Tuesday, April 16, 2019

JESS, RISING by DM Guay Review

Rating: 5 out of 5

About four months ago, I picked up this little book on a whim, a friend having suggested it, and figured that it’d be a good backup just in case I ran out of material to read and I was away from my precious WiFi hub. It was a young adult fantasy novel, after all, which I’m always game for, so long as it’s decently written. Other than that, I really gave the book no thought. Hell, I never even read the description before buying it.

And then, I forgot all about it.

Then the day came a couple weeks ago where I found myself at work, having just finished a fantasy novel by Michael Wallace that ended on a cliffhanger and salivating to read more. I’d told myself at the time that I’d get the second book in that series as soon as I got home, but until then, since it was still my morning break and there’s no way I could even consider going the rest of the day without reading something, I needed to scour my Kindle library. And there it was, “Jess, Rising”, sitting front-and-center as the only unread material on my device. So I opened the book and dove in, not remembering when I’d gotten it and with no expectations at all as to what might be inside.

By the time I finished my lunch break, I was kicking myself for not starting it sooner.

Wow. Just… wow. This little unassuming book should’ve been anything but. It’s a typical story for the genre—a teen girl in a new town that has a dark past who gradually realizes she has untold of abilities and a greater destiny—but that rote description hides so much narrative depth, so much emotion and personal exploration, that it’s like a sneak attack, creeping up at you when you least expect it and shoving a thick, meaty fist right into your gut.

Not since Wizard and Glass by King and The Cost of Betrayal by Dalglish have I read a work of fiction that so accurately and succinctly depicts what it’s like to lose a loved one, that so perfectly illustrates the empty space where that person used to be and the questions of what life should mean now that they’re gone. And that’s just the starting point in this little gem! DM Guay does just as fantastic of a job of carrying the reader through the healing process, and all the bumps and heartache and doubt that implies. Just as with the best works of fantasy, the supernatural is used as a proxy for real-life pain and torment, as well as a way to bring about an emotional climax that makes sense and allows the story to continue onward without lingering for an extended period on misery; because, let’s face it, if we linger on loss, we stagnate and die too, in certain regards.

That’s not to say this book is nothing but pain and healing. Oh, it’s totally fun and exciting too. Popular tropes are played with, shifted, perverted, with some playing up to expectations and most completely skirting norms and coming out on the other side as something completely different. We get to know Jess, our protagonist, intimately, with all her faults and hang-ups and desires, and through that tight point of view we’re just as much in the dark as she is. In fact, Guay does such a fantastic job of hiding the truth in plain sight that I was legitimately shocked by what happens at the end. She’d turned the tables on me, someone who usually can guess an outcome pretty easily, and did so in a way that was obvious in retrospect. So, so fantastic. I really wish that I could go into more depth here, but doing so would be plenty SPOILERY, and part of the joy in “Jess, Rising” is in the not knowing, so you’re gonna have to take it at that.

This is a novel that has everything I’d ever want in a work of fiction. Super powers? Check. Emotional weight? Check. Young love fraught with angst? Check. Unexpected, graphic violence? Check. An unexpected ending? Super-check. I loved every freaking minute of the experience, so much so that I grabbed the second and third books when I was only halfway through the first. And I plan on spending all of my reading time for the next couple weeks fully immersed in DM Guay’s world, with Jess and her friends, until there’s no more story to tell.

Honestly, I think you should too.