In high school, discovering whether or not a boy likes you is a matter of the growth process, with every action or reaction dissected by your group of friends. For Cammie “The Chameleon” Morgan in Ally Carter’s I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You it’s a matter of national security. You see, the girls of Gallagher Academy aren’t your average students but spies in training, and to them “normal” is just a buzz word for blending in.
Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard is a deceptive book. On first glance it looks like one of a million Gossip Girl followers with its shiny, attractive girls on the cover and its high society setting. When I picked it up during a lunch break at work, I was expecting something light and commercialistic, what I found instead was a Twin Peaks-esque story line where instead of trying to figure out who killed Laura Palmer I was left wondering if Alison DiLaurentis was even dead.
For a story to be engaging for a reader there must be a connection. Whether that connection comes via a relationship with the protagonist, antagonist, or plot, does not matter; simply that it exists to spur the reader on to read until the end. If this connection does not exist there reader will become bored, and the plot holes or character flaws that they would have forgiven for the sake of the story become obvious. Under intense scrutiny the story itself may fall apart as it did with Alex McAulay’s Lost Summer.
Having been a part of the counter-culture of high school arts kids (albeit as theater geek as opposed to a band nerd) I thought I had a pretty good impression of the band experience. Of course, I never went to a high school with an actual marching band, and definitely not one where the role of drum major was such a hotly contested and fought over title as in Jennifer Echols’ Major Crush. And even if I had, I hardly think the experience would have been as entertaining.
The Young Adult genre has blown wide open in the last few years, tripling in size and print runs; where once a teen reader was stranded in the no man’s land between Intermediate and Adult Fiction they now have many authors vying for their age group and attention. With women doing the majority of the book buying, it is no surprise that young, female protagonists populate the shelves. Whether they are mean girls, the target of mean girls or dealing with issues that range from body image to rape, authors find ways to interpret the teenage experience in new and (hopefully) interesting ways. To this end, a sub-genre has even developed where authors overlay high school woes with a paranormal sheen, giving the unwanted high school label “freak” a whole new meaning.
With paranormal romances awash in vampires and werewolves, it’s the rare author who offers something new to the sub-genre. It is the even rarer author who manages this feat without relying on the use of clichés common to romance novels. In Dark Protector, Alexis Morgan’s Paladins offer a fresh, new mythology to the paranormal world only to fail to overcome other standard conventions and a lack of world-building.