I picked up this novel despite (or perhaps because of) the strong suspicion that I wouldn’t be able to stand it, so I admit the bitter taste in my mouth right now is self-inflicted. But its stunning cover seduced me, and I wanted to test out my local digital lending library, so I took a deep breath and dove in.
First, the good. There’s a prevailing feeling of darkness thanks to the reform school the protagonist Luce attends, which I think is the first reform school I’ve ever seen in YA. I was pleased by Luce’s surprisingly complex relationship with her parents, who condemned her to reform school as a last resort after she possibly murdered someone in a fire; they love her and fear her and want to protect her all at once, and I’m glad that the protagonist sees their flaws and loves them nonetheless. I only wish that the other character relationships were as intriguing. Most of the writing is merely serviceable, but at times it touched on the beautiful. One line I particularly liked:
She spotted a lone dandelion, and it crossed her mind that a younger Luce would have pounced on it and then made a wish and blown. But this Luce’s wishes felt too heavy for something so light.
I did a little victory dance when, after 200 pages of the designated love interest Daniel showing nothing but contempt for her, Luce finally stands up for herself. She points out that far from being as stupid as he apparently thinks, she’s extremely academic. Full scholarship. 4.0 GPA. She speaks several languages. She does the Sunday crossword! And she’s going to be a psychiatrist! Immediately my love for Luce started to bloom like a previously stunted flower.
Unfortunately, as with the rest of the book, this flare of promise subsides into disappointment. The supposedly academic Luce never uses any of the skills she claims to have. Everything she learns is served up to her on a silver platter by a nosy friend. If she were as smart as all that, I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t get into a strange car to go to an unknown place to meet her violent soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend, without telling anyone where she’s going. The evilness of the evil characters is written in letters big enough to be visible from space, but somehow genius Luce misses it. People keep saying how special Luce is -- “Believe me. You have no idea how many strong and impossible things you are capable of” -- but it’s never actually backed up in the text.
I think the key failing here is that the author never gives her an opportunity to shine. The narrative is so in love with perfect beautiful Daniel and his beautiful perfection that Luce is an afterthought. She’s just a window through which the reader is invited to ogle those rippling muscles. In the entire book Luce is given nothing to do, so she accomplishes nothing -- her only action in the climax, and I use the word action loosely, is to lie on an altar while the antagonist attempts to sacrifice her, only to be saved at the last moment (of course) by the designated love interest.
It’s a shame, because this book could have been redeemed. I feel like I got a brief glimpse of the Luce who could have been -- a heroine who stormed through this book, kicking ass and taking names, using every bit of that intelligence -- but then the moment died.
Verdict = 3 out of 5 stars.