dinsdag 5 augustus 2014

Review: Jennifer McMahon, Don't Breathe A Word

When browsing your local bookstore, GoodReads or whatever means you use to find a new book to read, some books are sure to pop up everywhere. It's very much possible to pave the street with Hunger Games lookalikes, and I lost count of how many times I came across a reference to The Fault In Our Stars this week. While I'm not trying to discourage anyone from reading those books - cause god knows I enjoy them very much myself - there are other books out there as well, and with a sole focus on what's hip and cool right now it's easy to miss out on the rest. A while back I came across a book that I had never heard of before, but one look at it made me want to read it.
I like pretty and/or fascinating covers, but I don’t let them cloud my judgement of the book. That is, I don’t judge a book solely by its cover. I’ve seen lots of books with very pretty or interesting covers, but when I dig a little deeper, the book turns out to be one of those I wouldn’t like in a million years, so no, I don’t buy based on face value alone. When I saw this book on my boyfriend’s shelves, however, I was immediately drawn to it. Those eyes, that creepy child, it just captivated me. Seeing as it was about Fairies and stuff, I decided to give it a try cause I needed to know exactly what that cover was hiding within those pages.

On a soft summer night in Vermont, twelve-year-old Lisa went into the woods behind her house and never came out again. Before she disappeared, she told her little brother, Sam, about a door that led to a magical place where she would meet the King of the Fairies and become his queen.

Fifteen years later, Phoebe is in love with Sam, a practical, sensible man who doesn't fear the dark and doesn't have bad dreams—who, in fact, helps Phoebe ignore her own. But suddenly the couple is faced with a series of eerie, unexplained occurrences that challenge Sam's hardheaded, realistic view of the world. As they question their reality, a terrible promise Sam made years ago is revealed—a promise that could destroy them all.
Let’s elaborate on the Fairy stuff. Fifteen years prior to the story, twelve-year-old Lisa went missing, kidnapped by the Fairy King to be his queen. Her brother Sam is left and turns his back to everything supernatural. When, in the present, he and his girlfriend Phoebe witness strange things, it seems Lisa is coming back and Sam’s beliefs are to be tested.
Seeing as I can summarise it in about three lines, the idea is pretty simple. The execution, however, is complicated and very well done. For those who can guess how this is all going to turn out, you should become a detective or something like that (*), cause whilst on the surface very simple, what lies underneath is everything but a simple plotline. There never was a point in the story where I felt like I knew what was going on. I always had some ideas, sure, but I never had the feeling like I knew it for sure this time around. The solution to the whole disappearance was quite shocking, I think, and the actual ending was just plain weird. In hindsight, I think it should have ended with the solving of the mystery and leave the epilogue for what it was. The whole book is very well constructed as a creepy, eerie, suspenseful mystery with a supernatural flavour to it. The solution to the mystery, how disturbing it may be, does fit and just adds to the atmosphere of it all. The ending – as in the epilogue – gave me just a big "what the hell????" feeling. Perhaps it’s because it comes so unexpected (**), but to me it felt a bit forced in order to provide some sort of solid reasoning behind everyone’s actions. Perhaps some readers might have appreciated it, but for me an explanation along the lines of ‘they’re all a bunch of loons’ would have been sufficient.
I thought the writing style was very fitting for this kind of story. The pacing was good and McMahon really know how to evoke a certain atmosphere. Especially the scenes who took place in the woods were written in a chilling fashion and gave me a claustrophobic feeling, even though it was out in the open. Another plus was how this book was constructed, with chapters alternating between Phoebe’s POV today, and twelve-years-old Lisa’s. Additionaly, I thought the illustrations and general lay-out of the book fitted the story very well and made the reading experience just a little nicer.
My only real complaint lies with the characters. What I love about reading, is how I get to know the characters and start to care for them. Here, however, that didn’t happen. I don’t feel like I truly know who Sam, Phoebe and Lisa are, and I sure don’t care about them. It’s not that they are not interesting, cause they are, as are the other characters in this book, but they didn’t engage me enough. For the most part of the book, they felt kind of one-dimensional. At times, they sort of seemed like cardboard figures who were making their way through the setting, instead of fleshed out characters interacting with what happened around them. They do have their own distinctive voices and you can tell them apart, but with so much happening in this book, they change very little and at times, they can’t get their emotions to come across towards the reader, I think. For me, that made the difference between liking and really liking this book.

After having read Don’t Breathe A Word, I can conclude that this book does give you what the cover evokes. It is a captivating, strange and by times disturbing story with a great opening line (***). Even though the characters aren’t what I would want them to be, I still enjoyed this book and if I should come across another of Jennifer McMahon’s books, I’ll sure be tempted to read it.

Fancy a walk through the woods yourself? Meet the fairies here!

(*) Or perhaps I just should not become a detective. My trackrecord for figuring out the plot is depressingly low.
(**) At least to me, but we've already covered that subject. 
(***) "Hotter than hot, no air-conditioning,, sweat pouring down in rivers, the Magic Fingers motel bed vibrating beneath her, Mr. Ice Cream doing his thing above." I don't know about you, but I'm immediately like 'Hello?!'. This first line is in no way representative of the rest of the rest of the book, but it's a nice way to draw your readers in.

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