All right, all right, all right. I just lost 2,000 words of a manuscript and basically that’s four weeks of work on my fiction at this point because I’m so freaking stressed and blocked, so I’m going to get into this right away. If you’re not sure why there’s a new selection for JHBC, you can find the answer here. But why have I chosen this book, out of the blue? What is it about this book that made me skip past all the requests I’ve had so far?
I first learned about Tracy Wolff’s Crave when the story of Universal’s pre-empt of the screen rights rolled across my Twitter timeline. I hadn’t heard any buzz about the book at all until then and suddenly it was everywhere, touted as “your next vampire obsession” and “the next Twilight.” I like vampires. I like Twilight. I’m so gonna check this story out, right?
And that’s when I see who published the book: Entangled. And who was interviewed for the story? Not Wolff, the actual writer. Liz Pelletier, the book’s editor and the publisher at Entangled.
Let me give you some backstory on my relationship with Pelletier and Entangled, so nobody can be like, “BIAS! BIIIIIAAAS! You didn’t disclose that you had a personal beef with the publisher!” Well, I don’t. I have professional beef. I’ll disclose that so you can read my critique of this particular title with that in mind and decide whether or not my bias has affected my analysis of the text. So, here’s the beef:
Entangled bought my book, Such Sweet Sorrow, with a film/TV development deal already in place. It was work-for-hire, meaning my agent connected with an awesome, supportive, much-missed guy out in Hollywood who came up with the idea, brainstormed it with me, and got it representation at a major entertainment agency. Meanwhile, I wrote the book and its sequel and the series proposal and bible for the eventual television show. I sent book two off to Pelletier, my editor, about two weeks before my partner in crime died. I was devastated.
I was even more devastated when months went by with no word from Pelletier on the second book. The book that Nick and I had worked so hard to mold and shape. More months. Then a year. Then two years. Since the television show was off the table–and very likely since she does not like “controversial” authors, which I was quickly becoming in the wake of the Anne Rice dust up–my book was abandoned. A year of my work will never see the light of day. A year of work with someone who, five days before he died, was still sending me notes on the project and was pursuing a graphic novel adaptation. This was a project that both of us cared about and poured a lot of work into. And it was just out there, in a void of unreturned calls and emails.
During the waiting time, I expressed my frustration to another Entangled author at Literary Love Savannah. The author rolled her eyes, laughed, and said, “She is always chasing the next Twilight. Or the next something. She wants a movie. If you can’t give it to her, she loses interest.”
Back to a few years before. Pelletier had contracted an author to write Pelletier’s idea for a series she once described to me as “Twilight with aliens.” The series was a big success for Pelletier and the author who wrote it. But it wasn’t enough; though the film rights were optioned, the studio let the option expire and revert back. Pelletier didn’t get her movie, no matter how many times she tried to repackage and relaunch the series over and over again. Now, Pelletier has played it safe, going for “Twilight with vampires.”
But not just “Twilight with vampires.” This one…has a twist. From PopBuzz:
There’s one key detail that looks set to set Crave apart from Twilight though. Liz states that it will be told from a “decidedly feminist perspective.” Given that Twilight was panned by many feminist critics for Bella’s storyline, it will be interesting to see how Crave compares.
I agree, PopBuzz. Because the thing is, Twilight was over a decade ago. Its success has waned and its esteem in the eyes of readers–even its most ardent fans at the time–has somewhat lessened, judging by how many people expressed dismay that Midnight Sun will finally be released. Authors wouldn’t dare use Twilight as a comp in their query letters, lest they get roasted behind their backs by slush pile sorters who like to mock rubes living ten years behind the times. But Liz Pelletier seems to be the only publisher who doesn’t realize that. So, I’m absolutely dying to see how this pans out from that perspective.
So, you can see where this might end up with accusations of a personal vendetta against Pelletier or Entangled. I don’t have a vendetta. I have a grudge. Vendettas require a lot of effort and frankly, I don’t have the time to ruin anyone. I’d still be looking into this book even if it didn’t come with my personal baggage; “feminist Twilight” is just as enticing a lure for me had it come from any other publisher.
And here’s where things get really interesting: I’ve never read Tracey Wolff. At all. Ever. And this is shocking to me because she’s written a lot of books, most of them romance or erotic romance. Like, how did I miss her? Especially since she wrote for Harlequin Desire back in the day and that imprint was an auto-buy addiction for me before I started shopping at a grocery store that doesn’t carry them. I should have read at least something of hers before. Since I haven’t, I get to walk into this thing fresh as a daisy. And I’ve never heard anything bad about her that would have put me off reading this book. Everything seems pretty above-board with this one, ethically.
Plus, I actually did love Twilight, despite a brief period of insisting I only liked it “ironically” or I downright hated it because it’s what all the cool kids were doing at the time and I was furious with Breaking Dawn.
Seriously. That is how you wrap this conflict up? Really?
Anyway, I’m going into this with a brand-new-to-me author, in a book that seems to be part of a burgeoning vampire renaissance, masterminded by the woman who thought signing Alexa Riley was a great idea. What could go wrong?
Honestly, though, I’m hoping it goes right. And I haven’t really heard anything from anyone to suggest that it won’t. So let’s dive in.
First of all, the writing in this book? It’s not bad. A lot of times, books we read here will be a trash heap in terms of content, story, the nature of its publication and the terrible writing, but a lot of the books we read here are also overwhelmingly first efforts from brand new authors. There are only two, I believe, that we’ve done that hasn’t been the first book or series for the author. So, it’s refreshing to have someone who actually knows how to get the story moving in the right direction, right away.
I stand at the outer tarmac door staring at the plane I am about to get on and try my hardest not to freak out.
It’s easier said than done.
Not just because I’m about to leave behind everything I know, though up until two minutes ago, that was my main concern.
So, the opening of Feminist Twilight ™ gives us the heroine, Grace, who is moving away from everything she knows. This tracks with the Twilight connection, but honestly, a lot of YA books start out this way. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Her Uncle Finn has sent a dude name Philip to pick her up for the last leg of the journey.
If you had told me a month ago that I would be standing on the outskirts of an airport in Fairbanks, Alaska, I would’ve said that you were misinformed. And if you had told me that the whole reason I was in Fairbanks was to catch the tiniest puddle jumper in existence to what feels like the very edge of the world–or in this case, a town on the edge of Denali, the highest mountain in North America–I would have said that you were high as a freaking kite.
For those not fully immersed in the world of Stephenie Meyer’s vampires, Edward spends time with the Denali clan in Alaska. So, that’s a clever nod.
In fact, the only thing I have been able to count on these past few weeks is that no matter how bad things are, they can always get worse…
Then we move on to chapter one. As you can see above, the chapters have long titles. This one makes more sense than the first one.
Anyway, Grace got on the plane and we rejoin her as her destination comes into view:
“There she is,” Philip says as we clear the peaks of several mountains, taking one hand off the steering column to point to a small collection of buildings in the distance. “Healy, Alaska. Home sweet home.”
“Oh, wow. It looks…” Tiny. It looks really, really tiny. Way smaller than just my neighborhood in San Diego.
Well…that’s a bit like Twilight, isn’t it? I mean, lots of YA books start out with a “new in town” aspect, but California girl moves to Alaska and Arizona girl moves to Washington is a little on the nose.
During an intense, rough landing, we get some exposition about why she’s leaving her home:
I bite my lip, keep my eyes squeeze firmly shut even as my heart threatens to burst out of my chest. If this is the end, I don’t need to see it coming.
The thought distracts me, has me wondering just what my mom and dad might have seen coming, and by the time I shut down that line of thinking, Philip has the plane sliding to a shaky, shuddering halt.
I know exactly how it feels. Right now, even my toes are trembling.
This. This, dear reader, is how you subtly work in the character’s backstory. See the context? She’s not remembering her mother’s grisly murder because she saw her own hair in a mirror, an event that would take place at least once a day for most people. She’s not launching into some elaborately detailed flashback that takes us out of the action. One little moment of connection to the tragedy that explains what that tragedy was. Her parents died in some kind of accident. Bam. That’s all we need at the moment.
By the way, this is the kind of thing that you have to work at relentlessly and Wolff does it very well.
After the harrowing landing, we get a little more of what’s going on here:
After taking a few seconds to make sure I’m not going to crumble—and to pull my brand-new coat more tightly around me because it’s literally about eight degrees out here—I head to the back of the plane to get the three suitcases that are all that is left of my life.
I feel a pang looking at them, but I don’t let myself dwell on everything I had to leave behind, any more than I let myself dwell on the idea of strangers living in the house I grew up in. After all, who cares about a house or art supplies or a drum kit when I’ve lost so much more?
I have a weird feeling that this book is going to give me a few uncomfortable moments with regard to how Twilighty it will be. I think marketing it as the “feminist Twilight” was a bad move when there are so many things that stick out as just a little too close, changed juuuust enough. But at the same time, this is such a common way to start a YA novel. Kid moving somewhere new, thinking about their stuff all packed up, remembering their old life, etc. Marketing it as “feminist Twilight” (much in the way Entangled marketed another series as Roswell-meets-Twilight) puts that title in the mind of the reader, making any similarities seem larger and more suspect (except for in the case of Twilight-with-aliens. That was 100% ripped off).
Basically, what I’m saying is, I’m not accusing Wolff of copying Twilight, I’m saying that using Twilight as a comp has done a disservice to Crave. I mean, let’s take a look:
- Heroine moving from big city, warm climate to small town, cold climate
- Takes place in a small town near Denali National Park, a mountain area home to a vampire clan in the Twilight franchise
- Description of how little heroine has brought, weather inappropriateness of clothing at the same percentage in the ebook as in Twilight
And that percentage I just mentioned? 2%. We’re 2% into the story of Crave and there are three striking similarities. None of these things would have probably pinged my radar if I hadn’t already been told to expect to be reading Twilight by the marketing campaign but once we’ve been told that this is specifically supposed to be like Twilight, it makes it seem shady.
And to be honest the cover:
It does seem a little bit…
Wait, what’s this on the copyright page?
That certainly explains a few things, doesn’t it?
Grace and the pilot, Phillip, take Grace’s bags to the parking lot and there’s some description of how the airport is really just a runway and some parking spots. Again, great detail, it tells us exactly how small and isolated this town is.
I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do from here, how I’m supposed to get to the boarding school my uncle is headmaster of, so I turn to ask Philip if Uber is even a thing up here. But before I can get a word out, someone steps from behind one of the pickup trucks in the lot and rushes straight toward me.
I think it’s my cousin, Macy, but it’s hard to tell, considering she’s covered from head to toe in protective weather gear.
“You’re here!” the moving pile of scarves and jackets says, and I was right–it’s definitely Macy.
Macy is described as being sixteen-years-old and eight inches taller than Grace, who we learn is seventeen. Right away, this book has something Twilight did not. It has two female characters in a scene and one of them isn’t thinking about how much better she is than everyone else. Bella came off that way a lot of the time, and Grace does here, just for a second:
“I’m here,” I agree dryly, wondering if it’s too late to reconsider foster care. Or emancipation. Any living situation in San Diego has got to be better than living in a town whose airport consists of one runway and a tiny parking lot.
So, there are two things that could have been fixed here, right? One of these things is that her thoughts about foster care or emancipation seem at first to be in reference to the presence of her cousin. It hits as a very, ugh, this girl is talking to me, moment until she follows it up with her complaint about the town. It took my brain a second to catch up that she wasn’t being bitchy about the fact that her cousin was happy to see her, she was thinking about how awful the place is. And you know what? That’s another place I feel Wolff has been set up by the publicity push with this book; because I’m expecting Twilight, I’m expecting the heroine to loathe all the other female characters.
The other thing I might have changed is that at this point, I’ve heard way too much about how small the airport is. It just doesn’t seem like something a teenager would fixate on the most. It feels more like someone buying a vacation rental and worrying about accessibility.
But that’s just a nitpick.
Macy tells Philip that her dad owes him a case of beer, and we learn that though Grace doesn’t really know Macy or Uncle Finn, they’re her only family left. Philip says that it wasn’t a big deal to pick up Grace, since he had to run errands, anyway.
He says it so casually, like hopping in a plane for a couple-hundred-mile round-trip journey is no big deal. Then again, out here where there’s nothing but mountains and snow in all directions, maybe it’s not. After all, according to Wikipedia, Healy has only one major road in and out of it, and in the winter sometimes even that gets closed down.
So, remember that movie 30 Days of Night? It’s about a group of vampires who take over a small, isolated town in Alaska during a month with no sunlight. At one point, the main vampire says something like, “Why didn’t we think of this before,” and I laughed so hard at it. Because it’s just so obvious. Of course, vampires would want to go to Alaska. Why isn’t every vampire story set in Alaska? It’s like, the perfect place for half the year. So, I’m quite tickled by the setting here, and the ominous foreshadowing on one road in, one road out, sometimes blocked.
Macy tells Grace that Uncle Finn couldn’t be at the airport due to an emergency at the school, but Grace doesn’t mind.
Besides, if I’ve learned anything in the month since my parents died, it’s just how little most things matter.
Who cares who picks me up as long as I get to the school?
Who cares where I live if it’s not going to be with my mom and dad?
Here’s another place where you can see the difference between a seasoned writer and a first time writer. One of the most common complaints about Twilight is that Bella comes off as a haughty brat. The reason she comes off that way is that she has a pretty shallow reason for going to Forks: her mother is moving in with her boyfriend, wants Bella to come along, but Bella decides to go live with her father, in a town she doesn’t want to be in, where she mopes about not wanting to be there for two books straight. Bella made her own choice to leave and made it the reader’s problem.
Here, Grace doesn’t have a choice. She has no parents. She has no other place to go. She’s suddenly alone in the world and she has nothing. Now, I’m not saying that Twilight needed to have Renee die to make the plot work. In fact, I think it would have made less sense (my take on Bella’s motivation to become a vampire is that it has less to do with undying love for Edward and more to do with the idea of being part of a functioning family but I won’t write that dissertation here, as I’ve already written it for SyFy Fangrrls). But what if it was Renee’s idea for Bella to go? Or, what if the theme of Bella being her mother’s stand-in mom was explored a little more thoroughly? The seeds were there, but when we read Crave, Grace has actually sprouted.
Macy warns Grace that if she needs to pee, she should do it before they leave on the ninety-minute drive to the school.
Ninety minutes? That doesn’t seem possible when the whole town looks like we could drive it in fifteen, maybe twenty minutes at the most. Then again, when we were flying over, I didn’t see any building remotely big enough to be a boarding school for close to four hundred teenagers, so maybe the school isn’t actually in Healy.
Again, because I’ve got Twilight on the brain, the high school in Forks had just a shade under four hundred students.
The reason it’s going to take so long to get to the school is that they’re not taking one of those pickups in the parking lot. They’re riding on a snowmobile.
Now, I’ll admit, this part bored the shit out of me. There are some little details that are nice, like Macy bringing Grace hot pink snow pants and a scarf because it was Grace’s favorite color when they were kids (this tells us that they haven’t seen each other in a long while), and Macy reassuring Grace that it’s okay if she doesn’t know everything about how to live in Alaska, yet, but mostly it’s a description of Grace not knowing how to work a scarf, then an explanation of what snowmobile helmets do. I’m not going to lay a blanket, “This is bad writing!” on it, because I’m not sure that I, a Michigander, can accurately judge the level of detail needed in a snowmobile ride preparation scene when compared to, say, what someone from San Antonio might need explained to them.
Macy wraps an arm around my shoulders and squeezes tight. “Alaska is a lot. Everyone who comes here has a learning curve. You’ll figure it all out soon enough.”
I’m not holding my breath on that one–I can’t imagine that this cold, foreign place will ever feel familiar to me–but I don’t say anything. not when Macy has already done so much to try and make me feel welcome.
“I’m really sorry you had to come here, Grace,” she continues after a second. “I mean, I’m really excited that you’re here. I just wish it wasn’t because…” Her voice drifts off before she finishes the sentence. But I’m used to that by now. After weeks of having my friends and teachers tiptoe around me, I’ve learned that no one wants to say the words.
Here again, the mark of an author who knows what she’s doing. So often, we’re reading protagonists in Jealous Haters Book Club who are so consumed by their own lives and drama that they don’t care how they’re treating other people. Here, we have the heroine going, you know, my life sucks right now, I hate where I am, everything is awkward and terrible, but I recognize that it’s not easy for other people to face my grief, either, and none of this situation is Macy’s fault, so I’m not going to lash out at her.
There aren’t many Jealous Haters Book Club characters we can apply that to. So, maybe these recaps are going to be a hell of a lot easier than books of days past.
The chapter ends with them racing off on the snowmobile and Jenny wiping the sweat of relief from her brow because she’s actually recapping a book that might not increase her risk of stroke.