Friday, July 6, 2012

"The Forever Girl" by Rebecca Hamilton

I've done reviews of books and movies and whatever before, but most of that was back in college and just after, when I still thought I might be able to do something with my stupid journalism degree. Ahhh, good times. I occasionally read books that I enjoy - Gail Carriger's "Soulless" being one of the more recent ones - but very rarely am I inclined to write a review. I'm a picky girl, what can I say?

On Twitter, I follow Rebecca Hamilton, who kept tweeting about her new book, The Forever Girl, which was released on 1/26/2012 on, and it was apparently getting awesome reviews. Being the curious thing that I am, I went ahead and bought it on my Kindle and began reading.

NOTE: I'm going to avoid spoilers as best as I can, but if I have to go into detail, I'll let you know.

First off, The Forever Girl is what I think is called New Adult fiction. It's a fairly recent genre, from what I'm to understand, and honestly? It's a very, very unexplored market. You go from young adult novels, then you don't see these characters until they're in their late twenties, and you wonder, "Hm, how did they get to be the way they are?" I think so many people avoid dealing with new adults is because, well, they're basically glorified teenagers, especially today with so many young people returning to live with their parents for various reasons.* They're still somewhat trying to find themselves and can be annoyingly cocksure about their intelligence and worldliness. With teenagers, you can excuse that kind of behavior with, "Oh, they just have no experience." Not so much with recent college grads.

Anyway, Hamilton does an excellent job portraying a young, insecure character who is ostracized by her hometown for daring to be different. Sophia, the main character, does have a tendency to be a little whiny about things, but I can overlook that. I was a whiny brat until ... well, I still can be. Regardless, there's sincerity in Sophia that I found refreshing, especially considering the parallels to Twilight that I (and plenty of other people) have noticed. But we'll get back to that.

While some have made no secret of their dislike for Sophia, I respect Hamilton for making her real - other than the voices and her magical skills, of course. [SPOILER] Sure, she has a lot of doubts when she begins a relationship with Charles, and even after moving in with him, she is hesitant to commit fully. Um, I don't know what person hasn't done this. You're drawn to someone but you see that there's a possibility it couldn't work, so you vacillate between desperately wanting to be with them to inwardly pulling yourself away. I don't see this as inconsistent; just a young girl not one hundred percent ready to commit to a relationship. Oh, and also? I wouldn't want to be immortal. That is just not appealing to me. I cannot wait to get old with my husband, goosing him in the grocery store when we're in our 80s. A few other reviewers have seen Sophia's desire to have Charles develop the ability to age as strange. Five words: she is not Bella Swan.[END SPOILER]

Which brings us to Twilight. It's not a secret that I despise the Twilight series. I hate Stephenie Meyer's writing, her infatuation with oppressive men, her fetishization (I don't know if that's how you'd spell it or if it's even a word, but I don't care. This is my fucking blog.) of Native American culture, etc. And yes, I do believe that Twilight served as an inspiration for The Forever Girl. Charles has similar attributes to Edward, even stalking protecting Sophia and trying to convince her to stay away from his big, scary world. I do like that Hamilton pokes a little fun at Twilight, though, with Sophia angrily asking Charles if he's following her and his response? "You're not so interesting that I came to watch you sleep, darlin'." That aside, though, there are some striking similarities between Sophia and Bella, but I can't go into it too much without giving away a lot of the plot. One major difference is that Sophia has agency. She doesn't dissolve into paralyzed goo when she is forced to protect herself, and she takes a very active role in the latter part of the book. But I can't deny that Sophia may just be a re-imagining of how cool Bella could have been.

Now, I'm not saying that you can't be influenced by other authors, movie makers, etc. Hell, Quentin Tarantino wouldn't have a career, otherwise. And my own stories have sprouted from watching an episode of "Buffy" or reading Terry Moore's "Strangers in Paradise." ** But I do think that The Forever Girl may be in 50 Shades of Grey*** territory: fanfic turned original story. And again, that is not a bad thing. But the best of that genre really does evolve into its own species of story. The Forever Girl shows promise that it may, in fact, blossom into something very definitely separate from Twilight, hopefully in the next installment.

And, moving on. Mainly because I hate that Twilight has been mentioned more times in this post than it has been ever since I started writing.

Color seems to be a major theme in this book, since the author seems to focus heavily on the distinct hues of someone's dress, the flowers, various herbs, etc. Visualization has never been a weak point for me, but Hamilton's descriptions make is even easier to see exactly what she wants you to see. Maybe kind of like the Cruor (this world's version of vampires, although they seem to have a touch of werewolf, as well) and their ability to completely take over the mind of someone to do what they will. A-HA! I'm onto you, Ms. Hamilton. But it also has to do with Sophia's faith, Wicca - color and smell are very important parts of daily life, each with its own purpose and meaning. And this segues into my next point.

One part that I really appreciated was the honest approach Hamilton took to Wiccan rituals. I'm not the first to note this, either, but as someone who studied Wiccan practices for several years, it's wonderful to see someone who really wants to portray this particular religion correctly instead of going on hearsay and cultural prejudices. I wish it had been explored a little more, maybe leaving the action in her Colorado hometown, a la Sookie Stackhouse in Charlaine Harris' wonderful Southern Vampire Mystery series, instead of traipsing off to other parts of the world. But perhaps we'll return to Belle Meadow? Who knows?****

Now, the criticism the book has gotten is not unwarranted. The pacing is sometimes a little off, and I had to read the final couple of chapters a couple of times to understand exactly what was going on. The entire ending seemed a little rushed; the majority of the book moved slowly, which at times was nice and others left me thinking, "God, someone DO something." And then suddenly, ACTION FIGHTING FIRE MATCHES ZOMG! Then ... Japan? With some kids in tow? Well, okay then.

Some of the characters are fleshed out well, but others are very vague, despite the fact that they may or may not be main characters. Sophia, being the POV character, of course has the most characterization, as we're privy to her thoughts and emotions. Charles is a little hard to read, however, even though he's present almost as much as Sophia is. Ivory, who I think is the most interesting character by far, is explored in depth during her memory sequence, and while I understand that her past was kept secret for as long as it was, I wish that Hamilton had planted seeds. Or perhaps, if she did, bigger ones. For the lion's share of the novel, she is sadly absent, and no one really seems to care that much, even the ones who know who she really is. Paloma is also an underused character who kind of seems like a deus ex machina more than anything else. Then we get to Ophelia, who was only briefly kinda-mentioned and then [SPOILER]she saves everyone and is apparently Irish[END SPOILER].

I will most definitely read the next book and I hope to see Hamilton really stretch her writing legs. I want to see further and deeper characterization of outlying characters, more fluid transitions between plot points, and more of her beautifully descriptive writing. For a debut novel, Hamilton shows a great deal of potential to create a thrilling series, and I can't say that about a lot of new writers. All in all, I give the book three out of five stars and look forward to the rest of the series.

* And I'm not knocking that at all; I left college in 2006 and couldn't get a job doing anything. I lived with my parents for several years, even returning a few years later after getting out on my own. Stupid economy and influx of people with degrees.

** Which by the way, if you haven't ever read this comic series, you absolutely must. Terry Moore is a genius when it comes to the natural feminine form and understanding relationship dynamics. Plus, Katchoo is a fucking badass.

*** I LOATHE 50 Shades of Grey. LOOOOAAAAATTTHHHHHHE. There is much better porn out there for ladies; it's known as the 80s Harlequin romance novel collection. And they're cheaper.

**** I really hope we do. There were a lot of unresolved issues (we never met her dad, the crazy fundie-Christian lady isn't punished for setting her house on fire, Sophia and her mom never really connect, Sophia just kind of abandons her job, etc.) and like I said above, I think there's a ton of territory that could make for a great character study.
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