May 19, 2010

Refreshingly real, apart from the ghosts... (Review: The Summoning by Kelly Armstrong)

The Summoning
Kelley Armstrong
Orbit


“After years of frequent moves following her mother’s death, Chloe Saunders’s life is finally settling down. She is attending art school, pursuing her dreams of becoming a director, making friends, meeting boys. Her biggest concern is that she’s not developing as fast as her friends are. But when puberty does hit, it brings more than hormone surges. Chloe starts seeing ghosts–everywhere, demanding her attention. After she suffers a breakdown, her devoted aunt Lauren gets her into a highly recommended group home. 


At first, Lyle House seems a pretty okay place, except for Chloe’s small problem of fearing she might be facing a lifetime of mental illness. But as she gradually gets to know the other kids at the home–charming Simon and his ominous, unsmiling brother Derek, obnoxious Tori, and Rae, who has a “thing” for fire–Chloe begins to realize that there is something that binds them all together, and it isn’t your usual “problem kid” behaviour. And together they discover that Lyle House is not your usual group home either…”


(Blurb courtesy of Goodreads)


I found this in the used book section of Amazon.co.uk for a penny! It had been on my wish list for a while and I thought it would be a bit of enjoyable fluff. It certainly is enjoyable and actually surprised me by being less fluffy and exhibited more depth than I expected.


Firstly, the supernatural aspects of the story are vivid and really quite frightening. There is no glossing over the fact that finding out that you can “see dead people” would by terrifying and have you questioning your sanity – at one point the main protagonist, Chloe, actually pees herself she's so frightened. I have a real issue with characters in paranormal stories just accepting strange and scary situations far too easily (“oh, so you're a vampire/werewolf/pixie/ghost and I'm a fairy/dead girl/necromancer? Cool”). It pleased me greatly to see someone have a genuine reaction to fear and the unknown. I'm pretty sure that this is not the last time that you'll hear me rant about character reaction so I'll stop myself there for now.


In general, the author doesn't shy away from the nitty gritty - from first periods, to Chloe having to get her urine screened, it's all in there. Don't get me wrong, I don't want to read detailed accounts of bodily functions but so often such mundanities are missing from novels (Bella's numerous “human moments” excepted, Twilighters) and their presence here lent the story and characters a certain reality. Everyone pees, right? This sense of everyday realism is also carried through in the characters themselves. The kids that populate The Summoning are real kids. They don't have perfect bodies or skin, the girls do not possess shiny, flowing locks and the guys aren't all six foot tall, dark and brooding. Some characters have acne, one has a few extra pounds, they have different racial backgrounds. Chloe herself is described as skinny – and this is a bad thing instead of something that she's proud of! Woo hoo! Walking around looking like you weigh about the same as a polystyrene block is not a good thing! Basically, these teenagers are struggling with puberty and adolescence in the way that teenagers actually do struggle with it. I can imaging walking into any contemporary classroom and seeing at least one of these characters – not something that I think when reading most YA fiction.


Another aspect of the novel that is really nicely handled is the spectre of mental illness. This is necessarily covered, as Chloe is placed in a group home for troubled teens (due to her seeing dead people, natch). From antisocial behaviour disorder and anxiety issues, to schizophrenia the author manages to highlight that these are very real issues for many teens and that mental illness is something that can be managed and not feared. Sometimes, when a book touches on a hot “issue” I can feel like I am being battered about the head with the politically correctness of the whole thing (like the dearth of Amnesty International information that seemed excessive in the otherwise excellent Need by Carrie Jones), but in this case Kelley Armstrong gets her point across with admirable finesse.


On top of this excellent and rock solid foundation runs a gripping story with otherworldly aspects colliding with believable real world settings. I really can find nothing to criticise and the cliffhanger ending has me keen to read follow up, The Awakening. Which, guess what? I just found for a penny on Amazon!

1 comments:

LovesSam said...

I love this series, and I promise it just gets better and better as the story unfolds! and you got it for 1p? Bargain! Fab review, i am so glad you loved it as much as I did :-)