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Abbie, We Hardly Knew Ye
on March 4, 2012
Let's start with the good - because there's more good than bad here. CIRCLE NINE is engaging and fast-paced. You keep peeling the rind to reveal the mysterious fruit within. In this case, the mystery is not just what happened to the protagonist (Abbie), but WHO is Abbie. Her boyfriend/provider/overlord is a teen named Sam who claims to have rescued Abbie from some terrible accident that has left Abbie bereft of memories. The two dwell in a kind of subterranean hideaway where the outside world is a fearful, infernal place - a place Abbie must never venture (at least according to Sam). Sam becomes the most interesting, dynamic character in the novel. He seems like every girl's worst nightmare - the seducer who is so artful in his seduction that he drains the very essence of his target. He controls them, feeds them, and dominates them. He's Charles Manson meets Phillip Garrido. Abbie's twisted devotion/dependence on Sam is treated with the complexity and seriousness it deserves. Like all the best psychological fiction, CIRCLE NINE, makes us cringe and empathize as we explore an addled, desperate mind.
The prose is bumpy at times, but it's not enough to distract. The primary flaw in this very ably told story is the narrator, Abbie. For most of the novel, she knows nothing of her past. She knows nothing of who she is other than how she feels about Sam. This becomes a problem by the end of the novel, when Abbie is about to embark on a very uncertain voyage. I found myself not being moved or deeply troubled by the final image of Abbie. I hardly knew the girl.
Maybe we're a bit conditioned to expect big surprises in fiction (jaw dropping twists, characters showing up to their own funerals, the hatch finally getting opened on LOST), but I found the mystery of Abbie's past to be a bit obvious early in the book. As readers we like to guess the solution to the puzzle and compare our guess to the final result. By page 30, you'll have a good idea what happened to Abbie, who Sam is, and what the significance of her dreams are. A minor quibble.
Ultimately, there are far worse ways to spend a weekend than with CIRCLE NINE. It's got some grit and sharp edges, which is always welcome in Young Adult fiction. I found the final musings about homelessness to be poignant. I'm certainly going to be following the career of Anne Heltzel. While her debut is an imperfect beginning, she shows great promise.