February 12, 2016

Turning Pages Reads: PULL by Anne Riley

Welcome to another session of Turning Pages!

Synopsis: It was pretty well going to be the most depressing visit to Blackheath 17-year-old Rosie Clayton had ever taken. Though she visited her grandparents in the London neighborhood from Nashville eight weeks every single summer, this year her beloved Papa has been given just three weeks to live, and Nana is devastated. Complicating family matter further, her brother, Paul, has turned into a hostile, drunken stranger in the wake of his best friend's accident. Paul, only fifteen, is drinking himself blind while Rosie's frantic parents send him to therapists and counseling that isn't working. Nobody is telling him, "No," not her mother, who bites her lip and endures, nor her father, who never deals well with anything, and spends most days in a wordless, sleepless rage, breaking dishes. As her grandfather's life abruptly ends, Rosie can feel her family - her life - imploding, and tragedy dragging them all in the undertow.

And then she watches a girl get brutally attacked. Screaming, she watches as the girl fights to get away, as her attackers drag her inexorably toward a parked van. Helpless, Rosie runs after them, knowing that now she, too, is in danger...then, while a bright light flashes, and her stomach seems to turn her world inside out, Rosie... sees the attack... not happen.

What Rosie sees and then doesn't see changes the whole tenor of her summer. Everything that has happened since they arrived in London - really, the last six months - have been mired in pain and tragedy. But, if tragedy happens and can... unhappen, she's got to know more about how. The boy who suddenly appeared and saved the day, Albert, he knows too many things he won't tell her. Who is he, who are the people he hangs around with, saving others? And why is Blackheath, just a safe, slow, corner of London on the heath - why is it so dangerous suddenly, so full of terrifying strangers who seem to be attacking Albert's crew? And why does it seem that they might be... after Rosie, too?

As Rosie struggles to make sense of things, Paul continues to drift, fading inexorably from the brother she knew and loved to a cold, desperate stranger. He hangs out with violent thugs Rosie knows are trouble - and yet -- he's grieving, just like she is, just like their parents are. When his life is on the line, if she can't save him, nothing she's finding out about her grandfather's past, and about herself -- nothing she now knows -- is worth anything.

Observations: There is a LOT going on in this book - the pacing is fast, the details are crammed in there chock-full. This book is going to be a favorite of people who love time travel novels like Myra McEntire's HOURGLASS and INFINITYGLASS books - however, it has the breakneck danger-danger-danger feel of an episode of Dr. Who or at least the MORTAL INSTRUMENTS series, and it's definitely more fantasy/speculative fiction because despite the technology usage, NOTHING here is based in science; this is pure magic. PULL isn't quite about traveling back in time... at least not more than a half hour. It's time jumping, - time fiddling - which seems more useful. I don't need to go back and see history in person, but if I could take back a stupid conversation or the moment before I landed on my tailbone on a sidewalk curb, that would be downright helpful.

Rosie is not entirely credulous, so it takes a while for her to believe what she's experiencing, and then it takes even longer for those involved to tell her - which seems a bit unfair, and enrages her, and rightly so. I like that Rosie is independent, and even though there's a love interest, she's a woman of her own mind, very much so. One does wonder where she gets this from, as her mother's example in the book is definitely of a woman who bites her lip, bites her tongue, and doesn't speak -- even when she should. Even her grandmother simply waited for her husband to come home, accepting her role and not seeming to seek adventure outside their door, so when her husband died, she was utterly gutted - and left with no clue to who he really was. That seemed unfair. The frayed familial emotional knots and ties don't ever untie - Rosie's father is a rageaholic control freak when the book begins, and is still when the book concludes, but he's defanged, because... Rosie went out and did what must be done, not waiting to ask anyone and he's had to accept that, as every bully whose victims move out of their power must. Rosie's mother and grandmother are just... quiet, and accepting; their detail of their character sketches becomes more chalk than charcoal as the novel moves forward, and Rosie takes center stage. In the end, her parents seem awfully accepting of an awful lot, but other readers may be able to suspend disbelief on that detail.

The conclusion of the adventure is, at first, a tiny bit of Deux Ex Machina, with an eleventh hour save - but reversals happen on a dime in this novel, and achieving a happy ending is sometimes less a matter of luck then of sheer determination. I was a bit disappointed that money can simply make all problems go away, but more important was the idea of choices - some of them you may not be positive are the best ones you could have made, but accepting what you've chosen is something no one can avoid - or reverse.

Conclusion: With its striking orange and blue cover overlaying a watch face atop Tower Bridge, this book has both a very commercially successful look and a fast-paced, sticky hook to bring readers in. The quick pace, sense of danger, and details will keep them interested and wistful for more.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of the publisher. You can find PULL by Anne Riley at an online e-tailer, or, as of 2/16/16 in paperback at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

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