Shadowhawk reviews another Strange Chemistry title, the first YA novel by author Sean Cummings.
“This book can be summed up in three words: Fun, great, fan-frikkin-tastic. When’s the sequel out again?” ~The Founding Fields
My initial experience with Strange Chemistry was a really promising one, even though I wasn’t that taken with the book (The Assassin’s Curse by Cassandra Clarke). Still, I’m on a sort of YA-kick as I’m motivated to broaden my reading horizons and my next pick after the above was Poltergeeks, the story of a teenage witch as she tangles with magical powers she has no idea how to deal with. When I first read the back-blurb for the book earlier this year, I admit I wasn’t that taken with it. I’ve seen a lot of “witch” shows in my time, like Bewitched, I love Jeannie, and a bit of Sabrina the Teenage Witch (also a fan of the Archie comics until about a decade back). And while I’ve enjoyed them, I’ve never been taken with reading about that stuff all that much. Still, after interacting with Sean a bit on Twitter, I found myself much more interested in the book and so I went ahead with it and picked it up for review.
Sean’s “voice” captured me straight off from the first chapter as our teenage protagonist Julie encounters a reluctant poltergeist and finds herself severely unprepared. For me, that was one of the best opening points of any novel this year. Julie’s stubbornness and obstinacy are good character flaws where Poltergeeks is concerned. Yes, they are kind of a trope for such a young character (Malian from Helen Lowe’s Heir of Night and Rachel from K. A. Applegate’s Animorphs novels and Lyra from Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy come to mind), but the fact that they are a trope doesn’t matter one bit because they are inherently relevant to the story which in itself is very character-driven rather than plot-driven. The characters, every single one of them, matter.
Once I got past Julie’s unfortunate tussle with the poltergeist, I was still hooked in to the whole experience. This is one of those books where the stakes for the good guys keep on increasing in severity and you still have a lot of fun, even though there are some dark moments ahead. At first the novel seemed to evoke the Sabrina style of story-telling quite a bit, at least from what I remember, all the teenage hi-jinks and what not, but the writing quickly moves beyond that and morphs into Buffy/Angel, except for a purely teenager cast and there are some elements of the early seasons of Charmed thrown in as well. At least, those are the associations that my brain made while I was reading the book and after a bit of thinking. You know, I’d actually say that if this novel had been about the Halliwell sisters, it would have made for a fantastic multi-episode arc for Charmed. It has that self-same spunky, everything-is-on-the-line, OMG-real-life feel to it that I remember from the show.
Like I said, the characters are what drive the story. I had no problem at all in connecting with Julie or the people around her, such as her mother, or her magical guardian, or her best friend. They were all rich characters, perfectly defined within their roles where the plot is concerned, and where the setting itself is concerned. The novel is told in the first person so we are always in Julie’s head and look at all the events happening around her through her eyes, but attention is given to those around her as well, and we see them through her eyes in a way that makes you connect with them as much as with her. They inform Julie’s character and in turn she informs them.
One of the things that I really liked about the book was the texting. Being a novel about teenagers in today’s world, that added a bit of realism to things for me personally as I haven’t read any modern YA fiction set in current times. When I was in high school, everyone had a cellphone with them, whether it was to chat and text all day or just for emergencies or whatever. Seeing all the text-speak and the scenes themselves offered new insights to the teenage characters. A good touch I think.
The magic in the novel isn’t very subtle, and neither is overly simplistic. There is a fine balance between the two of course, in general, and I think that Sean has pretty much hit that sweet spot. Some of the magic that Julie can do is really trivial even for an apprentice witch, but some is clearly off-the-rails-too-dangerous and that adds to the fun. In any story about magic/supernatural entities, magic going wrong is a classic plot device but it is also one of the most fun ones. If you can imagine it (and have seen the show obviously), think of Willow (the good, nice Willow, not the crazy insane Willow from later) from Buffy screwing up an important spell and the way she acts in the aftermath of it. If you know what I’m talking about then you know how some of the scenes in Poltergeeks make me feel. Just so much fun.
The pacing of the book was downright perfect. I had no issues at all with it because every now and then there is plenty of magical action in the novel alongside the more “sedate” character-building moments. The beginning was great, the middle was better, and the ending just plain rocked it out of the world. The climax was just that good. I had of course had an inkling of how things were going to play-out, because while Sean doesn’t sign-post the stuff, he still provides ample clues for the reader to pick up. And that makes this a really tight book, plot-wise. It would have been easy to gloss over these things and just keep on rolling with it all, but I’m glad that the author didn’t choose that route.
I often hear about how YA books, in general, are just dumb books, just because they are YA. Well, these people need to read this book. There is a ton of humour and emotional moments alike here and it doesn’t hold your hand and make every plot-point blindingly obvious. Whether you are a teenager or someone older, I dare say that you will have fun with it regardless. This is definitely the kind of YA books that I’d love to read and the quality is as I expect from any of my “mainstream” adult SFF fiction.
So should you be getting this book? Well, yes you should. Its a quick fast-paced read that sets out to entertain from the very first pages and holds itself to that promise. The sequel, Student Bodies I believe it is called, really can’t come quick enough for me.
Also, final thing, I love the cover. The only odd thing about it is Julie’s hand holding the pendent, the hand being a bit “big” and “masculine”, but otherwise it captures one of the opening scenes of the book really nicely.
Also stay tuned tomorrow for The Founding Fields is taking part in Sean’s blog tour for the book and I have a guest post from the man himself all ready to go.