Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynne Herman

After the sudden death of her sister, Violet Saunders is dragged to live in Four Paths, a small town that seems as dull as dirt, to help her aunt. She expects boredom and small town people, but there's so much more. Justin Hawthorne is the de facto leader of four supernatural families, including the Saunder's, who work together to protect the city from the Gray, a dimension that traps a dangerous, monstrous creature that usually consumes a person every few years. This year alone, it has killed 3 people and more are expected to follow, threatening the whole town. In addition to this crisis, the Hawthorne's are trying to maintain a web of lies that put the town in further danger and a growing number of former followers are planning to rebel against them. When Violet accidentally releases the creature, the teen founders must unite to save their town.

The Devouring Gray is a book I didn't know I needed. I expected a fun, fantasy adventure and I got something more. I love the way the book is structured. It's like I was given a rough sketch of the town, its workings, and its residents at first and then had things filled in through Violet's experience as a newcomer. Exposition felt completely natural and reveals felt like they meant more. Violet has a lot on her plate: grieving her sister, being shut out by her distant mother, and moving to a new town in a dilapidated house with her aunt who has dementia. She feels isolated in her grief since her mother would rather portray a strong mask than be vulnerable. The way grief is portrayed felt so real to me. My favorite scene in the whole book is when she and Isaac, a boy who lost his whole family in one way or another, have an honest conversation about their grief and pain while acknowledging and understand each other's experience. It was an incredibly beautiful moment between people who had walls built up and hadn't really shown their real selves up to that point. The beauty of the novel is in its characters.

Every main character has an understandable point of view that makes it hard to demonize or truly hate any of them. Violet is in the dark and stumbling around with no one to guide her. Justin has been indoctrinated by his family to keep the status quo even if  it doesn't serve anyone but his own family. Isaac has been abandoned and abused by his own family and contains pain and rage that hides the sweet person he is inside. Harper has been rejected by the whole town as a failure, but she keeps fighting and working towards her revenge and a way to finally prove herself worthy. These characters are so well drawn and multifaceted that I find myself torn when they fight because all of them have reasonable motivations and feelings. I have my favorites, but there was something to relate to and admire in each and every one.

Four Paths lies in a weird liminal space between the conventional world and the Gray where the only revered people have supernatural powers. The Hawthorne family holds dominion over the town and portrays white privilege, nepotism, and revisionist history through their absolute control of information, history, and power in the town. Justin has no supernatural power, but pretends he does to keep the status quo. He did nothing to deserve it and everyone treats him like a celebrity due to his connections and lies. Others are discarded and ostracized if they threaten his family. This toxic way of doing things has led to the Gray encroaching more and more on the town. The younger generation band together to fix what their ancestors have done and what their parents perpetuate. This felt especially apt in the current political regime that has similar tactics.

The Devouring Gray surprised me and kept me hooked on each character and revelation. I felt so deeply for these characters and I can't wait to see them in the next installment. On top of everything else, the sheer number of queer people (with wonderful representation) in this tiny town made me so happy. This is the book I wish my teen self could have read for so many different reasons and I'm totally jealous of teens who get to read such good representation today.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins