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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Cloudbuster said...

Wow, this sounds like it must have been a handful and a half to write! What an ambitious premise.

Great review and very thoughtful. I, too, am very interested in where YA is headed, although I'd like to think the tent is big enough to accommodate many directions.

Barrie said...

So glad you reviewed this book, Stacy! I knew the premise and, as a lover of time travel, have been waiting for its publication. Interestingly, Child #4 and I just had a chat about some men/boys and some women/girls not being on the same page when it comes to gender roles. I think that must've been fascinating for Bracken to write. Like Rob, I hope it's a whopping big tent that can accommodate all of us (middle grade, too ;) ) Thanks for reviewing!

Sarah Laurence said...

This book has been getting a lot of buzz, but I wasn't planning to read it because I generally prefer realistic fiction. However your review is making me reconsider. I love the idea of the characters time period affecting their attitudes towards relationships. I will look at it next time I'm in an indie bookstore. My niece, who prefers fantasy, might like it if it isn't too racy. How is it that nearly everything you review I want to read?

I also appreciated your thoughts on where YA is headed. I attended a YA Now panel last month hosted by 3 YA authors who discussed this topic in depth. If you're interested, here's the link:

-blessed holy socks said...

"This finite existence is only a test, son," God Almighty sed to me in my coma. "Beyond thy earthly tempest is where you'll find corpulent eloquence" (paraphrased). Lemme tella youse without d'New Joisey accent...

I actually saw Seventh-Heaven when we died: you couldn't GET any moe curly, extravagantly-surplus-lush Upstairs when my beautifull, brilliant, bombastic girl passed-away at 17.

Find-out where we went on our journey far, far away like the symbiotically, synonyMOUSE-metaphors which creep across thy brain bringing U.S. together, exorbitantly done in sardonic satires.

"Those who are wise will shine as brightly as the expanse of the Heavens, and those who have instructed many in uprightousness as bright as stars for all eternity" -Daniel 12:3

Here's also what the prolific, exquisite GODy sed: 'the more you shall honor Me, the more I shall bless you' -the Infant Jesus of Prague.

Go git'm, girl. You're incredible.
See you Upstairs...
I won't be joining'm in da nasty Abyss where Isis prowls

PS Need some uncommon, unique, uncivilized names? Lemme gonna gitcha started:

Oak Woods, Athena Noble, Autumn Rose, Faith Bishop, Dolly Martin, Willow Rhodes, Cocoa Major, China Stone, Bullwark Burnhart, Magnus Wilde, Kardiak Arrest, Will Wright, Goldy Silvers, Sophie Sharp, Gloria Hood, Violet Snow, Lizzy Roach, BoxxaRoxx, Aunty Dotey, Romero Stark, Zachariah Neptoon, Turkey Sherwood, Mercurio Morrissey, Victoria Faulkner ...

God blessa youse
-Fr. Sarducci, ol SNL

troutbirder said...

Interesting deconstruction. Thanks...:(

Ellen Booraem said...

This sounds good, although I'm glad you told me I'll have to wait out the romance. I might find a traditional male oak/female ivy situation a tad vexing. But it sounds as if the author (and protagonist) have a down-to-earth view of that situation anyway. And what a ride through time! Thanks for the review, Stacy.

Linda McLaughlin said...

Another book to add to the wish list. Thanks for the great review.

Bee said...

I've seen so many references to Passenger on Instagram! Most of them were hung up on the pretty cover, though. One of the things that Collins managed particularly well was not just mashing up genres, but creating a novel/narrative voice that could appeal equally to male and female readers. Does this one do that, too, or do you think it will mostly attract female readers?