Thursday, October 18, 2012
The Suburban Strange
Celia Balustine is shy, unsure of herself, and new to Suburban High School. By chance, she meets a girl named Regine, who changes her life. At her new school, Celia is accepted into a small group called the Rosary who all act aloof, listen to music not on top 40 lists, dress in grey and black, and generally set themselves apart from the rest of the school population. Celia conforms to her group and has a good time at school for the first time in years. Then strange things start happening at her school. Every girl with who has a 16th birthday suffers some sort of misfortune on the day before consistently throughout the year. As her own birthday nears, she tries to investigate what is causing it. Could it be her chemistry lab partner Mariette, who seems to have odd, impossible things happen around her? Or is it someone completely hidden?
The Suburban Strange has a gorgeous cover that mixes mediums in a very cool way. Despite its beautiful trappings, the actual story is a mixed bag of good and bad. Let's start with the good. I like a lot of the characters, especially Celia. At first, I thought she was a mindless sheep that just cared about being cool, but as the novel goes on, she becomes a force to be reckoned with. She really comes into her own and becomes comfortable with herself, acting how she thinks she should act instead of how others want her to. Her strength and resolve near the end of the novel serves to support her friends and helps her in the main conflict with the villain. She also has amazing artistic talent, which I am always fascinated to read about because I just draw stick figures. Mariette is probably the strongest character because she always stands on her own. She doesn't conform to other people's views or style and accepts that not everyone will like her. For most of the book, I also liked the Rosary. They are basically pretentious, hipster teens who like 70's and 80's music and act like they are better than everyone else, which I know doesn't sound flattering at all. However, they lead Celia into an exotic world of indie clubs, new music, new literature, new clothes and style, and a new way of viewing the world. Kotecki recreates for me how enchanting things are when they are just discovered and how magical they feel.
There are also a lot of flaws in this book. Tomasi is a tolerable character, but the instalove after knowing each other for like two seconds is ridiculous. The pacing of the book is odd. Long stretches of the book have basically no action at all and are just ham-handed infodumps. I get that the world needs to be explained, but there's a better way of doing it through showing rather than telling. The buildup to the end where Celia is doubting herself and trying to find answers is way too long, making the actual finale and denouement rather short. Also, the references to music and art are cool, but made the story completely halt at times, stilting the pace further. It should be used as flavor and not as the substance of the story. I really enjoyed the Kind and Unkind supernatural world aspects. The Unkind are said to be mistaken for creatures like vampires and werewolves. This book doesn't delve completely into that world. Both sides are rather untrained and bumbling, not letting us see the depth and breadth of this very promising world. I did hope that the Rosary were enmeshed somehow in this world, but they proved to be normal, pretentious teens.
The Suburban Strange has a lot of good things going for it, but a lot of mediocre things hold it back. The writing is engaging and made me forgive a lot of these flaws. I would definitely read another book and give Kotecki another try because of his ability to capture emotions and build characters.
My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins