Saturday, February 18, 2012

Book Review: "The Forever Girl" by Rebecca Hamilton

*Sophia Parsons’ family has skeletons, but they aren’t in their graves...*

Isn’t that catchy? I love it!

I’ve mentioned before that I met Rebecca Hamilton on Authonomy. That means that I’ve been waiting for 16 months to read her book. You may wonder why I didn’t run out and buy it the moment it was released. Happy to explain.

My husband told me that getting books from Amazon to my iPad was a little tricky, and I took his word for it. A thing you have to understand about Robert is that he’s *that* guy with all things hardware/software. It’s not just me; most people take what he says about technical things at face value. (Some take it as gospel and still live by it years later, which is a great way of getting my husband to dislike you if you wanted such a thing.)

I should know well by now that when he says it’s tricky, he means that it will be tricky *right now*…for *me*. (He knows me very well.) However, it won’t still be tricky later, not even for me, because he’ll resolve what’s tricky in between reading Jalopnik and ogling pool cues and guns. Our conversation will turn to cars, then politics, then why I don’t like making chocolate chip cookie balls, and then how Nicki Minaj makes me want to stab something just by opening her mouth, and well…. A few weeks later I actually won The Forever Girl in a game of Twitter hangman shortly after remembering that I still haven’t bought it.

What’s your excuse?

The Forever Girl. First thing…Look at that cover! Seriously, look at it. I’m not just fan-girl squealing here. Covers sell books, and this one is killer. It's pretty and edgy. And sharp. I'm referring to pixels many images are soft these days, and not in a pleasant romantic way. The model is dainty, and projects the self-consciousness and troubled soul of a woman caught between worlds. She is lovely inside as she is misunderstood without. The cover captures Sophia, so the book is off to a great start!

Cover: ★★★★★

Flip the virtual book over and read The Blurb:

Solving the mystery of an ancestor’s hanging might silence the clashing whispers in Sophia's mind, but the cult in her town and the supernaturals who secretly reside there are determined to silence her first.

As Sophia unknowingly crosses the line into an elemental world full of vampire-like creatures, shapeshifters, and supernatural grim reapers, she meets Charles, a man who becomes both lover and ally.

But can she trust him?

It’s not until someone nearly kills Sophia that she realizes the only way to unveil the source of her family's curse: abandon her faith or abandon her humanity. If she wants to survive, she must accept who she is, perform dark magic, and fight to the death for her freedom.

The blurb is...meh. It describes the book, but unlike the cover, it doesn’t capture either Sophia or her plight. For example, the noise in Sophia's head is the catalyst for everything that follows in the book. "An ever-present static" are the first words of the first chapter. But the blurb mentions the hanging of an ancestor first thing. I think it undercuts the severity of the problem that the reader will encounter first. I'd have moved her desire to solve the mystery to the second paragraph, as what throws her into harm's way.

Also, there’s nothing in the blurb that indicates she performs spells at all until the 4th paragraph, when it’s clear that dark magic is what will resolve her conflicts. The book introduces her Wiccan practice very early, so the progression towards dark magic is very organic in the story. But in the blurb, it feels very sudden.

Blurb: ★★

First Page:

Ms. Hamilton starts us off in a small town near Denver, Colorado. Sophia is on shift at a local diner, trying to drown out the buzz in her head with Pink Floyd. The effort is thwarted when a Christian cult leader demands to pay her check and leave before the secular music corrupts her.

There’s already so much world building here. The buzz is a hook, and Mrs. Franklin’s audacity sweetens the deal. There's no way I'd put this book down, so the first page is a winner. And the rest of the chapter has a lot to offer the New Adult audience.

Sophia is a college graduate with a BA in History, looking for a job teaching that she can't find. She needs experience to get a job and needs a job for experience. It’s THE catch-22 of Generations X, Y, and Z (or whatever they’re called). There is a missing piece here, and I applaud Ms. Hamilton for leaving it out. Many liberal arts fields…history included…are stepping stones toward graduate degrees. Most students don’t know when they declare these majors that they will need additional schooling to put their education to work. Even teaching will require certification, which involves more school. Many, like Sophia, will find themselves back home four years later, waiting tables or something. I find Sophia’s frustration at not being able to find a job, and ignorance of what her education has actually qualified her to do in the workforce, to be incredibly realistic.

In addition, doing something rash to put an end to something you just can’t take anymore, that’s a very relatable, too.

First Page/Chapter: ★★★★1/2


The Forever Girl spans six months of Sophia’s life, during which she battles a family curse, loses a dear friend, picks up a hot guy that she resists committing to, and wrestles with issues that most of us would need a therapist, (or a grandmother), to untangle. But, that’s really just the window dressing. Sophia’s story is an exhaustive exploration of acceptance. Innocents are hung for witchcraft to calm fears and satiate jealousy. Grudges and wishes are carried for desperate centuries in vain. A ruling council of immortals lay down a strict law that on its surface protects humans, but underneath designed to upset the balance of universe. And Sophia herself, who bristles at the persecution of her neighbors for her Wiccan faith, must learn to trust things she doesn’t understand and embrace herself for who she really is.

Ms. Hamilton illustrates this evolution by having Sophia make foreshadowing observations about herself. My favorite is when the young woman realizes that she wants nothing to do with Charles’ world, but everything to do with him, and that she can’t have both. But that world wants her, for a lot of reasons good and bad, to the same degree that our world, which she holds onto for months, wants her gone. Ms. Hamilton threads the supernatural through every page, every subplot, so when she pulls that string toward the end, Sophia’s life turns completely inside out. Sophia leaves our world behind, and the supernatural world becomes home. It’s ironic, then, that this transition actually has less to do with Charles than with her. Without giving away too much, the supernatural world has been hers longer than it has been his, so I find the fact that she wanted nothing to do with it rather poignant.

Story: ★★★★

The Ending

There are twists and turns in this book, and many of them in the final chapters. With the progression of reveals at the end…and my personal affection for snowballing climaxes…I enjoyed the pace. Things about the world that weren’t quite settled for me fell in to place. Charles, who had some flat spots until the end, finally rounded out for me. Most important for the first book in a series, it ended in a place that resolves the first set of conflicts while setting up the story and major players of book two nicely. All in all, it was a very satisfying ending to a fresh, creative story.

Ending: ★★★★

So, how do I grade The Forever Girl, by Rebecca Hamilton? It’s a solid 4 of 5…on her scale.

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