Author: Phoebe Kitanidis
Publisher: Balzar & Bray
Other Reviews for This Author: None
The standalone YA paranormal novel. This story seems to be one going extinct. Every YA paranormal release anymore feels the need to be a directly-related series. We don't even see a lot of loosely connected series (different main characters, settings, and plots within the same world). Glimmer was a book that I picked up with little knowledge, little fanfare, and little expectations. It touted an interesting premise that I didn't read too much about, but I was very much into the idea that the book would be a standalone novel that used a lot of paranormal elements. While not perfect, Kitanidis does a lot of impressive things with Glimmer - although the execution of some of the elements can occasionally drown out the positives.
Waking up naked in a boy's arms is not what she expected. An unknown boy in an unknown bed, too. Elyse never expected herself to be the kind of girl that would go to bed with a guy without knowing him first. Come to think of it, Elyse doesn't really know much about herself at all. Like her name. Or her past. She can remember facts. Two plus two equals four. The capital of Peru is Lima. What matters most to Elyse - who she is as a person - completely escapes her. She's a completely blank slate that apparently likes sleeping with attractive guys that she doesn't know.
Marshall King is that guy, apparently. Waking up naked with a girl in his bed was just as much of a surprise for him as it was for Elyse. Like Elyse, Marshall found himself suffering from the same personal amnesia. No name and no personal memories left. Just a brain full of school-memorized facts and the knowledge that Elyse, whoever she was, definitely did not want to think that she was the type of person to bed him without knowing him. Despite Marshall's lack of self-knowledge, he and Elyse manage to strike up a tentative friendship as they flee from a seemingly crazed guy into magic - what house did they wake up in, anyway? - and try to figure out exactly who they are.
The discovery is more than a little odd. Elyse is apparently Elyse Alton, one of the most popular girls in school. Marshall is Marshall King, a boy that flies under the radar. They live in a small town known as Summer Falls that is touted as being the best vacation spot on earth. With only 5,000 residents and an extremely unusual climate that borders on perfection, Summer Falls is described as a modern paradise. So why can't they remember who they are? Why does Marshall's father seem to be a reclusive hermit who never strays from his home? Why do Elyse's parents have no knowledge of her spending a night away from home with Marshall? And why does everyone around them seem like they're constantly day dreaming? Elyse and Marshall become friends - and maybe, just maybe, something more - in their quest to discover the origins of their amnesia and the reasons behind the unusual behavior of Summer Falls' residents.
One of the most surprising parts of Glimmer is that it uses multiple viewpoints. Two, to be exact. Elyse and Marshall both have prevailing first-person POVs (points of view) that serve to move the narrative forward. Having multiple POVs is a tricky thing to do well, as I have found throughout many reading experiences. Kitanidis does some solid work with the multiple POV writing, yet at other times it just doesn't work the way it's supposed to for the reader. Elyse's viewpoint is by far the more interesting of the two - and a lot of that stems from what Kitanidis explores thematically with her character. Elyse is immediately at odds with the person that she used to be. She doesn't understand why she would wear a short skirt or sleep with a random guy like Marshall. When she discovers who she is, she is extremely perturbed by the knowledge that she is the queen bee of Summer Falls. Readers see her character growth as she slowly regains a sense of the person that she is - or rather, the person that she used to be - and why that person bugs her. It's an interesting character arc because we know from the get-go that Elyse is not really that type of person, so there must be more to the character stereotype that everyone believes her to be. It adds something to the mystery of the entire novel. As a character, it also makes Elyse easy to like. She's snarky and loyal in an all-consuming, stubborn way. She is completely fine with believing that Marshall is someone to trust as soon as they talk for a bit because her gut tells her. On one hand, this part of the book doesn't make much sense in the beginning and a lot of readers will assume it's because Elyse is on the TSTL (too stupid to live) side of the YA heroine chart. The actual reasoning behind this characterization is smart and established as the narrative moves forward, but it's still frustrating on the initial reading of the book - and the text doesn't always subtly allow the reader to believe that there's a reason coming for it, either. Still, Elyse is dynamic. She's the kind of character that takes charge in her life and consistently is an active member in the movement of the plot, which is refreshing and entertaining to see in a YA paranormal novel.
Marshall's narrative is less solid. His characterization is, in general, a bit too geared towards being a traditional boy's narration. There's a large focus on his trust issues and his inability to completely be honest about his theories and ideas regarding the mysterious paranormal goings-on around Summer Falls. He also has the fatal flaw of male hubris. It's not badly written, but nothing new is really added to the 'hot male overcomes male pride' character arc, and it's a pretty big part of his character. It also makes him the more unlikable of the two narrators. Elyse can be tough, but the reader doesn't have trouble liking her because she is determined and loyal. She shows great qualities that make the reader feel that she can be trusted. Marshall, however, makes things difficult because he makes more stupid mistakes based on his own character flaws. He's an interesting character and a challenging one. There's also the knowledge that his viewpoint makes the romance between the two of them more complicated. He doesn't struggle with the romantic entanglement the way Elyse does because he doesn't have a significant other embroiled in the memories that he forgot. Marshall actually shows some very frustrating male stupidity regarding his lack of understanding of Elyse's situations. His character arc is progressive, though, and the reader will see that he's a good character in the end - but his redemption comes late, and it's not always easy to accept that he's worthy of being with Elyse romantically.
The secondary characters are surprisingly well-developed. Most series YA novels don't flesh out their characters the way Glimmer does. Some of them fall into predictable patterns, but the reasoning behind the stereotypes is actually plot-oriented and meant to encourage reader insight. The entire premise requires that most of the residents of Summer Falls be almost catatonic in their happiness. They forget the bad things that go on in their lives and walk around in a delirious daze of contentment. Because of this, most of the secondary characters have the personalities of those yellow Walmart smiley faces when they're first introduced. Elyse's boyfriend, for instance, has a possessive streak that highlights his tendencies towards aggression, yet no one else seems to notice it save for Elyse and Marshall. Elyse's parents struggle, too, with emotions that constantly seem to be forgotten or tapered down. Her father has a major temper at times, yet he forgets his nastiness almost as soon as he lets it out. Her mother is disturbed by this, yet by the next day it's as though her father's dangerous nature never existed. Kitanidis speaks of something powerful with characters like these in this story. She uses the paranormal plot to expand on the natural tendency we have as a society to snuffle out the negative in our lives. A lot of modern culture has developed from eras such as the 1950's, where people were taught to ignore the negatives and focus on the positives. What Kitanidis shows the reader is that this leads people to becoming mindless drones. Their natures exist, yet they are constantly repressed because the selective amnesia of negative events is seen as something that makes their lives perfect.
That being said, I wasn't taken with every aspect of the writing. Sometimes it worked, but sometimes it fell flat. The biggest issue that comes from Glimmer is that the plot sags in the middle. Now, it can be said that a lot of books have this problem because the middle of the story involves a lot of build-up and suspense needed in order to get to the exciting parts, but in Glimmer the sagging middle felt like it could have been avoided. A lot of the story revolves around the general wrong-ness of what is going on in Summer Falls, and the mysteries don't feel like they're being actively pursued as much as they should be by the main characters. Some things are also frustrating because the initial amnesiac confusion lasts for a good third of the book, and that makes the opening harder to get into. The rewarding part of the writing is the actual execution of it as an entirety. Kitanidis has a solid grasp of how to make her story have depth and theme interwoven throughout each of the scenes. Her characters are always developing in some way. There's never page space that feels like simple fluff regardless of the pacing of the story.
There's also the matter of the general execution of the paranormal aspects of the story. Kitanidis does a solid job of creating a plot that is realistically best sustained in a singular novel. This story would not translate very well to a series without a lot more being added to it, and she does a great job of keeping the story contained to the point where everything can be resolved within the plot. She also does a good job of keeping things fresh: the creepiness that comes with the selective amnesia combined with the magic and ghosts makes for a storyline that is equal parts YA mystery and YA paranormal. Now, this isn't horror-level creepiness, but it does a solid job of making the reader feel disturbed at this flawed attempt at societal perfection. Some aspects of the revealing of the paranormal aspects just rely too much on Elyse's gut instinct. While discussed and reasoned out via her character, it's still a flimsy way to cause plot events to occur or to build a solid world. It makes the reader more prone to questioning the character motivations and the world building. There's also a lack of development on the magical side of things. The reader gets told via specific characters about different magical means, processes, and solutions that directly effect the course of the plotline. After a while the reader suspends disbelief, but the narrative doesn't always make the magic feel entirely realistic - thus alerting the reader to the idea that it's not entirely believable. The ending of the book in particular relies a lot on the magic, and while it gets hinted at repeatedly as the plot moves forward, it just doesn't always feel solid enough to sustain the plot the way it does towards the end.
All in all, I liked Glimmer a lot. It's different. Fresh. There's something about Kitanidis and her themes that makes me excited as a reader - after all, she includes a lot of them and does it well. Does it make her book perfect? Sadly, no. The characterization of Marshall and Elyse was solid, but Marshall was hard to relate to at times. The plot sagged at times and the paranormal aspects worked to varying degrees instead of being consistently solid. Kitanidis is a writer that I'll go back to, though, and I think her work is something that a lot of readers will enjoy because of its genre-bending nature, its intelligence, and (most importantly) its ability to wrap itself up in a singular novel. Glimmer is a book that paranormal mystery fans will enjoy, and it will definitely live up to being a different reading experience for people tired of the same-old, same-old in YA paranormal stories these days.
Cover: Eh. I like the drama and the coloring used, but the girl's face doesn't do much to help differentiate it from other books on the shelves.
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Copy: Received from publisher/publicist for review (Thank you, Heather and Harper Collins!)