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South To The West To The East To The North

Forever Young Adult presents: A review of Harbinger by Sara Wilson Etienne

South To The West To The East To The North

BOOK REPORT for Harbinger by Sara Wilson Etienne

Cover Story: Two Strikes
BFF Charm: Proceed With Extreme Caution
Swoonworthy Scale: 6.5
Talky Talk: 2 Legit 2 Quit
Bonus Factors: Reform School, Moral Relativism, Mysterious Loner Dude
Relationship Status: This Could Be Love

Cover Story: Two Strikes

All the imagery here is straight from the book, AND it's actually important in the book. But. BUT! The girl's wearing a fancy dress! Which never happens! My copy also has a blurb, and I really have a thing about blurbs on the front. Even though this one's from Tamora Pierce and not Stephenie Meyer, I can't handle it because it uses the non-word "un-put-down-able". The only thing saving it from an automatic brown bagging is that the blindfold has a narrative purpose beyond just creating another half face abomination.

The Deal:

Faye's a total freak. Not a triangle-haired, boobless, braces-wearing freak, but a collects-animal-bones, sees-into-your-soul, hallucinates-massive-flooding kind of freak. She has no friends in the Collective -- the walled-off suburb created by the middle class when the oil supply peaked and the U.S. entered into the world war over energy, and cities were taken over by destitute scavengers willing to knife a child for a loaf of bread. Her teachers won't look at her, her classmates won't touch her, and even her parents won't speak to her. Finally pushed beyond their limits by Faye's school-rooftop meltdown, they ditch her at Holbrook Academy, a reform school run by Dr. Mordoch -- who happened to be the child psychiatrist treating six-year-old Faye the day she changed from a happy child into a visionary psycho. Faye and the other kids in her new "Family" wake up each morning on the floors of their dorm rooms with red-stained hands and partial memories of the night before, and she knows it has something to do with her weird visions and powers. When her Family member Kel, the hot guy she met in Solitary, offers to help her sleuth out the mystery, she's all for it -- until she realizes he's trying to kill her.

BFF Charm: Proceed With Extreme Caution

WHOA. Faye is totally one scary girl. She doesn't mean to be -- all she wants is to have friends who accept her weirdness, and maybe a few hours a day to draw in peace and quiet -- but she can look through your eyes and straight into your soul, and when she touches you, she can call up your most painful memories as if she's the one actually reliving them. Plus, if Kel's trying to kill her, who knows how safe it is to be her friend? AND there's the whole terrifying nighttime activity. What I'm saying is, I'm sure Faye is just misunderstood and needs a little love in her life, but I totes am watching my back with this one.

Swoonworthy Scale: 6.5

There's some definite heat between Faye and Kel, intensified by the contrast between an instant attraction and sense they know each other and the knowledge each actually knows nothing about the other, and their attempts to learn more. And while the heartpounding action of the book definitely ups the swoon ante -- I mean, what's more aphrodisiac than dire danger and near death? -- I am not totally sold on the instant heat. Something about the missing pieces of their history never quite filled in to my liking, though Kel's definitely a fine MLD specimen. Maybe I read through their story too fast in my desperation to FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENS NEXT OMG MUST KNOW NOW!!!!

Talky Talk: 2 Legit 2 Quit

Damn, y'all, Etienne DELIVERS. This is no paranormal romance, no Twilight set at the Xavier Institute. This shizz is INTENSITY IN ELEVEN CITIES. The school is a total lockdown -- they don't even get enough time in the shower to wash out their shampoo, and the guards carry tasers -- so finding out what's happening to them at has to be done by breaking out and sneaking around, and OH YEAH, the main school building (called the Compass Rose) is a total maze. The book is about as straightforward as the mysterious Path the Buddha-quoting Dr. Mordoch is always quoting, and I spent as much time trying to figure out whom to trust as I spent trying to unravel Faye's complicated history.

Bonus Factor: Reform School

Holbrook Academy is one nasty place. It's kind of like those Gay Away camps, where the brochures show groups of smiling kids of various races picnicking on the grounds, or riding horses, or playing basketball, but in reality everyone's kept in dungeons and submitted to public humiliation for the barest infraction, like reaching for the salt at dinner instead of asking for it, even though it's sitting RIGHT THERE in front of the plate. The guards patrol with pepper spray and tasers, punishment involves toilet scrubbing, and worst of all, one of the mandatory classes is a group therapy where they're not allowed to speak unless holding the stupid speaking ball and they're required to call the teacher "Aunt."

Bonus Factor: Moral Relativism

Etienne sets up a world where the lines between right and wrong blur, and you never know exactly where anyone stands. There are mitigating circumstances everywhere you look, and it's downright delightful.

Bonus Factor: Mysterious Loner Dude

I'm not totally hot for Kel, but he's definitely a nice little MLD. From their first meeting in adjacent cells in Solitary, when he's the first person to reach out to Faye in ten years, to the way he puts himself at risk for other members of the family, Kel shows he has a soft, warm interior that doesn't match his brittle, damaged exterior.

Casting Call:

Alex Meraz as Kel

Damn you, Twilight franchise, for sullying all First Nations actors by casting them! I mean, I'm glad they DID, rather than just going by looks alone, but jeez. Way to make me cringe when I'M doing the casting. Ok, since 3/4 of the onscreen wolfpack time is shirtless, maybe "cringe" isn't the best word ... moving on.

Kaniehtiio Horn as Faye

OMG isn't she GORGEOUS??

Relationship Status: This Could Be Love

We rushed through our courtship, this book and I, but every night, something it said to me swims through my brain and I find myself thinking about it at inappropriate moments. I should probably spend a little more time with it before declaring myself, but damned if I'm not ready to proclaim my love to everyone I meet. It's tough and made me gasp and my heart pound, and it definitely made me think. And no, you can't borrow my copy.

But one of you can HAVE my copy! Leave a comment, and you might get lucky!

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my review copy from Penguin. I received neither money nor cocktails for writing this review (dammit!). Harbinger will be available February 2.

Meghan Miller's photo About the Author: Meghan is an erstwhile librarian in exile from Texas and writer for Forever Young Adult. She loves books, cooking and homey things like knitting and vintage cocktails. Although she’s around books all the time, she doesn’t get to read as much as she’d like.