Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Book Review Club - The Passenger

The Passenger
Alexandra Bracken

I love the books I struggle with. It's all about the challenge. Alexandra Bracken challenged me with The Passenger. And she's still challenging me. So let's hit the ring!

Basic premise: On the night of violinst extraordinaire and lifelong New Yorker, 17 year-old Etta Linden's premiere recital, her teacher is murdered, a hole opens up in time, and Etta is thrust into a centuries-old battle for control of basically all of humanity. Her only friend, Nicholas, is fellow time traveler, and secretly sent to keep Etta in line in her quest for the one object that can tilt the scales of power in favor of the least favorable hegemon, who now holds Etta's mother captive.

Get ready for a ride. Bracken takes readers from 1776 New York to WII London, the jungles of Cambodia, late 1800s Paris, and the deserts surrounding Damascus. There is nary a dull moment. Add to that a fierce romance between Nicholas and Etta, and you've got yourself perhaps the first summer read of the Spring.

What challenged me most about this piece was the balance of romance and action. Etta is no damsel in distress, but Nicholas, a former slave, comes from 1700s America and does have a bit of the hero to him, which is at once a fabulous twist on the hero and yet a hero nonetheless. Etta, however, coming from the present day, sees them as partners. Thus, there is a tension in expectations throughout the story - Nicholas trying to live up to an ideal no human can, and Etta not expecting it and working to redirect, to get him to see relationships in a different light. Again, kudos to Bracken. It's a struggle this generation of women, if not my own, faces with the cultural expectations through which the opposite gender has been raised to see itself.

So, despite all of that, because of the strong male character, this piece does devolve into a somewhat more, seemingly predictable romance novel. Granted, it does not end that way exactly. However, you've got to stick with it to find that out, and that may be hard if you're looking for something that doesn't tiptoe into classic romance lit, complete with swooning and getting swept away. I'm not saying that's a bad thing. It's just a predictable one.

Which makes me question where YA is headed these days. This is just one book of many coming out, but it seems to be that we're falling back into old patterns. There are the realistic YA novels, such as the Fault in Our Stars. They're nothing new to literature (see, Catcher in the Rye). And there are the Twilight sagas, such as The Passenger. The one book I have a hard time categorizing, honestly, is The Hunger Games or Divergent. Dystopian? Sci-Fi? But yet YA?

Categorization is a fun hobby, like collecting stamps, but it doesn't change literature. Nonetheless, stepping back and looking at literature as a categorizer can give a writer an idea of where the tide may be headed. Perhaps Suzanne Collins great contribution has been - aside from a riveting read -  genre mashing, pushing dystopian and YA together. It begs the question, what other unique mashes can we come up with? Writers of the world unite. Let's break some new boundaries!

For more great reads, and less revolutionary calls to arms ;-), skip on over to Barrie Summy's site. She's serving them up fresh and tasty!

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