Author: Kelly Creagh
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Length: 543 pages
Source: Purchased Book
Cheerleader Isobel Lanley is horrified when she is paired with Varen Nethers for an English project, which is due—so unfair—on the day of the rival game. Cold and aloof, sardonic and sharp-tongued, Varen makes it clear he’d rather not have anything to do with her either. But when Isobel discovers strange writing in his journal, she can’t help but give this enigmatic boy with the piercing eyes another look.
Soon, Isobel finds herself making excuses to be with Varen. Steadily pulled away from her friends and her possessive boyfriend, Isobel ventures deeper and deeper into the dream world Varen has created through the pages of his notebook, a realm where the terrifying stories of Edgar Allan Poe come to life.
As her world begins to unravel around her, Isobel discovers that dreams, like words, hold more power than she ever imagined, and that the most frightening realities are those of the mind. Now she must find a way to reach Varen before he is consumed by the shadows of his own nightmares.
His life depends on it.
Protagonist: Isobel is part of a higher social circle than most of her school. She has her own crew of friends and a boyfriend on the football team. She's nearly the complete opposite of goth boy Varen Nethers, but after they're assigned to collaborate on a school project they find they might have more in common than they thought. Soon Isobel actually wants to spend more time with Varen, and, after she starts having some freaky dreams, he might be the only person who can help her make sense of what's going on. On the whole, I actually really like Isobel as the main protagonist. She's a very realistic character and sure she has flaws and does things that annoy me as a reader, but as the story goes on she becomes a stranger character without losing what makes her so realistic and relatable. Her development and growth throughout this monster of a book feels natural and never feels too rushed or like it's being drawn out too much.
Romance: Going into this book I wasn't sure how I was going to feel about the romance. I've seen "opposites attract" love stories before and there's usually something disingenuous about them or they feel rushed, but I actually really enjoyed this romance. There isn't a love triangle in this book but we do have to suffer through Isobel's huge tool of a boyfriend Brad for a while before the romance between Varen and Isobel starts. The main romance is a fairly slow burning one and yet it also feels very realistic. I was actually really surprised at how soon in the story I found myself rooting for this couple and while there were a couple of times when the romance gets a bit too cliched, it was always something I could easily shrug off.
World Building: If I had to talk about one thing about this book that bothered me, it would probably have to be how this book is so large and yet it takes so long to get to the exciting paranormal stuff and to get any sort of straight answer as to what's going on and why. Don't get me wrong I found the first eighty or so percent of this book oddly compelling, before a lot of the exciting paranormal stuff started, I liked the connections with Poe's writing, how there were samples of the writing straight in the text of the book, and the contemporary style romance and drama stuff was compelling as well, but for so long I just wanted some sort of straight answer as to what's going on in this world, what the paranormal stuff is and what it means, we do finally get some straight answers towards the end, but even the straight answers didn't satisfy me enough, or maybe just the answer itself wasn't all that satisfying.
Predictability: Looking back on this book I have to say that a lot of it is really predictable. Not in a bad way necessarily, but there is a lot that I was able to guess. I wasn't able to fully guess what was going on in the story obviously, but there were a lot of cliche contemporary drama moments, some even exaggerated from the cliche to explosive results. Now I will say that there are things, other than the large answers, that I wasn't able to predict, but there wasn't all that much.
Ending: One of the things that was fairly easy for me to predict was how this story was going to end, or well certain parts of how this story was going to end. Before that, though, the last hurrah of this book that leads up to the final climax was pretty epic. It really brings to life some of the Poe stories referenced in this book and makes for a terribly frightening stage for the final climax. The final climax itself was both enlightening and pretty awesome. It wasn't some battle or fight, but nevertheless, I was fully enthralled as the final climax came to a blazing end. The cooldown period was a lot longer than I anticipated and almost felt like it bled into the second installment almost. There's definitely some foreshadowing for what's going to happen next.
So I debated with this rating a lot, before writing this review I thought I was going to give this book 3.5 stars, the world building stuff really bugged me and for a while I thought that's what it would get, but in actuality, now that "the cat's out of the bag" so to speak I'm anticipating a very interesting couple of sequels. However, it does still bug me that it took so long in this beast of a book to find out what's going on, especially when there were so many points where I thought, yes here it is I'm going to finally figure this thing out, only to be sorely disappointed.