Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Review: SONG OF THE FIREFLIES by J.A. Redmerski

Title: SONG OF THE FIREFLIES by J.A. Redmerski 
Pub Date: Out now!
ARC received from Forever (Grand Central Publishing) in exchange for an honest review. 
Dannie says: *big pouty face here!* I wanted to love this so hard.

Brayelle Bates has always been a force of nature. Even as a child, Bray's wild and carefree spirit intimidated everyone around her. The only person who's ever truly understood her is her best friend, Elias Kline. Though every fiber of her being wants to stay with Elias forever, Bray can't bear the thought of him discovering her agonizing history. She's done everything she can to keep him at arm's length, including moving away. But their undying bond was too strong a pull to deny, and Bray couldn't survive without him. Now she's back home with Elias, and things have never felt more right--until one night changes everything. 

Elias vowed never to be separated from Bray again. So when she decides to flee in a desperate attempt to escape her fate, Elias knows he must go with her. As the two try to make the most of their circumstance, taking up with a reckless group of new friends, Elias soon realizes there's a darkness driving Bray he can't ignore. Now in order to save her, he'll have to convince Bray to accept the consequences of their reality--even if it means losing her. 

The MCs. I liked them, but didn't love them. There were a few reasons for this that I'll get to below, but while I cared about what happened to both of them, I wasn't necessarily championing them or their relationship. 

That mental health was a theme but not THE story. I think it's a mistake in trend in both YA and NA to make stories that are just about [insert sick lit theme here]. So it was nice to see a story with a mentally ill MC where the illness itself was not the spotlight of the book. The handling of bipolar disorder itself made it a like, instead of a love. More on that below. 

I really struggled to find a love in this book. And for a strengths-based critiquer, that's a hard thing for me to write. I was disappointed in a lot of this book, which really sucks because THE EDGE OF NEVER was one of my favorite NA reads for a long time. 

Authentic handling of sexual addiction. It's easy for me to nitpick about the handling of addiction issues, having been an addictions therapist for nearly 15 years now. However, this isn't really about that. Krista and Becca Ritchie absolutely nailed both drug and sex addiction in their ADDICTED SERIES novels, and they're not therapists. This is a matter of the author doing enough research to make the story authentic. And for anyone who has ever met a girl who is truly addicted to sex, it's beyond insulting to their struggles and strengths to say "I like sex a lot" and call it an addiction. This really raised my hackles because it doesn't take a TON of research to do better than the author did in this case. 

Authentic presentation of bipolar disorder. The author hugely missed the boat here, too. And she missed an awesome opportunity to utilize the dual narrative POVs to present bipolar as it appears externally to a loved one as well as internally within a person with the disorder. In the case of Bipolar, these are two very different perspectives, particularly when the person is in a manic phase. So here again, I felt like the author didn't do her research and slapped a label on her character to give her an "issue" rather than do the work to make the disease feel authentic. I felt that she did attempt to rectify this in some of the very last chapters, but it was too late at that point. The opportunity had been messed up way before then, and the author had lost her credibility with me as a reader. The same went for the plot aspects of involuntary commitment and correctional suicide watch. 

Distinct narrative voice. (And yes, Dannie is harping on voice again.) Really, though, if you're going to bother to have two points of view, a reader should be able to tell the difference between them. There were many times when I had to skim back to figure out whose POV we were in. And when one of the characters is pervasively mentally ill and a self-diagnosed sex addicts, this really shouldn't be the case. I felt like the voice was spotty and muddy throughout the read. 

Not more but less chunky expository narrative. I felt like this book was heavy on the internal monologue but that that narrative was neither emotive or provocative. It makes sense when you have a depressed MC that she's going to be withdrawn and isolating. That's all the more reason to make that narrative jump off the page where both voice and content are concerned. There was a huge disconnect for me in this respect. 

More editing. And here I'm not talking about line editing, which you expect with an ARC to be spotty. I'm talking about big picture editing--characterization, plot, narrative voice, pace, etc.  Like THE EDGE OF ALWAYS, this feels more like a first draft than any sort of finished product. The potential is there but the execution is way off.

I'm willing to accept that I may be totally wrong here. But like I said, I loved the author's debut novel when I first started reading NA a couple years ago. This felt so off the mark for me compared to that, and made me feel like I wasn't just being biased here in my disappointment. 

But that's my two cents, for whatever they're worth. Let me know what you think!

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