Thursday 27 July 2017

#CBR9 Book 68: "Places No One Knows" by Brenna Yovanoff

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars

To everyone who knows her, Waverly Camdenmar appears to be pretty much perfect. She is intelligent, successful, one of the most popular girls in school (thanks to her Machiavellian scheming on behalf of her best friend, whom she's pretty sure she doesn't even like anymore). Said best friend keeps referring to her as a robot or android, but thanks to her, Waverly fits in. No one knows that nearly every night, Waverly battles insomnia and runs until her feet bleed. She also fears she may be a sociopath.

Marshall Holt is one of the school's notorious stoners. His home life is pretty terrible, he knows that he is very likely to fail all his classes (not for lack of aptitude, he just doesn't particularly care) and he drinks himself into oblivion, gets stoned or does harder drugs, just to make the world recede for a while. He's had a crush on ice queen Waverly Camdenmar for more than a year, but is pretty sure she doesn't even know he exists. Then one night, he's pretty sure he sees her in his bedroom, but he writes that off as a hallucination. She also comes and holds his hand when he's tripping badly on acid under a patio table at one of his brother's parties. Is his intense lifestyle starting to take its toll, or is something strange happening?

One night, sick of insomnia, Waverly reads about a relaxation technique and tries it to fall asleep. She dreams herself into Marshall's bedroom, and the next night to his brother's party. She has no idea what is happening, but every time she tries the relaxation ritual, she ends up wherever Marshall currently is, and he seems to be the only one that can see her. While they barely acknowledge each other's existence in the daytime at school, at night, they start to have private, intimate and in-depth conversations. An actual relationship between them would be entirely impossible, or would it?

Maggie Stiefvater, fellow YA author and one of Brenna Yovanoff's best friends, describes this book as "a dream wrapped in razor wire or razor wire wrapped in a dream". That's a very good description. This book is hard to read in parts, mainly because Waverly is such a difficult protagonist. She really does seem like she's covered in razor wire much of the time, and has such a hard time letting people close. It seems likely that she's very highly functioning on the autism spectrum and she may or may not in fact be a sociopath. She's always been very smart, but different from children and later teens her own age. She loves horror movies, and has little action figures of all the famous horror movie villains. She's a perfectionist and she pushes herself physically until she may have injured herself irreparably. She used to play chess when she was younger, but as someone observes later in this book, by the time she got to high school she has moved on to bigger, actual human pieces. She makes sure that Maribeth, her best friend (who is really a piece of work), is the undisputed queen bee of the school, but she doesn't really like her or any of the things they spend their days doing.

Marshall, our other protagonist is a total sweetheart, but he's pretty successfully running his life into the ground towards the start of the book. With a very turbulent home life and no real support from anyone, he knows he's unlikely to be able to go to college after high school and so he doesn't even try to pass his classes. Much of his days and nights are spent in a haze of intoxication and it's only when he realises that the night time visits from Waverly are somehow real and she starts to really question him and his motives, that he starts to consider changing the destructive path he's chosen to fling himself down.

While some people may say this is a fantasy novel, I don't really think it is. Yes, it has one very strange supernatural element (which we are never given any explanation for), but it's really just a macguffin to get Waverly and Marshall, so different on the surface, to spend more time together, so they can get to know the other's real self. The personas they inhabit in high school are very different from the people they can be when there's just the two of them, in Waverly's strange maybe-dreams. As they grow closer, though, and it becomes clear that they may become more than friends, that's when things get really complicated.

After all, Waverly has worked very hard to appear flawless and perfect and have impeccable social standing at school. She cannot openly associate herself with Marshall, who while he stops doing drugs and starts turning his life around, still has an undeniable loser reputation. While Waverly doesn't even like Maribeth anymore and has started to realise just how much she's being used, years of knowing she's different makes her fear being an outcast all the more. Getting to know the enigmatic and colourful Autumn helps her to see that her life could be different, but Waverly struggles for the longest time to break out of the patterns she's been used to.

I'm not sure this book is for everyone. Yovanoff does write in a slightly mannered way that I think could annoy some people. Waverly really is a spiky and very difficult to like heroine, but you get a very clear idea of how and why she's turned out the way she has. Marshall is an absolute darling and I wanted only good things for him. Autumn is also a delight, and Maribeth was a pretty good antagonist, if not quite up to the levels of Regina George or the Heathers. If you want a complex and interesting YA book, full of high school intrigue, with a slight supernatural element and some romance, on the other hand, this may be a good book for you. I know I'm going to be checking out more of Ms. Yovanoff's writing in the future.

Judging a book by its cover: I really don't like this cover much, it's so incredibly generic and has absolutely nothing to do with anything in the book. The pastel pink and peach colour scheme (seems to be labelling this a GIRL book, which it most certainly is not), the teens apparently falling. The nonsensical tagline "Follow me and disappear". I have no idea what the cover designer/publisher meant by that. I would never in a million years have picked this book up based on the cover, and I would have lost out on a really interesting reading experience. I hope for Ms. Yovanoff's sake that this book gets re-issued with a better, more appropriate cover.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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