CW: threatened rape
The chapter titles are beginning to wear on me, I gotta admit. Really starting to grind me down. And you’ll see why at the end of this chapter.
In other news, I’m still reading Tracy Wolff’s other book, Royal Treatment. It’s not an epically long book or anything, but the Dune trailer came out and I remembered I wanted to reread that before the movie came out and then I steamrolled right into Dune Messiah and Children of Dune and I binged those.
That’s how I describe reading straight through a book all at once. Because usually, I read the way people watch tv shows. A few chapters here, a few chapters there. And it’s not that Royal Treatment isn’t a good book or enjoyable. It’s just not in the genre I’m interested in reading right now. But still, I see no evidence that Wolff’s of the McGuire/James/Glines school of abuse-me-until-I-love-you.
That said, I have a little bit of an issue with some stuff in this chapter.
Grace wakes up with a perfect description of altitude sickness:
I wake up slowly, head fuzzy and body as heavy as stone.
She’s also doing that thing where you wake up and have no idea where you are, which is also common with altitude sickness.
I sit up, trying to ignore the unfamiliar howls and roars—and even the occasional animalistic scream—in the distance.
I feel like if you’re in a big ass stone castle and you’re still hearing animals outside, you’d get that there’s something kinda off about the place? She thinks she’s freaked out because she’s a city girl and makes herself feel better knowing that there’s a “giant castle wall” protecting her but come on, Grace. You’re smarter than this.
But it wasn’t the animal screeching that woke her up.
But once I banish thoughts of my old life, it isn’t Alaska that woke me up at—I glance at the clock—3:23 in the morning. And it’s not Alaska that’s keeping me awake.
You’ll never guess what it is.
Look, we all knew it was going to go into obsessive teen love because it’s YA and teens are the audience this book is meant for. When I was a teenager, the obsessive teen love thing was my absolute favorite, too.
But like, why this dude? He’s a total dick. She even describes feeling “angry and confused and hurting.” Why lose sleep over a boy who leaves you feeling that way after one interaction?
Yet when I close my eyes, I can still see him so perfectly. His clenched jaw. The thin scar that runs the length of his face. The black ice of his eyes that lets me see for a second—just a second—that he knows as much about pain as I do. Maybe more.
He got his face cut. You lost your parents and had to move to Alaska.
It’s that pain I think of most as I sit here in the dark. That pain that makes me worry for him when I shouldn’t give a damn one way or the other.
No, baby. It’s your pain making you worry about him. It gives you something better to focus on. Grace has been developed as having gained a deeper emotional intelligence after the deaths of her parents, but she’s still a kid, so this isn’t something I’m expecting her to realize. Still, it’s frustrating to not be able to reach into this book and go, “NO! NO YOU GO BACK TO YOUR ROOM AND YOU THINK ABOUT A NICE BOY OR SOMEONE ON TV!”
I wonder how he got that scar. However it happened, it had to have been awful. Terrifying. Traumatic. Devastating.
I hope we find out he got it in a waterslide accident.
So, whenever Jaxon enters the chat, the tone of the writing becomes so uneven. For example:
Macy said he was angsty…does that mean he treats everyone the way he treated me? And if so, why? Because he’s just a jerk? Or because he’s in so much pain that the only way he can handle it is to make everyone afraid of him so that he can keep them at a distance? Or do people see his scar and his scowl and decide to keep their distance all on their own?
That paragraph just feels too on-the-nose for how the story’s been written so far. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is that seems to throw it off. It’s like, a litany of excuses for his behavior… I wish I wasn’t concussed so I could properly explain myself. It just doesn’t feel like the Grace we’ve been reading about. Especially since she goes from that analysis to this:
It’s an awful thought but one I can totally relate to. Not the people being afraid of me part but definitely the people keeping their distance part.
It’s possible that this is a case of how an adult has detached from teen thinking. Because it’s hard to remember what it was like to be a teenager sometimes, especially since as a teenager you’re already overestimating your emotional maturity.
But again. I have a concussion. If you know what I’m talking about and can verbalize it better, please do so in the comments.
Grace sends some texts she forgot to send to Heather when she first arrived safely and tries to go back to sleep, but she can’t really fall asleep.
And suddenly it’s right there. All the thoughts I’d shoved aside for the past forty-eight hours, just to get through leaving. Just to get here. My parents, leaving San Diego and my friends, that ridiculous airplane ride into Healy. Macy’s expectations for our friendship, the way Jaxon looked at me and then didn’t look at me, the things he said to me. The ridiculous amount of clothes I have to wear here to keep warm. The fact that I’m essentially trapped in this castle by the cold…
It all kind of melds together into one great big carousel of fear and regret, whirling through my brain. No thoughts are clear, no images stand out from any of the others—only an overwhelming feeling of impending doom.
I wish I could excerpt the whole panic attack she has. It’s incredibly written. I’m not sure I’ve read one that has been so accurate. If you’re interested in seeing an example of showing, not telling? It’s in here.
I know I should stay where I am—this castle is gigantic, and I have no idea where anything is—but I’m smart enough to know if I stay here staring at the ceiling, I’m going to end up having a full-blown panic attack.
This is another accurate thing. A PTSD coping method is to become aware of your surroundings so you don’t kind of get sucked back into your head and/or have flashbacks. If exploring the castle is going to help put her back into her body and make her aware that she’s in the present, good for her for recognizing that.
I really love how front and center PTSD is in this book, but I’m disappointed that it never gets specifically named. That’s the only complaint I have about the mental health depictions in here.
Grace is surprised to find that the castle is dark because she’s used to seeing places leave lights on for safety reasons.
Like just enough light to see imaginary shadows sweeping along the corridors dim.
Because of this, she considers going back to her room but then she’s like, no, it’s going to be worse in the room with my panic attack. Then something happens that really tickled me:
Like just enough light to see imaginary shadows sweeping along the corridors dim.
Isn’t that great? This is the kind of detail that authors from my generation tend to struggle with in YA. Every now and then, you’ll see scenes where kids are in situations where you’d go, why not just use your phone for that, or why not get on the internet and look it up? Stuff like kids going to the school library to look stuff up, not because they live in Sunnydale but because the author was thinking about their own high school experience, where the library was the only source of information. This is the kind of attention to detail I’m looking for, that’s missing in a lot of really popular YA.
So, there’s some pretty standard magic school exploring, I won’t go into all of that, but the point is that, very, very like Forks High School, there are outbuildings where some classes are held, but most are in the main building.
Grace finds a tapestry of the Northern Lights and she thinks:
I’ve always wanted to see them, and somehow, in all the pain and worry about moving to Alaska, I totally forgot that I’ll pretty much have a front-row seat out here.
Now, because she’s from California, she’s unaware that they’re not just happening all the time and decides, hey, this is a bucket list item, I’m going to go see if I can find them. She finds the doors to a courtyard, they blow open, and:
And in walk two guys wearing nothing but old-school concert T-shirts, jeans, and lace-up boots. No jackets, no sweaters, no hoodies, even. Just ripped jeans, Mötley Crüe, and Timberlands. It’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen, and for a second, I can’t help wondering if this castle—like Hogwarts—comes equipped with its very own ghosts. Ones who died at an eighties rock concert.
Though I realize the point I’m supposed to be getting here is that they’re walking in from the Alaska cold but when I first read “wearing nothing but” I truly did not expect for the rest of the sentence to describe them as fully clothed.
I guess basically she’s run into the cast of The Lost Boys here because they immediately start spouting predictable lines straight out of a cheesy teen movie:
“Well, well, well. Looks like we made it back just in time,” says the taller of the two guys. He’s got warm copper skin, dark hair tied back in a ponytail, and a black nose ring right through his septum. “What are you doing out of bed, Grace?”
Grace is like, how do they know my name, and then she’s like, whoa, why is this guy literally sniffing me?
GRACE. GRACE. THEY ARE VAMPIRES GRACE.
Because the guys give her the creeps, she tells them she was just getting some water. The other guy asks her if she found any.
It seems like an innocuous enough question, except he’s walking toward me as he asks it, getting into my personal space until I have to decide whether to stand my ground or back up.
She ultimately goes with, “back up” and starts slowly moving away from them, saying she’s going to bed.
“Before we even have a chance to get to know you? That doesn’t seem very polite, does it, Marc?” the short-haired one asks.
This is another example of the at times uneven writing I’m noticing. That line could have been from literally any other book or movie in which the female protagonist is being menaced by men. It’s like, okay, we get it, her virtue is in danger.
“It doesn’t, no,” Marc answers, and now he’s really close, too. “Especially since Foster’s been up our asses about you for weeks now.”
Grace is like, wait, what are you talking about, and then we find out:
“It means we’ve had three different meetings about you, all warning us to be on our best behavior. It’s annoying as hell. Right, Quinn?”
So, her uncle, who is so afraid that she won’t feel welcome or safe at the school due to the students who live there, had three separate meetings with the student body to point out who she is and that she’s vulnerable. No, that sounds like a great situation to walk into, vampires or not. Everyone loves being a stranger showing up to a place where the people are already completely over your existence.
Another thing that disappoints me here is how we learned their names. If they’re actively planning to hurt Grace, why are they giving her their names? That doesn’t make any sense.
Quinn yanks her hair like a toddler and Grace feels more and more uneasy about these guys. IDK, Grace, what is it about them that makes you think they might be dangerous? The fact that they’re reading their lines aloud from the Evil Rapist High School Bully Handbook?
But there’s trouble here. I can feel it, just like I can feel the barely leashed violence rolling off these guys in waves. It’s like they’re desperate to hurt someone, desperate to rip someone apart. I don’t want that someone to be me.
This is why I get frustrated sometimes with this book. It’s not a terrible book. Yes, parts of it are clearly inspired by other properties (if you’re familiar with Twilight, you know exactly how the rest of this part of the story is gonna go), but the writing is overall really sharp. Until it’s not. Again, I wonder how much of this was tinkered with after Wolff wrote it because the description of how Grace can sense the potential for violence is perfect, but then you plunk into a big ole pile of eye-rolls.
“What do you think, Grace?” Marc sneers. “You think you can handle Alaska? Because I’m pretty sure it’s going to naturally unselect you pretty damn quick.”
That is where I would 100% die because I would instantly be like, “That’s not how natural selection works.”
No, seriously, I believe that my cause of death will be listed as “semantics.”
She tells them that she doesn’t want any trouble, and they’re like, do we look like trouble, and I put my brain on autopilot because I’ve seen a billion iterations of this scene before. Grace even notices the similarities:
Part of me thinks I must be dreaming, because this feels like a scene out of every teen movie ever, where the school bullies decide to gang up on the new kid just to show her who’s boss.
God, I hope Wolff added that line in response to an editor’s suggestion earlier in the scene.
Then the guys are like, hey, have you seen snow before?
“I saw plenty of snow on the way up here.”
“On the back of a snowmobile? That doesn’t count, does it, Quinn?”
Man, these kids love using each other’s names. It’s so convenient for the reader, who is meeting them for the first time.
True Story: the name thing is a pet peeve my friend Bronwyn Green and I have in common. I will tell her about this chapter like so: “Hey, BRONWYN, do you know what’s kind of bothering me about this book I’m reading, BRONWYN?” She will reply, “No, JENNY, what is bothering you about this book, JENNY?” and that will be all that needs to be said.
“No.” Quinn shakes his head with a snarl that shows an awful lot of teeth. “You definitely need to get closer. Show us what you can do.”
“What I can do?” I have no idea what they’re talking about.
“I mean, it’s obvious you’ve got something going on.” This time, when he breathes in, I’m sure Marc is smelling me. “I just can’t quite figure out what it is, yet.”
Okay, so Grace has some kind of power. Noted, Marc.
He shifts, braces himself, and that’s when it hits me. What they’re planning on doing. And just how much danger I’m really in.
That’s the chapter hook, and it rolls straight into my “these chapter titles are pointless and jarring” argument. Grace realizes she’s about to get raped. I know it doesn’t say “rape” in the book. It never says “rape” in the book. But everyone knows that’s what’s at stake when a defenseless girl in a piece of media geared toward young women is surrounded by leering men. It’s no different than in real life.
And the way this experience is summed up by a chapter title is with a reference to Frozen.
I don’t think I need to explain why using cutesy pop culture references before scenes where a woman is threatened with rape is off-putting. You get it. The author and editor should have gotten it, too.