Author: Cyn Balog
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Other Reviews for This Author: Fairy Tale; Starstruck
Cyn Balog is a writer that improves each time. As I stated in my review of Gena Showalter's latest book, I like an author that can improve with each book. There's something rewarding as a reader in the enjoyment of an author that improves with each new creative project. Balog has always had a knack for finding unique plots to work with - her first novel is a modern story of fairies with several twists and turns, and Starstruck combines the teen issues of weight-loss and relationships with a type of magic that manipulates someone into being practically irresistible. Balog also has writes standalone novels. Needless to say, despite a rocky start with her work, I kept up with it because the pieces of a great, unique YA writer were there - and Touched is probably her best so far, combining the elements that she is known for as a writer with the strengths of someone who has become more advanced in their techniques and execution.
There is a set way of doing things for Nick Cross. In his mind, the world is a blueprint, a timeline of events that are predetermined on an immediate level. As he wakes up, he knows what he will be doing within the next few hours of the day. Life sets him on a path, and he knows that going off of that path is a major risk. It messes with his head and temporarily distorts the future until a new path is set. Going off of the path could mean anything for Nick - an unexpected tragedy, an unwanted new person in his life. Nick has spent his life knowing what will happen before his peers would, and the thing which he fears most is the sense of the unknown that comes with ignoring it.
It's this sense of Nick's that tells him that he will rescue a little girl at the beach. So, when a pretty girl nearly gets in an accident and he rushes to save her, therefore choosing her over saving the girl, he goes off of the expected path. Nick was never supposed to meet this girl - never supposed to get in major trouble for being away from his lifeguard post while the other hungover lifeguard snored away, while a little girl drowned. By going off of the path, someone's life was taken. And for what? A strange teenage girl who has just moved to town? A girl that probably will, like everyone else, believe Nick to be weird and blow him off? He should have just followed the path.
Nick's actions have grave consequences, but with those consequences come unexpected rewards. Taryn may run cross country and be the pretty, new girl that several of the guys lust after, but she has more to her than Nick first suspects. Her looks attract him, but it's her reaction to his abilities that really has him interested in her. Taryn is not just another girl. In going off of the path, Nick saved someone who knows something about his supernatural abilities. He soon learns that Taryn's family history is a part of the same supernatural forces that are behind his foresight. As Nick starts to stretch the limit of his powers and, as a result, the limits of his strained family dynamic at home, he falls for Taryn more and more, not fully understanding the irony of fate - even when its initial course is strayed from.
Cyn Balog's main characters are always just that – characters. They are the type of people that, when confronted with a situation, bring an unusual and individual perspective to it. Nick Cross is a step away from normal with Balog, though. This is the first time she's used a male first person PoV, and her execution of the male voice is spot-on. Nick Cross has the perfect blend of masculinity and human sensitivity that makes him sound real, versus the situation that some male protagonists face in their tendency to be caricatures of the geeky, funny guy that just cares about girls and makes funny quips at random turns. Nick's voice never focuses too much on the girls or on the more shallow aspects of the heterosexual male mind. Instead, Balog has him actually reacting to the life that he's living. He questions the world around him, questions the family that he's lived with for so long. Nick's conflicts with following his intended path and having to stray from it in order to save a life, be it accidentally or on purpose, make his character one that speaks on multiple levels. Readers see how he struggles to sympathize with his mother, who has the same ability as him and has long-since become a shut-in in order to protect herself and her family. After all, if she rarely leaves the house, what bad things could she see for her future? Then there's his sweetheart of a grandmother who takes care of both of them and acts as a familial glue that reminds them of the better times, of the times where Nick and his mother actually see eye-to-eye. His voice is pained, but it shows that he aims to survive in the world regardless of his ability. Nick Cross is a strong character, a character with understandable motivations and even more understandable hardships. His story and voice will easily translate to readers across the board, and it doesn't feel off-putting to a reader that finds trouble identifying with male protagonists in YA. I was able to invest myself in Nick's story, and that's why it made such an impression on me. Like Balog's last novel, Starstruck, the protagonist of this story was a great highlight that made it memorable outside of its premise.
The 300-some pages of Touched manage to flesh out the side characters more-so than in series books with longer page counts. Nick's family is one of great characters with detailed backstories that go beyond a simple explanation for keeping them out of his life. More importantly, they are still a huge part of his life. Nick's grandmother and mother appear throughout the story often. They are pillars of advice and trouble. Balog takes the time to use them as characters, not just plot devices. Nick's mother is an especially tragic figure that ultimately acts as a huge influence on him and his character growth. He sees the way that her life has deteriorated since she became a hermit and hid herself away, allowing him to want to do something else for himself. He also comes to learn exactly how his mother gained the supernatural ability that she then passed on to him…how he lost the chance to know his father…and so much more. Nick's grandmother is a sweeter figure with a bit less depth, but her loving relationship with Nick shines through anyway. It's hard to express just how much of a role Nick's family plays in this story, because they truly are an integral part of the narrative on the whole. Without them, Balog's story would have been much less effecting. Their depth as characters really makes it memorable.
Taryn is a bit less developed than I would like, but she's still a solid addition to the cast of characters. She's not quite an outcast, but she's not quite popular, either. Taryn doesn't run the risk of being overblown as a super-pretty or super-understated girl. Nick is attracted to her because of her knowledge and her ability to notice him when others ignore him. Because of this, Taryn feels like a mature girl that is an attractive love interest for the reader to support. She also provides her own level of intrigue and conflict to the story, being someone that Nick both wants and wants to protect. Taryn's family history and how it ties into Nick's is all the more interesting, as it makes the conflicts that much more intense. Their romance is sweet and develops at a good pace. There isn't love at first sight – quite the contrary, Taryn finds him strange – but Nick's supernatural abilities make the development unusual. It was a tough thing to get used to, as he would reasonably know things that she would tell him…before she would actually tell him. Balog incorporated Nick's ability in a way that fit then world building well, making his relationship with Taryn seem more than a usual YA romance.
The world for Touched is a basic one on the surface. It's a basic YA rendition of our world combined with a supernatural undertone to the storyline. It relies on the belief of a gypsy-esque curse that passes through family lines. The magic of the storyline feels grounded enough to be realistic, and Balog addresses it in a way that makes its checks and balances clear. Nothing is entirely good or entirely evil about the supernatural abilities that are addressed. Some are torturous, others dangerous, and others merely beneficial. It's only when we think about Nick's story that we see just how effecting the magic of the world is. Balog's world is fleshed out and whole for a standalone book, and that is what makes it great. She manages to do what takes some others two or three books to – create a fully-realized world with supernatural elements. Touched also shows how Balog has improved in regards to showing the world to the reader. In previous novels, Balog has had the issue of not building her world enough, waiting until the contemporary plotline has been set-up to introduce the supernatural elements – or, alternatively, not building the world with consistency and sense that the reader can easily grasp. Touched is skilled, and it introduces things directly while providing just enough backstory throughout the narrative to give the reader an understandable context. It balances with the story well and showcases Balog's solid prose. Balog's writing is very much attuned to the needs of this supernatural-contemporary plotline that she uses often, mixing the sensible prose with the emotional depth required of the contemporary side of things, occasionally going just far enough into the realm of the magical to make that seem real, too. Balog's ending on this one did feel a bit rushed, but it was unexpectedly emotional and will probably make a reader or two cry. The couple gets a happy ending, but Balog really makes the reader question it based on the level of drama and mystery that she includes in the story. Definitely a highlight, Balog's writing is worth the time in and of itself.
Needless to say, I can't recommend this book enough. Touched is exactly the kind of book that I want to see from Balog in the future. It mixes all of her best skills in with a wonderful cast of characters, well-crafted themes, and solid writing. This story is the work of someone who knows their craft and audience. While Taryn could have been a bit more memorable, Touched was a great read overall that made me glad that I stuck with Balog through these few books. She's a great author with a great career ahead of her. Touched is a supernatural YA novel that pushes boundaries and gives readers something unique, though they will find it to be a much more emotional experience than they initially anticipated.
Cover: LOVE. There's a guy on the cover, the Jersey boardwalk setting is shown, and it gives off a major air of creepiness that the text does show. I'm kind of sad that Balog's first three covers don't match it in aesthetic, but it's not a bad direction at all.
Rating: 5.0 Stars
Copy: Received from publisher/publicist for review (Thank you, Random House!!)