Here's a guilty secret: I will read just about anything by Kelley Armstrong. I started off with one of her older, not-marketed-to-YA novels years ago, picked up at the library to read on a long flight. She made me laugh. She caused me to ignore a layover. She kept me entranced the whole ride, turbulence, annoying fellow passengers, rude airport personnel, weird food, and all. This Was Good. For what I term "entertainment reading," - which is really the whole urban fantasy genre - I was hooked.
Fortunately, her writing has depth and humor and is sometimes pretty thought-provoking. I was actually pleasantly surprised when she started writing for YA. I didn't entirely love her last trilogy - I felt that the second book fell prey to the dreaded Middle of the Trilogy Disorder, and the conclusion was not as strong as it could have been, but -- it's Kelly Armstrong. It's a new trilogy. Am I game to go again? Of course.
Reader Gut Reaction: I want to LIVE where Maya does, in a wee-tiny town on a Vancouver Island. Sixty-eight kids from grades 1-12 at the school? That works. A population of about 200 people, with "town" an hour - and a ferry ride - away? Totally works. Maya has great hobbies like track and chorus, awesome hobbies, like saving battered wildlife, and amazing parents. She also has Serena - her captain-of-the-swim-team best friend who takes a dive in a calm lake -- and, within minutes, drowns.
So, nothing is really as it seems in this small town. Everyone seems to have moved past Serena's death, and a year later, Maya should have started on that path. But, there are so, so many questions she's never had answered... questions brought up again by the appearance of an alleged "reporter" named Mina Lee.
Maya's questions about her own life - her birth mother, the strangeness of the paw shaped birthmark on her hip, and a nasty run-in with a strange old woman - are not being answered to her satisfaction either. But, soon, what's not right in Maya's life is not something she wants to focus on. An amazingly hot new guy has stumbled into their teeny-tiny school and community. All she'd like to do is have a real boyfriend - for more than a summer fling - without feeling like she's dating a brother, and she's not really excited about fighting off back-stabbing Hayley for him. Maya knows he's a player, and wonders if she should even be interested -- especially now that Daniel's started "sensing" things... like, vibes about how safe everyone is, at a given moment.
Is everything in the safe, slow, poky little town that she's always known going to come apart at the seams?
Concerning Character: Maya is such an easy character to like, characteristic of Armstrong's easy way with writing strong female characters. She grieves - but moves forward. She thinks - always with the snarky internal monologue that makes me smile. She loves - her big heart embraces her three-legged bobcat, the over-familiar cougar that hangs around, and Daniel, who once was Serena's boyfriend, but has now practically moved in with she and her parents. The people in Armstrong's books are why I read them - that, and the sense of community among them that she creates.
Recommended for Fans Of...: the paranormal-meets-the-present novels fronted by strong female characters, like Claudia Gray's Fateful or Witches of the East, by Melissa de la Cruz.
Themes & Things: Once more there's a dystopian feel of Mad Scientists Doing Things, and Reporters Sneaking Around, and ... innocence lost. Plus, romance.
Cover Chatter: The UK cover of this novel is mostly "meh." I'm not quite sure what's going on, with the girl-within-girl thing; it looks like those 80's prom pictures where there are two exposures. The US cover is also weird; a non-Native-looking, blue-faced girl -- I am guessing it's supposed to be nighttime? -- wearing a shiny, dangly earring that I don't recall from the story. The shine on the earring is reminiscent of the prominently displayed jewelry in Armstrong's last series - but while that's great for cover continuity, unlike that pendant, the shiny earrings don't seem to link back to the narrative. Why not some of Maya's animals, or a shot of the town sign with the population, 200 listed? Oh, well. Nobody pays me to be a book designer.
You can find THE GATHERING and the rest of Kelley Armstrong's great-for-airport books at an independent bookstore near you!