EVERNIGHT, by Claudia Gray (the pen name, evidently, of someone named Amy Vincent), was highly disappointing.
For starters, it opened with exactly the kind of prologue I find most off-putting, namely, one that seems to exist only because otherwise the first several chapters will be too boring, so the author wants to assure us that something suspenseful is going to happen later on. The problem? I don’t usually feel any suspense during action sequences unless I’m already invested in the characters, which, almost by definition, I’m not by the time of a prologue. I gathered from EVERNIGHT’s prologue that someone would wind up in some danger and feeling some guilty anguish, but nothing made me really care.
But I’d heard good things, so on I went to the actual book. Throughout the early chapters, I kept trying to like it, and almost managing. I thought the premise — a school for vampires suddenly opens itself to human students — had definite potential. Character-wise, Gray did something I really liked:
It’s funny — when people call you “shy,” they usually smile. Like it’s cute, some funny little habit you’ll grow out of when you’re older, like the gaps in your grin when your baby teeth fall out. If they knew how it felt — really being shy, not just unsure at first — they wouldn’t smile. Not if they knew how the feeling knots up your stomach or makes your palms sweat or robs you of the ability to say anything that makes sense. It’s not cute at all.
– but then undermined it by never having her character actually think or act like a shy person, just telling us a lot of times that she was. I felt like I would’ve wanted to read the book Gray told us she was writing.
On a sentence level, EVERNIGHT vacillated between incredibly pedestrian, generic prose and the sort of quintessentially young adult cadence I really like, where really long and really short clauses mix together; you can see all of this in this short paragraph from early on:
Until that moment, I hadn’t known what fear was. Shock jolted through me, cold as ice water, and I found out just how fast I could really run. I didn’t scream — there was no point, none, because I’d gone off into the woods so nobody could find me, which was the dumbest thing I’d ever done and looked like it would be the last. [...] I had to run like hell.
There was also a lot of sloppiness on little details (like, no one in high school is old enough to drink legally!), which was distracting, but I dutifully moved along in the book, waiting for the plot to develop. And then it did, and I was sorry.
(Vague but important spoilers below.)
The entire first half of the book is playing an absurd trick on the reader, which is then revealed. It’s a trick in the tradition of Agatha Christie’s THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD, which I thought was very clever when I read it as an eleven-year-old; it here has the effect of just undoing any investment I had in the character I thought I was reading about. Seriously, there was absolutely no reason to have kept the crucial information from readers except for the author to revel in how “clever” the trick was, except it… really wasn’t. EVERNIGHT is trying to be “Enemies” from Season 3 of BUFFY, and ending up more in the territory of “And it was all a dream!”
And speaking of gratuitous choices, here’s my fan letter to the author:
Dear Claudia Gray,
Please don’t spoil Hitchcock movies I haven’t seen since I was a small child and don’t remember the big plot twists in, just so you can have the characters discuss them to establish that they both like old movies. Thank you,
As blog readers will know, though, I can overlook a lot when I really get into a teen romance. Which is why the final straw for me was that the protagonist and her love interest are the most codependent creeps since Meyer set the trend in this genre. Seriously, our heroine Bianca goes on, and on, and on about how much the sniveling hero Lucas just wants to protect her. If I could’ve believed in these characters and their allegedly undying love for one another, I would’ve been really frightened for them.
My last complaint, I swear: EVERNIGHT flagrantly violates the Chekov Rule (“If there’s a gun in the first act…”) with the most blatantly dropped plot point this side of BUFFY’s seventh season. (And by that, I do mean every damn week of season 7, but that’s no excuse; if it was real bad when Joss did it, it’s certainly no good when this lady follows suit.) It’s possible this is just setup for some sequel, but I’m sure as hell not reading any more to find out.