileges. My mother and I talked about everything and as a result, I never worried about being “misunderstood.” And I'm not the only girl to have had such a relationship. A good mother-daughter relationship is not unusual; what would've been unusual is if Cummings had actually been brave enough to portray a good mother-daughter relationship instead of the traditional adversarial one. It's obvious the way Cummings writes in his afterword about his editor and the advice she gave to him that he probably had initially written a more harmonious relationship between Julie and her mother and that he changed the characters around simply to follow his editor's instruction. All you have to do is look at the easy way Julie interacts with any of the other characters in the novel and contrast that to how jarring it is when Julie and her mother interact. It doesn't mesh with the rest of the relationships Cummings has created.

Other than the misstep with the mother, there was very little else about the book over which I can complain. Regarding the ultimate confrontation at the end, a malevolent 400-year-old spirit who is trying destroy Julie waits for the final confrontation so that Julie not only has time to prepare but to also pick an appropriate venue. What? That did not make sense at all and rather robbed the story of immediacy as well as some of the action. I could've more easily seen the characters hunkered down somewhere, trying to create a mish-mash of weapons as the enemy came closer and closer, until finally there's an attack and final battle. Speaking of the story, the plot points driving the action, making the characters go from point A to point B to point Z, feels slightly contrived and hollow. When even your own character points out the problem, as Julie did at the end of the book, you've got a big problem.

However, the biggest issue, one which made the book almost unreadable, was the formatting. Whoever was responsible for formatting the novel for the e-book version should be fired, in a public and humiliating way. Sentences and paragraphs were jumbled and pushed together, making it difficult for the story to flow in a natural, not to mention readable, fashion. It was absolutely and teeth-grindingly frustrating.

Overall, if you're looking for an fun, fast, funny, and original read, try Poltergeeks. Just, maybe go for the print edition instead.

Read June19-29, 2012
Originally reviewed for NetGalley June 30, 2012

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