on September 8, 2012
Oh man, where do I begin with this mess? I really wanted to like this book. It was my first ARC and I believe Elizabeth George is a good writer. I read one of her Inspector Lynley novels several years ago when they were first published. It was pretty good.
But, just because a writer can write a good adult mystery does not mean she/he is cut out for writing YA fiction. This book is the perfect example of why adult fiction writers should not write YA just because it's popular and seems easy. Guess what-it isn't.
George's characters in The Edge of Nowhere are very one-dimensional and shallow. They are so obvious I can label them "the popular good guy" and "the smart popular girl" and "weirdo outsider" and "mean girl who is only mean because she has family issues."
The plot was not interesting. We don't get to the actual mystery until 1/4 way into the book (George spends the first 1/4 setting up her trilogy...yes, it's going to be a trilogy because OBVIOUSLY every YA book needs to be part of a trilogy these days). The solution to the mystery is ridiculous and unsatisfying. I mean, ridiculous. The "twists" in the novel didn't really add to the plot. Perhaps they will be important later in the trilogy?
A lot in the story was hard to believe and George didn't pull off making it believable. For instance, the people on this island have known each other all their lives (minus Becca, the newcomer) and now they all think each other is capable of shoving someone off a mountain ridge-except Becca, the newcomer. They all trust her-the girl they just met who is obviously lying about who she is. Then, when they are accused of attempted murder, they have a brief spurt of anger and then later act like, "Hey, it's not big deal you thought I was a murder. I understand." Huh?
George also makes it obvious that she thinks teenagers are shallow idiots. Not only is her writing dumbed down in this novel, but her teen characters' actions are just well, dumb and unbelievable. For example, Hayley's boyfriend breaks up with her because he sees her kissing another guy (understandable). She can't understand why he dumped her. After all, it was no big deal. It was just a kiss-a kiss she liked and might do again, but hey, that's no reason to dump her. But WAIT-then she turns all nice and tries to set her new friend up with the guy whom she kissed and liked it and might do it again. Oh, and she has no problem at all seeing them make out with each other. Huh?
The element I found most annoying was Becca's supernatural gift to read "whispers," or fragments of people's thoughts. Why oh why do writers feel they HAVE to throw in some supernatural element to make their YA novel likeable? It's a cheap trick. Not only is it a cheap trick, but George used it to cheaply create plot elements that she couldn't make believable in any other way. A prime example of this is Becca and Derrick's "connection." SPOILER ALERT: As a reader, I am supposed to believe that despite the fact that he is in a coma through 3/4 of the book and that they've never had a deep conversation with each other in their life, Becca+Derrick= True Love because she feels all tingly when she touches his comatose body. I really have no words for this.
Finally, why oh why, is George obsessed with Becca's weight? Does she think this will make her connect with teens? The constant comments about Becca's weight in no way add to her character or the plot. It's annoying and pointless-and just feeds the notion that teens should be pre-occupied with their looks.
I only finished this book because it was an ARC. The publisher will probably never give me another one after this, but I have to be honest.
When I happened upon Elizabeth George discussing her latest novel on the radio and learned she'd set the story on Whidbey Island, I was excited to give this seasoned author's first attempt at young adult fiction a try. Too impatient for the 108-holds wait list through our local library system, I bought it. Having since read it, I wish I'd missed the seemingly auspicious interview. That the author put in the effort to get the tree and wildflower species right but didn't bother to learn how teens talk make the fact that she's new, a "noob" one might say, no surprise. The book is a waste of words (and part of a tree), except as an excellent example of how not to write a Young Adult novel.
The story goes something like this, instead of asking her friend Carol to meet her at the terminal for a direct handoff, Laurel Armstrong dumps her 14-year-old daughter, Hannah, (p 41) "a girl from San Diego on the run from a man who'd murdered his business partner in a phony break-in into the man's million-dollar condo," off at the ferry dock in Mukilteo, Washington with little more than the clothes on her back (well: a bicycle, backpack, saddlebags, cell phone and a map) before she continues on a parallel path to Canada to set up their new life. From the moment that Hannah, aka Becca King (disguised with phony glasses, thick makeup, messy haircut, and an ugly dye job) sets foot (well, bike wheel) on Whidbey Island, everything that can possibly go wrong does. Carol is a no-show, so Becca, who can hear others' thoughts, must locate her, only to learn that her host is unable to take her in. She finds alternate lodging, enrolls in school, and tries to blend in, but an inexplicable tragedy involving an African-American boy leaves many suspicious and on edge. Although newfound acquaintances help her get settled, typical high school drama threatens to derail every hard-earned success. Fortunately, during the (apparently) two months that the story takes place, Becca gains strength through adversity and survives. Unfortunately, writing issues and plot problems will likely kill even the least discriminating reader's desire to determine the characters' fates.
Considering that about one in three teenagers in America is overweight or obese, the fact that everyone is obsessed with Becca's size (she's about 20 pounds overweight) seems strange. Her mother gives her a hard time about everything she eats, which she, of course, internalizes. Others call her names like (p 163) "fattie," (p 163) "Fatbroad," and (Pp 373, 418) "chubette," (What teen you know uses these words?) and the school nurse (p 172) asks, "Are you avoiding breakfast because you're losing some weight." The only person not bothered by her weight is Jake, a store manager, who describes her to the undersheriff as having a (p 373) "chubbette body. Major thunder thighs. Butt like a bronco" yet claims, "but hell, I'd do her." After learning she's only 14 (p 373), Jake "leered," "winked," and said, "Start `em young."
Although kids call each other all sorts of names, the one the author uses repeatedly to refer to girls is (Pp 71, 317, 414, 437) "chick." (Who SAYS that?) Then again, she repeats herself throughout the story instead of making the effort to rephrase and use synonyms, for example, (Pp 12, 30) "a few houses were strung," "c'n," (p 112) "she'd not," (p 118) "snuffling," (p 252) "whacked...wacked," and (p 331) "his hand." Ms. George also repeatedly defies what teachers tell teens by using the passive voice: (p 90) "was called," (p 113) "was chained," (p115) "was broken," (p 275) "was muted," (p 280) "was crammed," and (p 363) "was duplicated." In addition, the story includes profuse prepositions: (p 54) "he began to drawn upon it;" (p 293) "she was in a state of strung nerves;" (p 320) "He felt a ball of excitement inside of him;" (p 329) "He went to the bales of hay, but he ran out of the gas of his indignation there;" (p 352) "Still, she felt a tightness inside of her at this tug on her arm and at the thought...;" and strange similes, (p 318) "The [internet] connection was slow, like trying to pour cold syrup onto pancakes;" (p 322) "He watched Seth closely, like a book he was reading; (p 324) "A balloon was being inflated in his brain and he couldn't begin to deal with the pain;" (p 357) "tough as uncooked beans;" and (p 409) "sitting next to the bed with Derric's hand in hers like a lifeline he was clinging to." In fact, she ruins the story's only suspenseful moment with one, (p 439) "He reversed the car in an instant like a tourist who'd made a wrong turn." She also annihilates some standard sayings: (p 171) "below the radar," (p 233) "old habits are the most difficult to break," (p 293) "from her head to her feet," (p 359) "he stopped dead," (p 375) "the rest of the morning was downhill from there," (p 396) "She was like a woman who'd been loaded up with bricks to carry upon her shoulders," and (p 406) "which made a shiver go down Seth's spine."
As a fellow Whidbey Island resident, I take offense at her decision to paint its racial makeup with a broad brush. In spite of her assertion the Island's population is overwhelmingly white, (p 24) "Becca realized as she looked at the boy that he was the first person of any color other than white that she'd seen in the vicinity of the ferry;" (p 168) "For unlike her schools in California, there didn't seem to be an entire kid in the entire assembly who wasn't white;" and (p 255) "lily-white Whidbey Island;" WA State OSPI data shows that about nine in ten South Whidbey High School students (with a K-12 enrollment of about 1,500) are white, while the north, more highly populated part of the Island is more diverse. Over one in three Oak Harbor High School students (with a K-12 enrollment of over 5,500) are non-white. Interestingly, the author not once refers to Derric, a 16-year-old Ugandan-American as "African-American" (or Ugandan-American) but instead as (p 24) "black, deeply black," (p 71) "dark-skinned" and (p 73) "dark."
Lastly, plot problems plague the story. Note: SMALL PLOT SPOILERS FOLLOW: Carol doesn't tell her husband that a 14-year-old girl will be staying with them; boys tease Jenn about liking Derric (a boy), then call her a "dyke;" Jenn tries to pull the gave-you-a-twenty trick on a cashier when she really gave her a ten (any cashier knows you leave the bill out until you've returned the change); except for several references to her as "muscular," the character least likely to be an extreme athlete turns out to be one; Hayley explains that she really likes Seth even though she kissed Derric and liked it; (p 265) Becca tells someone a convoluted, unnecessary lie about her AUD box, but later, when she lies to her a second time (p 310) claims it's the first, and when she finally asks an adult for some much-needed help, the woman refuses (and don't get me started on the hypocrisy of the missionary turned undersheriff's actions or the thing that triggers a sick character's improvement). In summary, writing style issues and plot problems doom The Edge of Nowhere to epic failure. Better: Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25 by Richard Paul Evans, The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.
on January 12, 2013
As I worked my way through this book, I wondered whether the author was really Elizabeth George. How could someone capable of creating the complex and carefully crafted Inspector Lynley mysteries have written this clunky amateurish thoroughly sloppy novel? Other reviewers have summarized the plot and pointed out major plot holes, so I will only point out some of the main issues I had.
Granted that there are many ways to cope with a stressful situation, after going through contortions to escape a murderer with her 14 year old, who leaves said 14 year old alone without making sure that she is safely ensconced with her caretaker? She couldn't spare one ferry ride to get the girl there? Where I come from, we call that abandonment.
No one is curious about this girl just showing up? The registrar of the school and the guidance counselor should be mandated reporters--so a child who shows up without documentation and immunization papers would not just be passed over. No one makes the connection with the new girl all on her own on the island and the mysterious phone message received by the spouse of the woman she was supposed to live with?
Was it necessary for the main character to make herself look ugly to be disguised? A bad haircut and gobs of makeup would, I should think, make one stand out more than blend in. This was really irritating, along with the focus on Becca's weight, which was only an issue so we could see how nasty the resident island mean girl was.
Do hospitals really allow a parade of visitors through the room of a person in intensive care? If the person may have been injured by someone else, would the police really want anyone to have access?
Why can't the characters be consistent in their characterizations? They don't all have to be nice, but good grief--for example, one woman goes from kindly caregiver to shrieking paranoid harridan in minutes.
It seems to me that the only reason this got published is because Elizabeth George wrote it, and that is just very very sad.
on June 20, 2013
I fully expected to love The Edge of Knowhere. As it turns out, I didn't even like it. As a children's librarian, I spend a lot of time reading young adult fiction. And as someone who has greatly enjoyed many of Elizabeth George's early Inspector Lynley novels, I've long been familiar with her work. She should have been capable of better than this.
Where to begin? Let's start with Becca King, a horribly dull protagonist with the entirely underused ability to "hear whispers" (a.k.a. read people's thoughts). Becca is boring. She's not terribly bright. She's overly concerned with her weight. And worst of all, she makes foolish decisions that aren't so much justified by her character as they are required by the plot.
Just consider the dumb moves Becca makes almost from the beginning. On the run from her Evil Stepfather, Becca's mother (and here's another hopeless character) drops her off at a ferry leaving for a remote Washington island, where Becca is to hide out until her mother can secure them new both identities. Mom leaves Becca with a burner phone and instructions to call if something goes wrong.
Well, something goes wrong. Immediately. Becca calls her mom, but can't get reception on the island. I don't know, Becca, maybe try a landline instead? There are plenty of chances for that. But no, Becca just continues to use the failed cell phone with no luck. Why? Because the plot requires it. This would be a terribly short book if Becca had even half a brain to speak of.
Oh, and a note to Becca's mom: Why not just get on the ferry with your daughter to make sure she ends up where she's supposed to? Then when the narratively convenient plot contrivance rears its ugly head, things wouldn't suddenly go to pot for your half-brained daughter.
So, there are plot issues and there are character issues. But probably the biggest problem is the prose. Elizabeth George simply cannot write for a YA audience. The prose is too simple, too stilted. ("She heard a yell. It sounded like Seth. She yelled back and more dogs barked. The trail got narrow.") It's Exhibit A in the argument that not all authors are cut out for YA fiction. It's harder than it looks to write intelligently for a teenage audience, people. You can't just use shorter sentences and expect that to do the trick.
Suffice to say, I didn't enjoy this book, and I won't be picking up its inevitable sequels. A very disappointing effort.