July 10, 2014

Thursday Review: ASK ME by Kimberly Pauley

If you were ever that kid who gobbled up Greek myths like popcorn, then, like me, you may have been a bit intrigued and mystified by those exalted yet still human personages, the oracles. Cloistered in a rarefied environment, like the Oracle of Delphi on her remote island; clad in diaphanous robes, inhaling volcanic vapors and spouting the wisdom of the ages…it's hard to imagine anything like that happening in modern times, unless you make a habit of visiting psychics and palm readers. Anyway, it's not institutionalized as a part of the popular religion in the same way.

Enter Ask Me, the latest novel by Kimberly Pauley, author of Cat Girl's Day Off (reviewed here) and the very hilarious Sucks to be Me (reviewed here). I loved the premise of this book. The narrator, Aria Morse, is…an Oracle. From a long line of oracles, stretching back through the ages and including among their ranks her very own grandmother, with whom she lives. And being an oracle isn't all fun and games and telling the future. In fact, it pretty well sucks—because she has to answer Every. Single. Question. Not just questions posed directly to her, either. Every question within earshot prompts a dramatic, declamatory answer from her Oracle Voice, whether she wants to respond or not. Whether the question is about the past, present or future, the answer is always the truth, but it's often worded so cryptically that it's impossible to interpret until much later.

So basically, Aria is the school freak, wherever she goes—she's constantly muttering (the only way she can deal with her constant compulsion to answer questions is to do it quietly) and usually goes around with her earphones in so she can avoid any unnecessary and inevitably awkward conversation. (If you've read my novel Underneath, you'll know I'm interested in the idea of paranormal powers being a mixed blessing.)

Here's what else is making Aria's life miserable: most oracles lose their powers by the time they turn seventeen or so. But Aria has passed her major milestone and STILL HAS HER ABILITY. Not only that, a girl she knows at school has disappeared, and Aria might be the only one who can help figure out who is responsible. The question is, can she do it without endangering her own life? And if she has to reveal her ability in order to solve the mystery, will anyone believe her?

I really enjoyed the conflict, internal and external, created by Aria's being an oracle. She repeatedly faces the decision of whether to trust people with her secret, and whom to trust, and the ramifications of allowing herself to reveal such a powerful secret. Pauley has a very thoughtful approach to the idea of what would truly be like to have an ability like this, and how it affects the way Aria moves through her world on an everyday basis. In fact, the attention to the everyday details of contemporary teen life was an intriguing and ongoing contrast to Aria's kind of old-school power of Orating the Truth.

On that note—a complaint I (accidentally) saw in a random review, as I was entering the title on Goodreads, addressed the fact that the book made little or no reference to the historical context of oracles in ancient Greece. While I will agree that it might have been cool (oh, let's face it; it could have been SUPER cool) to tie the story into some ancient prophecy or something-or-other, I suspect this is a standalone title and as such, it stands alone quite well as a contemporary novel without a historical thread. I still really enjoyed the book. And even though I kind of guessed whodunit fairly early on, the story kept me flip-flopping, wondering whether by guessing that X did it, I was just playing into the author's hands, and it was really Y, or even Z. A fun, fast, suspenseful read.

You can find Ask Me by Kimberly Pauley online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

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