Looking to steer a teenage female toward falling in love with a character who's neither vampiric, nor lupine? "Lovely, Dark and Deep" by Amy McNamara will do the trick, serving up enough romantic angst in this YA novel to satisfy even the moodiest of adolescent women.
To be fair, McNamara starts out with good intentions in this three-hundred-page dramafest. Her focus is on one of the hardest things that a young person can face at the critical point just after high school: the death of a loved one. Mixed up with that is the overwhelming question of "What are you going to do with your life?" which can make anyone, not just a traumatized teen, cringe. Sent into a tailspin by Life's cruel twists, main character Wren escapes to her father's art studio deep in the Maine wilderness. There, she tries to make sense of what happened to her and, more importantly, where she goes from there. Despite her endeavors to remain isolated from humanity, she soon finds herself in the company of Cal, another "runaway" with life-changing issues of his own. With their complementary strengths, it seems that they could have the power to help one another if they can get close enough.
McNamara's setup is promising, hinting toward a story of loss, recovery, and rebirth. Ah, if only. Alas, I feel that the author became a little too exuberant in her intention to make Wren overcome dramatic tragedies. Instead of completing her story arc, McNamara got to the center of the book and added another skeleton in Wren's closet. And then another. And then another. Instead of a good, solid story about the strength of a young person to overcome the untimely death of a loved one, "Lovely, Dark and Deep" also became about teen pregnancy. And divorce. And life-threatening chronic diseases. And parental pressures. And suicide. And depression. I could probably add some more subcategories to the list but I'll stop there. And yes, there really is a lot to feel and think about and avoid and cherish as a teenager, when your hormones have your emotions amped up to an eleven. But trying to tackle those things in all their varying forms in a single book was a mistake.
That being said, I was impressed with the writing style of the novel. It was innovative, written from Wren's perspective, in the clipped tones of someone who has just stopped caring about the world around her. She's snippy, sardonic, and wryly humorous in a way of which she as a character does not seem to be aware. This makes it just a little bit endearing, and when she finally does start to open up to people again (as we all know she must), Wren expresses honest amazement at the unbidden changes in herself. Her thoughts and feelings are communicated openly and without apology, in a very pleasing character voice.
The dramatic overdrive in this book was a bit much for someone who has moved past the teenage OMG WHY IS EVERYTHING SO HARD AND LIFE ISN'T FAIR AND NOBODY UNDERSTANDS ME phase. But in honesty, it's what some readers (read: teenage girls) need in order to feel like they're not alone, like someone understands how they're feeling, like life goes on and there is a way through. If there's someone like that on your holiday shopping list, consider this book a sort of potential release valve. Hey, at least Cal's not a romanticized vampire. Look for "Lovely, Dark and Deep" at your local bookstore starting October 16th.