Sunday, March 27, 2016

Places No One Knows

Waverly Camdenmar is the perfect girl on the surface. She gets the best grades, hangs out with the most popular people, and excels at track. Others view her as unflappable and icy. Inside, she is just as insecure as anyone else plus has thoughts that are offputting to others. Marshall Holt is her complete opposite. He's checked out of school. When he bothers to show up, he sleeps in class or just daydreams. On the weekends, he's busy drinking to oblivion, smoking cigarettes and pot, and maybe some other drugs. Everyone views him as a white trash loser, but he's quite empathetic and smart. His home life is difficult and he's just trying to cope. They never really interacted before until Waverly is trying to sleep using meditation techniques and a candle. She appears near him in her dreams night after night. No one else can see her but Marshall. She can be herself and free with Marshall, but her days are the same. Her emotional turmoil intensifies. She's torn between embracing her real self and continuing to pretend for others in the day.

I usually don't like to read contemporary teen novels unless they are thought to be exceptional because I just don't care about random teen drama. Add fantasy, horror, or science fiction and the romance aspect can be one part of a whole work, not the main event. However, Brenna Yovanoff is one of my favorite teen authors. Her previous books are all exceptional and she's not afraid to delve deep into darkness. So, I decided to read Places No One Knows and I wasn't disappointed at all. All of the characters are well written and engaging. The plot has just a little bit of fantasy and a lot of realistic darkness. It's different in tone and execution from her other books, but it's similar to them beneath all the trappings at its core.

The characters feel real. Waverly desperately wants to survive high school. In middle school, she repelled people with her scientific curiosity and matter of fact delivery. Others thought her a weird robotic person who talked way too much about the process of decay and other unsavory topics. her best friend Maribeth taught her how to seem more normal by using her iciness to her advantage to seem impervious and by keeping her odd interests and weird thoughts inside. She's so used to hiding herself, but the effects are seriously detrimental to her now. She can't sleep at night and opts to run to feel freedom so often and hard that she seriously hurts herself. When she visits Marshall in her dreams, Waverly can just be herself in this place out of time, away from the judgment of society. Another outlet for her real self (but in the real world) is Autumn, a brutally honest girl who just wants to be Waverly's friend. Waverly hasn't encountered this type of person before. She's so used to the passive aggression and subterfuge of the top of the societal foodchain that honesty is strange, but eventually refreshing. I felt for Waverly because she has long been conditioned that her natural state is distasteful and she felt she had to change to be accepted. Now, she's angry that the version that people accept isn't even her. It's an interesting dilemma that many can relate to: be yourself and risk being vulnerable and hurt or be someone else to protect yourself, but feel alone.

Maribeth decided to become the queen bee of the school and takes over any obstacle in her way. This book illustrates how girls deal with conflict. It isn't acceptable to be straightforward and cause conflict, so they get around it through passive aggression, creating rumors, and hurting each other socially. Maribeth is obsessed with projecting a perfect image as well, but she seems to enjoy the power hurting people without repercussion, having everyone's attention on her, and taking whatever she wants. She feels the negative aspects to when Waverly isn't as compliant as she was before, but she eventually values her social standing over that long time friendship. Waverly and Maribeth's relationship is a such a good example of how a good friendship can become toxic without even realizing it until it's too late. They were great at the beginning, but Maribeth eventually became insulting and cruel towards Waverly. Waverly knew how to handle Maribeth, appeasing her, making her think she's the one coming up with the best ideas, and making her feel like she has the most power. How is that a real friendship, especially when in return, Waverly gets backhanded comments, ridicule, and cruelty. It's never shown, but I assume the relationship became that way gradually. Waverly makes a lot of excuses for Maribeth, but then eventually sees how toxic their relationship is. A lot of this situation rang true for me as I experienced a similar relationship.

Marshall Holt is similar to Waverly. He seems to be the lazy slacker who will never amount to anything. He has completely checked out of school (if he bothers to show up) and spends most of his time with drinking, mind altering drugs, and making out with Heather. Underneath, he's quite empathetic, but his home situation wears on him. His father is disabled with a condition that may or may not be permanent. Marshall and his mother are often the target of his father's explosive anger that is really about his disability and his horrible situation. Marshall would rather drown out his feelings with substances and a meaningless physical relationship than feel all that pain. He's had a crush on Waverly for a while because he glimpsed the person she is underneath. The nights when she visits makes him want to be better and become worthy of her. They show each other their flaws and problems when they wouldn't to anyone in the real world. During the day, both ignore the other outwardly, but they long to be together. The tension during this part of the book was well done and not too angsty. Both characters are transformed by their interactions despite all the miscommunication, misunderstandings, and hurt feelings along the way.

Places No One Knows is a surprising book. I was so emotionally invested in these characters that I felt every emotion with them. I rushed through the book in a few days because I just had to know what would happen. Yovanoff made me care about these characters even though I've rolled my eyes and put down other similar books. I think each of these three characters are incredibly relatable and I can see parts of myself in each one. I also like that is has shades of fantasy with Waverly's dreams with Marshall. It's a small touch that makes a world of difference to the characters, providing a safe, insulated place to be themselves and really connect with another person. I can't wait to see what else Brenna Yovanoff will write. In the meantime, I will read her short fiction in The Curiosities and The Anatomy of Curiosities.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

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