Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Review: Tempest by Holly Hook

Rating: 4 out of 5

There seems to be a growing trend in young adult fiction where the love story is the main crux of the plot. The main characters do grow in these instances, but their growth is charted by their feelings for the “other” in their lives. The hero or heroine therefore becomes defined by this other and fails to be a viable personality any longer. They turn into puppets on the strings of love and lust, and any real change they experience is nullified because the journey isn’t a personal one. Take the fictional example of Hannah and John. Hannah has no self-esteem. She meets John, who thinks she is a fantastic person. Hannah is now filled with pride and a sense of purpose – not because she has done anything to deserve this newfound confidence, but strictly because John says she should. It’s an artificial way to build character, the easy way out. And as it pertains to real life, it doesn’t last.

Because of this, I feel thankful any time a young adult book slides into my inbox that bucks this trend. Tempest, a wonderful slice of innovative fiction by Holly Hook, more than fits the criteria.

Tempest is the story of Janelle, a sixteen-year-old girl whose mother is long dead and whose father has recently moved them from Michigan to sunny Florida. Janelle is a brooding, generally unhappy youth. She misses her friends back home and suffers from a serious lack of communication between her father and her. She seems angry at the world, but in fact this is simply the result of being firmly tied to her convictions. Her outlook on right and wrong is solid in the usual teenage I-know-the-world-and-my-parents-don’t-see way, and she holds tight to these threads of morality like a barnacle clings to a rock.

At the beginning of the story, when a hurricane is plowing along the Florida coast, Janelle is dumbstruck by the fact her father seems wholly unconcerned. She cries out against him, asking why he should seem so cavalier in the face of impending danger, and yet her father offers her no explanation other than to say, “Trust me.” She is understandably flummoxed. His action (or lack thereof) only adds to her distrust, causing her to dive even further into the net of her own principles.

As the novel moves along, and be warned that there may be some **SPOILERS** here, Janelle comes to find out that she is descended from a long line of Tempests, which are basically human hurricanes. There is a list of names, and whenever a Tempest’s name comes up, it is their duty to jump into the ocean, become a swirling mass of destruction, and assist in the regenerative circle of life and death. In other words, these people are living forces of nature. When Janelle discovers this she is horrified – she cannot deal with the prospect of taking life and causing others hardship. So she does the only thing she can think to do – she runs away.

There is a very linear plot here. It surges forward in a straight line and doesn’t let up. We are introduced to the Tempest culture, which is pretty well thought out and quite original. Janelle meets Gary, a waifish kid of her own age and “special talent” who she naturally falls for. (Thankfully, this aspect of the story comes across naturally and is not a driving force.) We meet up with the Tempest leader, a wholly evil woman named Andrina, who has a plan for Janelle and might be much more to her than originally thought. There are attempts at mind control and unsavory plots unveiled, and everyone involved – Janelle, Gary, her father, and a whole host of other characters – must hurry to put things back in their natural order before Janelle’s time comes up.

This book deals with some very poignant issues, not the least of which is the danger of secrets. Is withholding the truth ever a good idea, especially when said truth would completely change one’s definition of themselves? When is it harmful? Do parents have a duty to their children to be completely forthright in disclosing information about their history? And, on a greater scale, would the world at large be ready and accepting if they were to find out that there’s a “different” group of people out there, folks with much more power than the normal human could ever experience?

There are no simple answers to these questions, and refreshingly, the author doesn’t try to answer them. Instead she puts the reader through scenario after scenario, showing how this lack of disclosure effects the characters at a personal level, and allows the reader to make up their own mind. This lack of pretension is a most welcomed tool for Hook to use, and allows her work to feel that much more accessible.

The other main thread that weaves through the plot is common to the genre – that of finding oneself. Thankfully, the device implied at the beginning of this review is not present here. Janelle grows on her own, makes her own mistakes, stays true to who she is, and grows naturally (or as natural as one who’s a living hurricane ever could.) Even when presented with the dire facts of her existence, she still goes through the proper channels – anger, distrust, sorrow, and finally acceptance. And it is with this acceptance that she truly shows her mettle, for Janelle is the only true hero in the entire story, the only individual that cherishes all life, even those that may wish to harm her. The others…not so much. The story goes to some surprisingly dark places and makes some very interesting observations about the human existence. One of the questions posed is one for the ages – is the life of one worth more than the life of many? There are righteous answers to both sides, and we see both here in full force.

With all these good things that went on this book, I still have one major complaint. Andrina, the big baddie in the tale, isn’t a well fleshed-out character. There were some attempts made at making her seem like a well-rounded creation, but they fell flat. She talks like a Scooby-Doo bad guy and comes across as more clownish than frightening. If the author had extended the book just a little bit, allowed us to see Andrina in a more vulnerable state, then perhaps this might be different. But as constructed, she’s a one-note character, and simply not up to the standards set by Janelle and her father.

Also, the writing is a bit off at times. The book is written in third person, but told from exclusively Janelle’s viewpoint. We’re so immersed in her that at times the story felt like it was being told in first, which threw me out of rhythm a bit. To my mind, it would have worked much better to either go the first-person route or by limiting the amount of character invasion into the text to italicized sections. Something that can definitely be fixed later on.

And here’s where we get to the crux of the review. Later on. I say that not as if this book needs extensive editing – it so does not – but because I’d like to see this go on as a series. I’d love to see the author grow along with her characters, as she takes them on new adventures and throws new obstacles in their way. With the brilliant mythology Holly Hook invented, there is no limit to the storylines she could incorporate. Now, I’m not sure if this is going to be a series or not, mind you. But it should be.

In all, Tempest is a wonderfully brisk read full of angst and self-discovery. Most of the characters ring true and are decently realized. The innovations are fresh and invigorating. I would most certainly recommend this book to anyone, or to anyone’s teenagers. It’s a good start, and by the end we’re left with

the feeling that things are just going to get better from here.

Plot - 9

Characters - 7

Voice - 7

Execution - 8

Personal Enjoyment – 9

Overall – 40/50 (4.0/5)

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