All right! Back at it again with the actually good book we’re reading. Now, some have reminded me that I also thought The Mister was a good book when we started it but I was really forcing myself to be generous with that one. From what we’ve seen so far with Crave, the author can actually write sentences that don’t make you want to hurl yourself from a helicopter into the caldera of an erupting volcano.
Since it’s been a minute between recaps, previously, on Crave, we met Grace, an orphan who’s moved to Alaska to live with her only remaining relatives, who run a boarding school at the edge of Denali National Park. Right now, she’s on a snowmobile with her cousin, Macy.
The school is Katmere Academy and I don’t know where that name comes from but I know there’s a kind of fried dough called katmer and now I’m hungry.
The first paragraphs of the chapter are a little repetitious; we already knew it was cold and snowy and freezing when they left the airport. Stuff like this:
And if that place also happens to be warm and devoid of the local wildlife I can hear howling in the distance, then I’m all about it. Especially since everything south of my waist seems to have fallen asleep…
is kinda cool because it’s giving us a sense that they’re in the woods and it’s kind of spooky and foreboding, but it doesn’t hold up as a good enough reason to once again reiterate the coldness of Alaska. Especially when it’s unlikely you’d hear the local wildlife over the snowmobile and wind with a helmet on. This is a minor quibble, but it drew me out of the story enough to note it. Remember, when you’re writing deep POV or first-person POV, you can’t include information that the character wouldn’t be able to access. This is true for sensory stuff, too; if your character has a helmet on and is riding a noisy machine in windy weather, including detail about distant sounds breaks the fourth wall unless those are some really, really loud distant sounds.
As for the repetition, Grace even says:
I mean, everyone knows Alaska is cold, but can I just say—it’s freaking cold, and I was not prepared.
Which wouldn’t seem like overstatement if we hadn’t just read a scene in which she is literally unprepared, having very little cold-weather gear.
As they approach the school…
Or should I say the huge castle looming in front of us, because the dwelling I’m looking at is nothing like a modern building. And absolutely nothing like any school I have ever seen. I tried to Google it before I got here, but apparently Katmere Academy is so elite even Google hasn’t heard of it.
First of all, it’s big. Like, really big…and sprawling. From here it looks like the brick wall in front of the castle stretches halfway around the mountain.
This is another nit I’m going to have to pick. It seems incredibly unlikely to me that a sprawling castle of a school built into the side of a mountain that gets like 600,000 visitors a year wouldn’t have shown up in pictures on the internet, let alone various nature documentaries about the park. This is something I could have bought back in the ’00s, but it’s impossible that no one has accidentally stumbled across it or gotten a drone shot of it in the ’10s. I hope we learn that this is actually a Brakebills situation where people without permission can’t see it.
The structure itself is described as a Gothic cathedral-style building, which brings to mind St. Vladimir’s from Vampire Academy. I can’t find my copy of Vampire Academy, but I do remember that the school was Gothic-style, hidden near the mountains of Montana. I’m not liking the way we’re leaning into a pastiche of genre classics as we roll along but this book is nothing if not exactly as advertised. We were promised nostalgia for Twilight and that will naturally lead to other staples of ’00s YA getting a nod here and there.
When they get off the snowmobile, we get a look at Macy:
It’s the first time I’ve seen her without all the cold-weather gear, and I can’t help smiling at her rainbow-colored hair. It’s cut in a short, choppy style that should be smooshed and plastered to her head after three hours in a helmet, but instead it looks like she just walked out of a salon. Which matches the rest of her, now that I think about it, considering her whole coordinating jacket, boots, and snow pants look kind of shouts cover model for some Alaskan wilderness fashion magazine.
I think we can safely assume that in the Twilight of it all, this is going to be our quirky, Alice-type character. But if Alice and Claudia from The Babysitters’ Club got fused together in some kind of particle accelerator mishap.
Now, after that description, we get this:
On the other hand, I’m pretty sure my look says I’ve gone a couple of rounds with a pissed-off caribou. And lost. Badly. Which seems fair, since that’s about how I feel.
When you’re writing in first-person, especially if you’re writing in first-person, present-tense, it’s so difficult to find the right way to describe the narrator’s physical appearance from scene to scene. But this is done really well. Let’s break it down:
- description of another character
- comparison of the protagonist to that character
- description provides internal detail about the protagonist
I love this formula for adding detail and if you’ve read my books you know I rely on it. Hopefully, you didn’t pick up on it. But it’s being pulled off A+ here. Not only are we learning what Macy is looking like, but we’re also getting a visual of Grace’s current appearance in a way that believably flows.
Not only does Grace have the cold to contend with, but she’s also got to get used to the higher altitude and thinner oxygen.
Just the idea of not being able to breathe sets off the beginnings of the panic attack I’ve barely kept at bay all day. Closing my eyes, I take a deep breath—or as deep as I can out here—and try to fight it back.
In, hold for five seconds, out. In, hold for ten seconds, out. In, hold for five seconds, out. Just like Heather’s mom taught me. Dr. Blake is a therapist, and she’s been giving me tips on how to deal with the anxiety I’ve been having since my parents died. But I’m not sure her tips are up to combatting all this any more than I am.
Our heroine has panic attacks! Fantastic! I mean, not fantastic for her, but far more realistic than some books I’ve read. Losing her parents didn’t make her a possibly immortal goth ninja. She didn’t just rock up to Camp Half-Blood like, yo, my mom exploded, let’s go on adventures (sorry, I just didn’t feel that Percy’s reaction to the death of his mother was…enough). She has lasting, realistic trauma, which I find lacking in a lot of YA and middle-grade books when a parent dies.
Something else fantastic? When Grace feels like she should pretend to be okay in order to put Macy at ease (a very real thing mentally ill people do so as not to burden others), Macy says:
“It’s going to be okay,” she tells me, her own eyes wide with sympathy. “Just stand there and catch your breath. I’ll carry your suitcases up to the door.”
“I can do it.”
“Seriously, it’s okay. Just chill for a minute.” She holds up her hand in the universal stop gesture. “We’re not in any hurry.”
Whenever a female character shows up in a genre YA, especially a paranormal YA, I get this weird tension in my shoulders, waiting for the other shoe to drop when the author sets her up as some kind of monster so the reader can enjoy triumphant girl hate. But here we’ve got a female side character being pretty and not a bitch. This gives me hope.
Now, before you go, “Yes, Jenny, this is, after all, the feminist Twilight,” remember that you’re in Trout Nation and ’round these parts we don’t have a feminism bar so low that simply “one female character is not a tired caricature of a conniving bitch” clears it. Still, it’s nice to see it here!
As she tries to recover from her panic attack, Grace sees “a flash of red” in the window of “the tallest tower”.
I have a nit I’m about to pick.
I don’t know who it is or why they even matter, but I stop where I am. Watching. Waiting. Wondering if whoever it is will make another appearance.
It isn’t long before they do.
I can’t see clearly—distance, darkness, and the distorted glass of the windows cover up a lot—but I get the impression of a strong jaw, shaggy dark hair, a red jacket against a background of light.
So, remember how big and imposing this castle is? But standing at its base, she’s able to discern someone’s “strong jaw” through the top-most windows.
It’s not much, and there’s no reason for it to have caught my attention—certainly no reason for it to have held my attention—and yet I find myself staring up at the window so long that Macy has all three of my suitcases at the top of the stairs before I even realize it.
Gosh, I wonder if that’s the love interest.
Suffering from altitude sickness, Grace finally makes it inside the castle, which is, you know. Castle-y. When Macy asks Grace if she wants to see the rest of the place, Grace responds exactly as one would in this scenario:
I’m still far from sold on the Alaskan boarding school thing, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to check out the castle. I mean, it’s a castle, […]
Right? That’s what I’m saying.
As they move through the castle, they start to run into students who are lounging around. Now, not having read ahead in the book, my assumption is an automatic, “all these kids are vampires,” because a) it’s a creepy castle boarding school in one of those places in the world that conveniently doesn’t have sun for half the year and b) because we know the love interest is a vampire. In any case, they’re obviously interested in the new girl, and given the circumstances, Grace is obviously not interested in people being interested in her.
“Well, all the single rooms have been assigned for this term. Dad told me we could move some people around to get you one, but I really hoped you might want to room with me instead.” She smiles hopefully for a second, but it quickly fades as she continues. “I mean, I totally get that you might need some space to yourself right now after…”
And there’s that fade-out again. It gets to me, just like it does every time. Usually, I ignore it, but this time I can’t stop myself from asking, “After what?”
Just this once, I want someone else to say it. Maybe then it will feel more real and less like a nightmare.
Except as Macy gasps and turns the color of the snow outside, I realize it’s not going to be her. And that it’s unfair of me to expect it to be.
Look! A heroine who realizes that while her emotions are valid, she is responsible for the way she treats people! And in such an extreme situation, too!
By the way, this is something I did not like about Bella Swann. Her aloofness when she first arrived in Forks made sense to me, as did her feeling that she didn’t fit in with the kids in her school. But I could never figure out why she’d keep hanging out with them while thinking about how shitty it was to hang out with them. Stay home. Read your books, nerd.
Anyway, Grace doesn’t want to make Macy feel bad because it’ll make Grace fall apart, too, and people are already staring at her.
So instead of melting into Macy for the hug I so desperately need, instead of letting myself think about how much I miss home and my parents and my life, I pull back and give her the best smile I can manage. “Why don’t you show me to our room?”
Look! A heroine who doesn’t immediately demand sympathy from the reader because oh my gosh, other girls are so mean and she feels bullied into agreeing with stuff! That was another thing I’ve never quite understood about a lot of YA in the late ’00s and early ’10s. The heroines always kind of had things just happen to them, or they were coerced into answering their call to adventure.
Macy goes off to find her dad and leaves Grace in a hallway alcove with a chessboard, which sounds pretty cool and very much like something from The Pyramid Collection catalog.
When I put down this dragon piece, I go to the other side of the board and pick up the vampire queen. She’s beautiful, with long, flowing hair and an elaborately decorated cape.
“I’d be careful with that one if I were you. She’s got a nasty bite.” The words are low and rumbly and so close that I nearly fall out of my chair.
A vampire queen chess piece? Sign me up for this set. I’m about ready to email Tracy Wolff and ask her if she made it up or if it’s a set I can buy somewhere.
But please notice, dear readers, that someone very important has shown up. Someone I have weirdly been imagining as Antonio Banderas in Interview with the Vampire.
Instead, I jump up, plopping the chess piece down with a clatter, then whirl around—heart pounding—only to find myself face-to-face with the most intimidating guy I’ve ever seen. And not just because he’s hot…although he’s definitely that.
Still, there’s something more to him, something different and powerful and overwhelming, though I don’t have a clue what it is.
I know this one. It’s that he’s the love interest in a YA novel.
Look, I’m not bashing YA novels here, I’m really not. But there are certain tropes that get used a lot. Again, without having read ahead, here’s my guess for what’s going to happen:
- He’s going to bully her for a while
- She’s going to hate him
- But think about how sexy he is all the time
- He’s going to be aggressively “flirtatious”
- She’s going to hate it
- Until she doesn’t
- Because he’s got a lot of pain
- And her love can fix him
I hope that isn’t the case but I’ll tell you right now: the select paranormal YA titles I’ve read from this publisher have all followed exactly this formula. Come on, Tracy. Prove me wrong. I want to love this book.
So, this guy has “skyscraper cheekbones” and “alabaster skin” and “obsidian” eyes.
And even worse, those all-knowing eyes are laser-focused on me right now, and I’m suddenly terrified that he can see all the things I’ve worked so hard and so long to hide. I try to duck my head, try to yank my gaze from his, but I can’t. I’m trapped by his stare, hypnotized by the sheer magnetism rolling off him in waves.
Grace, my little Caribooberry, he’s hypnotizing you, he’s white as a statue, and his eyes are black. Also, he made a vampire bite joke. Don’t be this girl. Don’t be this girl who doesn’t understand she’s in a vampire story.
And now he’s grinning, one corner of his mouth turning up in a crooked little smile that I feel in every single cell. Which only makes it worse, because that smirk says he knows exactly what kind of effect he’s having on me. And worse, that he’s enjoying it.
Is he truly a paranormal YA love interest if he doesn’t smirk? File under “aggressively ‘flirtatious'”.
The thing is, getting pissed off at the way he’s acting toward her makes her finally snap about how unfair everything in her life is at the moment. Like, the weird school, the scary plane ride, the cold, the dead parents, all of that had just built up and built up and this dude acting skeezy toward her is the final god damn straw.
It’s that anger that finally gives me the strength to break free of his gaze. I rip my eyes away, then search desperately for something else–anything else–to focus on.
You know. Like:
And land instead on his long, lean body. Then really wish I hadn’t, because the black jeans and T-shirt he’s wearing only emphasize his flat stomach and hard, well-defined biceps. Not to mention the double-wide shoulders that are absoluely responsible for blocking my view in the first place.
I feel like a lot of YA authors have never seen a real, live teenage boy in the wild.
And long, dark hair that’s worn a little too long, so that it falls forward into his face and skims low across his insane cheekbones, and there’s nothing to do but give in. Nothing to do but admit that–obnoxious smirk or not–this boy is sexy as hell.
A little wicked, a lot wild, and all dangerous.
How do we know that, though? We’re just gonna take it on the word of his cheekbones? I had a high school boyfriend with longish, dark hair and great cheekbones and the wildest we ever got was fully clothed grinding. For all Grace knows, this guy is just hot and awkward and doesn’t understand personal space.
When exactly did I become the heroine in some YA romance?
I have some news that may shock you.
The new girl swooning over the hottest, most unattainable boy in school?
Grace has no idea if he’s the hottest or most attainable boy in the school. And based on his description, for all she knows, he could be a teacher. Because his body doesn’t sound all that teen. That body sounds Hollywood teen, i.e., twenty-seven years old.
Finally, Grace decides you know what, screw the hypnotic intensity of his gorgeousness, I can tell by looking at him that he’s not looking at me the same way.
One glance and I know that this dark boy with the closed-off eyes and the fuck-you attitude isn’t the hero of anyone’s story. Least of all mine.
So, there’s a lot of telling v. showing here. Again, how do we know he has a fuck-you attitude? He told her a chess piece can bite and then stood too close to her. There’s no other verbal interaction. She’s just looking at him and deciding that based on his facial expression and hot body, he must be a total dick. I think this scene would have worked better if she’d been genuinely uneasy around him, rather than sexy-hot flustered. There is some focus on her emotional response to him in a negative fashion, but the last page of the chapter is almost all descriptions of his physical attractiveness. It really does skew toward the cliché Wolff seems to have tried to avoid. There just needed to be some balance here and I really, really hope this hero doesn’t follow down the established path of Entangled paranormal YA Alpholery because I very much want this to be my next Twilight.