Monday, June 4, 2012

Harbinger by Sara Wilson Etienne

Can we take a moment to just thoroughly stare at the gorgeous cover? I keep looking at it, way past even finishing the book. There’s a blurb from what of my all time favorites: Tamora Pierce. And then as the story goes on and tarot cards become rather significant pieces of the mystery, the cover just screams tarot card, which I for some reason didn’t see before.
The book, itself, shocked me and surprised me in ways I have not been shocked or surprised in for a long time in YA. For starters, I for some reason thought the book would be a witchy sort of paranormal romance. It was actually very much dystopia. Mix dystopia with a boarding school story, a main character that hallucinates, some insane levels of mystery, and just a pinch of love and you get this book.
It’s not exactly easy to summarize the plot of this one because the plot is just plain crazy. I literally had no idea where the author was going with this until the end. I had no guesses! I was completely lost in my feeling of uncertainty, and I loved every moment of it. Sometimes being lost was hard. What is real? What is Faye hallucinating? The main character is anything but reliable. She’s constantly seeing things like a never-ending ocean swallowing her up. She’s hearing drum beats and having nightmares that make her wake up screaming. And then there’s all the stuff she can’t remember, which reminded a little bit of The Maze Runner.
Okay, I’m backing stuff up a bit and hopefully making more sense now. The book is about Faye, a girl abandoned by a family who pretty much gives up on her. Her dad leaves her at a boarding school. And while at the school, she is getting fed three times a day and “educated,” while the rest of the planet seems to be dying off. There have been oil wars. And oil has hit an all time low, so people have been rationing off any lingering supplies. But, while the school is meant to make Faye better, it is just run so horrifically that I can’t possibly see how it could help anyone with mental illness at all, no matter what the circumstances of the world are.
There’s barbed wire fences, guards patrolling the grounds at all times, guards who are trained to use tazor guns and pepper spray on any rebellious teens, and punishments that go far darker and more painful than even pepper spray in the eyes. Her first day, Faye is put in solitary confinement, locked up in a dark room. Other times she is forced to squat on her legs for long periods of time. There’s even one scene that reminded me of the beginning of Jane Eyre where Jane has to stand in front of her whole school and be publicly humiliated. Well, at Faye’s school, she has to stand in front of everyone, be humiliated, take loud, angry insults from fellow students at the encouragement of the head of school, and then suffer through things being thrown at her. Seriously, this school was so messed up that I found myself physically shaking in anger at certain parts.
But the real story revolves around the mystery. Every night, Faye and her new friends wake up with red hands. And in Faye’s room there are red pictures on her floor of strange designs and people. Eventually you learn that the characters are digging. But, you don’t know for what. It’s clear that others know something is happening. There’s secret passageways, hidden diaries, tarot cards predicting a terrible future, friends who all hear the same drumbeats, and the ever-present dream of the ocean.
I was confused for a lot of the story because Faye was so confused. But this was actually okay. I was okay being confused because I just needed to know what on earth was happening. And somehow Etienne pulled off the crazy, suspenseful, and confusing writing style really well.
I remember being about ¾ of the way through the book and I was on my break at work, trying to explain to a co-worker just how crazy and confusing, yet awesome this book was, and I’m not sure if I ever was able to adequately explain how much I was on the edge of my seat here. I couldn’t guess the outcome yet, and I loved that about this book.
I loved the main character, and how rebellious she sometimes was. I loved all of her sayings she kept telling herself about fear and illusions. I love how much the truth was something she needed to find. And I definitely loved that the main character’s beliefs and needs overshadowed the whole love thing. I loved reading about the side characters, though I would have loved a little more development for them. I only really felt like I got to know her roommate, but all of the school “family” was rather mysterious, and definitely interesting.
What I didn’t like: the end! Okay, I’m not being completely honest. I was still shocked all the way to the last pages. And I loved that. But, once everything made sense I really think the book should have gone a different direction. It kind of had that sugar-coated, let’s make everything sunny kind of ending, which just did not fit with the rest of the incredibly dark book at all. Does it sound bad that I was kind of hoping for the sad ending? I never really want the world to end in books; I just felt like this could have happened here and I would definitely have accepted it better.
All in all, I really enjoyed this book. I loved being surprised. I loved the mystery. I loved the characters. I was disappointed in the very end of the ending, but I was still mostly just impressed. I would look forward to reading more from this author, and I hope she writes more soon. It gets a 9/10.

1 comment:

  1. The ending was quite a surprise but she laid intricate clues that made the ending very satisfying.

    It's a gripping literary thriller with paranormal elements set in a dystopian world. Truly a masterpiece in cross genre fiction!
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