Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Dystopia
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
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I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
My immediate thoughts after starting to read it were being overwhelmingly turned off to the narration style. I wasn't a fan of the way our protagonist, Ruby, described situations, and I was a bigger not-fan of the dialogue. It sounded very fake and forced and rehearsed and although that definitely improved as the book went on it was one of the weaker points and I think dialogue is one of the most important aspects of character development and this book was really lacking in that area. Also, if you're going to have dialogue set the scene to introduce two characters, it's going to leave a very lasting impression not only about how the two characters are, but about how your writing is as a whole, so it puts a lot of pressure on that scene, and I didn't think the first few scenes, where Ruby wakes up and we meet her roommate, delivered. I also thought it was full of awkward phrasing. Again, pulling from the first few pages, which make quite a lasting impression (which isn't to say books that start out bad and get better are doomed to be known by their beginnings. I'm just saying the first impression is pretty important), she writes:
"that would be totally stroking his ego, making him even more insufferable than what he is now"
and then later, close to the end
" Can he read my thoughts? Of course not. Yet as he stares at me, it’s as if he knows me really well. Almost as well as I know myself; maybe better."
I feel like both of these are so awkwardly written but it frustrated me because it's so easily fixed awkward writing. In the first example, the phrase after the comma is what bothers me and honestly if she took out the "what" it would be fine. Am I the only one who thinks it reads awkwardly this way? And the second one is that somewhat typical "he stares so deeply into my soul I think he can see into all of me" thing which granted she didn't overdo so I'm not goading Hariharan on that as much as I am on the fact that there were a thousand ways to tweak it that didn't involve writing "he knows me really well."
I think with revamped dialogue and a thorough round of editing, this book could honestly be something so much more.
Okay, I just spent a lot of time bashing the way it was written so I'm gonna get to the other components and how I felt about them.
I liked the characters for the most part. Even though Ruby's narration got on my nerves from time to time I didn't dislike her as a character and I actually thought it was pretty rad that she was this strong, independent warrior girl saving her best friend. You go Ruby. Four for you. I liked that she was strong-willed and (I know I already used the word strong but strong-willed is different, let it go) and took charge.
Pankaj and Vikram were interesting enough as well even though I felt like a lot of their characters I inferred from the intended effect of the dialogue and not the actual effect of it so I'm not sure how accurate my image of them actually was.
I thought the story, although marketed as a YA Dystopian Thriller, could have incorporated more of the dystopia aspect in their little bubble of Bombay City but that's not really much of a complaint as much of a small nitpick.
Overall, while I think the book had a lot of potential, I'm not sure that I totally loved it, but if the author was ever like "Hey I edited/revamped my book" I would totally give it another shot so there's that.
Rating: 3/5 Stars
In short, I think the idea of this book is better than the book itself.
That said, the good parts are not too bad. Though it took me a while to get through the beginning chapters, I felt like Ruby's character was, at least, thought out if not presented clearly. Tea-loving, immature, and fiercely loyal and self-determined.
Not much else I need in a YA protag. I was immediately sold to the setting of Mumbai, not only because it's a rare thing for a YA dystopian novel not to be set in the West, but also because the charm of the city is captivating, and Hariharan does well to dismantle its glamour. Hariharan's descriptions are abundantly detailed as well, if not succinct. Stronger still is the wealth of cultural references that serve to add a rich layer of reality to the text. Another part of the book that strikes me is that the romantic aspect fits into the structure without sucking attention from the rest. Often, romance acts as a distraction, but here it only helps.
But because I can see the potential in this novel expressed in how Hariharan frames and builds the setting and her protag, I saw the bad parts in a much worse light. For example, I felt the city had better character development than most of the characters and that unnerved me. Pankaj for example pretty much existed to springboard off of Ruby's ideas and decisions and I felt his character could be elevated to quirky space he seems to want to occupy.
I agree with some of the other reviews of this novel that praise Hariharan's ability to build and promote narrative tension and keep a certain page-turning quality. There is never a truly "dull" moment that falls flat in terms of active narration or predictability. However, I felt that did not apply to the beginning. The beginning was clunky, info-droppy, and a bit rushed. A lot of that has to do with getting used to the pacing, syntax, and often awkward writing (described in detail by my fellow blogger here). It's nothing a few rounds of editing couldn't fix and I think Hariharan would benefit from a re-publication of this novel.
Like most reviewers, I was taken by the end. It was unpredictable, dramatic, and leaves the characters in shock. Unfortunately, because of the clunkiness, I was never able to invest myself enough to love feel the shock the characters did. It was enough that I will give Hariharan another go in the second book, but if it's similar in style, I may not finish that one.
What's a sticky situation you've had to get out of?
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