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The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May, & June Paperback – June 2, 2011
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At heart, this is your typical story about teenagers getting abilities, but it has the very interesting twist of having it be three sisters. I think I'll go ahead and dive into what I liked and didn't like about the book, just to make this a little easier.
What I liked:
- The characters: most of the characters of this book really come alive in the writing, and especially April, May, and June. Benway writes the novel from all three of their first-person perspectives, which allows the reader to spend a few chapters in each of their minds and get to know them a little bit. Usually, I don't really like this style since voices have a tendency to get all muddled together with no clear differences in tonality or narration, but Benway pulls it off. Each girl's narration is set apart from the others, having its own personality, so that the reader couldn't ever get confused as to who was talking at that moment. Not only that, but the girls came alive from their sister's points of view too. Well done.
- The abilities: of course, this is a big part of the book, and I thought it was well done. To be fair, I love almost every instance where abilities come in to play, but it doesn't always work. Benway wrote all three of these girls not only getting different powers but having different reactions to them. April, for instance, begins fearing the possibility of using these abilities for "evil" and resolves to use them only to do good, although her worrying side decides to spy on her sisters to make sure they're always OK. May hates her abilities and finds that they suddenly make her life so difficult, so she would love to give them back. June realizes she's been handed the keys to popularity and starts exploiting her powers to make herself friends with the school's most popular girl. Each of these reactions fit their personalities very well, and it was very believable that each would react in this way.
- The relationships: here I'm talking about both sisterhood and romance. I'll start with sisterhood. I don't know if Benway has sisters of her own, but she was definitely spot-on with the relationship between all three girls. You can see it in the witty dialogue (and trust me, this book is full of it), sarcastic retorts, and constant teasing. I could see my own sister and myself being reflected in these characters. There was one moment that really amazed me with its reality, which was when one of the girls thinks about how sometimes she wishes her sisters would come into her room, until they actually come in and then she wants them gone. It's such a realistic feeling, and it sort of sums up the entire relationship in a nutshell. And now, for romance. (SPOILER!) April bumps into a guy and gets a vision, discovering that she's going to lose her virginity to him. If that's not a great start to a romantic relationship, I don't know what is. Of course, she reacts as any other girl would when she finds out a perfect stranger is her future... ehem... romantic and sexual companion. She pulls away, acts ridiculously, and tries everything she can to avoid him. But this was genius of Benway: starting the relationship with a vision like that instantly pulls the reader in with its originality and humor, especially considering the protagonist's adolescent status. The relationship between April and Julian wasn't only amusing, but seemed genuine and cute, and I ended up enjoying it despite the fact that I usually dislike romance in books.
What I didn't like:
- The plot: yup, the plot. Before you freak out, hear me out. The first half of the book is these girls discovering their abilities, and learning to deal with them. It starts out quite interestingly, but after a while, I began to tire of them learning all about their new abilities. I've seen that in every superhero movie so far. I wanted something more, something different, and then the plot evolves when April has a vision that something terrible is going to happen. That's where it started getting interesting, except when I realized that the entire book was actually focused around a (SPOILER!) car crash. There is a good amount of risk involved, since April sees one of her sisters in the crash, but it's a lot of amping up the stress for such a mundane occurrence. The book has magical powers, so why isn't the big climax about something a little more supernatural?
- The abilities: and speaking of magical powers, there's also something I didn't like about their abilities, mainly the lack of explanation for them. Sure, we get a few tidbits that they seem to have inherited their abilities from their grandmother and great-aunts, and that they may have had them when they were a lot younger, but that's where it ends. Maybe it's just me, but I wanted much more. I wanted to find out exactly where their abilities came from, and why they had them. The way the book puts it, they have the abilities just because they're three sisters, rather than giving them an actual reason for them. I just would have preferred a little more looking into the past, or finding out that there is some important reason they have these abilities.
- The romance: again, I know I also put this into the "things I like" section, but there was a part of it that I didn't like. (SPOILER!) And that would be May's relationship with Henry. Although I admit that Henry was a nice character (very quirky and funny to read about, especially from May's mind), I have a problem when two of the three main characters in a book find love instantly with what seems to be the first two boys they meet. I bought April's, mainly because of the great introduction to the romance, but May's was stretching it a little. Or stretching it a lot, considering how both boyfriends are intertwined with the big climax that comes in at the end of the plot.
Overall, I liked this novel. I wasn't completely sold on the plot and rather disappointed by the lack of investigation about their powers, but the sisterly dynamic and witty characters made up for it. That's why I'm giving this novel 4 stars, although really I think I would have given it about 3.8 if I was able to. If you like reading about sisterhood, friendship, and want a twist on an old subject, feel free to pick this up! I think you'll enjoy it.
April is the careful, driven oldest sister. May is the middle child who often gets lost in the flurry and sometimes feels forgotten. June is the impetuous youngest sister who just wants to be popular. When their parents get divorced, the girls move with their mother to a new school. As if that weren't traumatic enough, they begin to develop abilities that will test both their sisterly bonds and their futures.
April realizes she can see the future. She can't command the visions to appear, but when she is around a place or person involved in the future event, she can get snippits. May develops the ability to disappear. Not literally, of course, but she becomes invisible and no one can see her (a typical middle sister power). She can't control when it happens, and often finds herself in precarious situations. June learns she can read people's minds- even her sisters' minds. She chooses to use her power as a way to gain popularity and be part of the cool clique.
When the girls realize what is happening to them, April tells them they can't use their powers for self-serving purposes, but June refuses to follow April's orders. When April starts to see a future where a horrible accident occurs and Julian, a cute boy from school, and June are somehow involved, she decides to get proactive. In order to protect her sister, she starts spending time with Julian in order to keep him away from her little sister. Meanwhile, May is in the middle of her own personal crisis as a school mandated history tutor, Henry, challenges both her intentions and her (sometimes) self-imposed invisibility. At first May refuses to deal with Henry, but his persistence and odd charm cause some exciting moments as she gets flustered and her body parts (usually feet first) start to disappear. When June refuses to listen to April, her older sisters do everything they can to make sure she doesn't get hurt by using both their super powers and their sisterly powers.
The story is told from first-person perspective from all three girls. The chapters rotate between the three girls, giving the reader a glimpse of how all three are dealing with their new lifestyles. At first, this can get a little confusing, but the reader quickly gets used to April's controlling and concerned tone, may's snarkiness, and June's flakiness. Eventually, you can figure out which sister is talking without even reading the chapter headings. At first I thought the personalities of the three sisters were a little cliche and hokey, but it seems to work. The story is very interesting, and Benway doesn't disappoint with a formulaic story. There is enough surprise within the plot to keep the reader interested.
There is some adult language throughout the story, but it isn't overwhelming or distracting. The story itself is a lot of fun and appropriate for mature middle school students through high school. It would appeal primarily to girls, especially sisters, but you might find the occasional male student who enjoys this story. This was the first book of Benway's I have read, and I liked it enough to buy her previous book, Audrey, Wait! I will let you know how that one turns out!
The sisterly love felt so real and all the issues they go through, with school and boys was understandable. This contemporary novel was the first one for me and won't be the last.
Top international reviews
I love the way the sisters' different magical powers work in this book. I love the humor, I love all the parts that made me laugh out loud, but most of all I love the sisters together...and the climax of the book made me tear up, it was so emotionally powerful.
Since Robin Benway's first novel, <em>Audrey, Wait!</em> was very different but also fabulous, I really can't wait for her third book! I'll read anything she writes.
And I'll be re-reading <em>The Extraordinary Secrets...</em> many times in the future.