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.
In Golden, by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, Lissy James is feeling very out of her element. Not only have her parents uprooted her from her coastal California town to move her to No Where, Oklahoma, but within her first five minutes in her new abode she manages to meet (and piss off) the Goldens—the most popular kids in school. If that weren’t enough to make a girl want to curl up and die, her ability to see auras spins out of control leaving her to believe that either her Calculus teacher has committed some sort of unspeakable evil or she’s officially gone insane.
Barnes perfectly captures the teenage voice (not surprising given that she was nineteen herself when she finished Golden), and what a voice it is. This first person narrative is smooth and engaging, never seeming to info dump about Lissy or others. Though the story is devoid of the trend-dropping (or name-dropping) that the Young Adult genre is often accused of, I had a clear picture of the trendy Goldens (Lilah, Tracy and Fuchsia) as well as the “loser” Nons (Lissy, Audra and Dylan). The characters were fully developed, a hard task given that we only ever received Lissy’s explanation for events and actions, and they are people I hope to revisit later in the series. I especially look forward to Lilah’s story, awaiting the time when I get to visit the psyche of this teen queen extraordinaire and expert of the bitch-slap compliment.
In comparison to Lissy James, Miranda, the narrator of Cara Lockwood’s Wuthering High: A Bard Academy Novel, comes off over-shadowed. Like any teen heroine Miranda’s got problems: an emotionally dependent mother, a never there father, Carmen (Dad’s ex-secretary and step-mom 2.0, the beta tested version), and that little fact that crashing her dad’s car and maxing out Carmen’s credit cards has earned her a one-way ticket to boarding school. Bard’s Academy for troubled teens is all the way across the country, devoid of any electronic stimulants (read: cell phones, computers, iPods and Blackberries), and her new home away from home. Only this home appears to be haunted by a dead former student, the battle ground for a boy convinced he’s Heathcliff, and there is just something off about the teaching staff. Throw in a few mysterious fires, and a cute boy from her old school and Miranda’s life couldn’t possibly get any more complicated…could it?
Lockwood attempts, but does not quite capture the teenage voice in her first person narration. Miranda’s tone stumbles a bit when she throws out a hybrid phrase or word and the parenthetical explanation that naturally follows destroys the flow. Her descriptions of clothing and styles not only read as a bit of an info-dump, but like linking to any trend it serves to date the book even before it finally hits the shelves. For example, at one point Miranda mentions that she looks like Mary-Kate Olsen with her dyed hair, a style Mary-Kate has since traded in.
This is not to say that I did not enjoy the novel, despite Miranda’s narrative fumbles the world that Lockwood has created is an interesting twist on ground that Jasper Fforde has covered before. By the end of the novel I found myself not only amused by how Miranda and her friends dealt with Bard and its eccentricities, but wishing I could visit this world as well. I’m sure as the Bard series progresses, Lockwood will become immersed in the voice she has created and the small narrative problems that inhabit the first book will disappear. As it stands now, Wuthering High is part fantasy, part soap opera, and part high school experience: a fun, fast read perfect for a rainy day and I am already scheming about how to get a copy of the next book, Scarlet Letterman.
Whereas Barnes and Lockwood chose to view their worlds through the eyes of a single character, Melissa de la Cruz’s Blue Bloods hops through the minds of multiple protagonists thanks to its third person narrative. The Blue Bloods are not like you or I. These elite families who can trace their lineage back to the Mayflower are actually vampires, reincarnations of the fallen angels who were cast out of heaven with Lucifer. At sixteen these (until now) normal teens enter the sunset of their human lives and begin to take on vampire traits like the craving for raw meat and blood as well as develop specialized powers (shape-shifting, mind control, etc). They embody the ultimate fantasy of forever slim bodies topped with beautiful faces with the guarantee of immortality in some form or another, or at least this is what they are led to believe. Only something is killing off Blue Blood teens, draining them of their blood and their ability to return to life, and this thing has to be stopped.
De la Cruz offers up an interesting premise populated by beautiful people: Mimi Force, unofficial ruler of the Duchesne School with an unnatural attachment to her twin brother; Jack Force, lacrosse star with suicidal tendencies and a need to break from his entwined destiny with his sister; Schuyler, half-blood anomaly and daughter of one of the most powerful—but now comatose—Blue Bloods; Oliver, Schuyler’s red-blooded conduit and best friend; and Bliss, former Texas Queen turned Blue Blooded Mimi follower and the girlfriend of the tragic and mysterious Dylan. It is through the female half of this cast (with small contributions from Jack) that the Blue Blooded society is explained. Given the high society placement and limitless spending of the protagonists, the text is littered with name-dropping and trends. While this is used in some ways to define characters (Mimi and Bliss especially) and tie in with the plot (props to Ms. de la Cruz for the creation of Stitched for Civilization), it does not always add to the overall story, quite possibly because the information is dropped upon the reader all at once. Had the descriptions about the personal appearance of the characters not been served up in paragraph sized chunks I don’t think I would have been bothered by them at all. As it stands they were small ripples in an otherwise smooth narrative.
Blue Bloods, like Golden and Wuthering High, is the beginning of a series, but unlike the first two who tie up most of their plot points, it leaves many major threads dangling. Instead of reading as a fully finished novel, I felt like I only viewed the first act of a play. It’s a long, long intermission (Spring 2007) before the next begins and I can finally receive some answers about the evil Silver Bloods, Schuyler’s mother’s coma, and the possible fate of the Blue Blood society. Like de la Cruz’s characters I’m in the dark about where this all could finally lead.
Whether you’re a teenager or an adult, Barnes, Lockwood and de la Cruz have written novels that will appeal to lovers of the paranormal genre. The basics of the high school experience are the same whether its twenty years ago or yesterday, and these authors use it blend the paranormal with the everyday to create new and exciting worlds.
If you would like to learn more about Jennifer Lynn and her world you can find her here, and if that perks your interest you can purchase Golden here and here.
You can find Cara Lockwood (who writes Chick Lit under the same name) here, and her Wuthering High series here and here.
Melissa de la Cruz is the author of multiple books (of which the Au Pair series is perhaps the most famous) and you can find her here. You can find Blue Bloods here and here.