March 25, 2014


I'm always on the look out for more science fiction - real science fiction - for young adult readers. Finding science fiction with a diverse cast is THE DREAM, even, but I tend to read all I get my hands on. Flipping through NetGalley, I saw the cover of this one, noted its SFF listing, and thought I'd check it out.

Davidow's writing is lyrical, at times noticeably so. The pacing in the first half is even, though at times dreamy, which might lose some readers, but there's enough science -- the real life, exciting science of sine waves, resonance and cymatics -- stuffed into the novel to make readers want to leap up and experiment and travel. While the novel's relationships didn't hold up for me -- the character and plot interactions became muddy as emotions and intentions were less clear -- this may be a really great book for budding scientists and Mysterious Event Theorists.

Also: it's not "book," singular. This is the first book in a series, so be prepared for an inconclusive ending, and "more to come."

Concerning Character: Lucy is vague, quiet, and controlled, externally. She and her father have fallen into a kind of habit, now that she spends most of her time at home -- he cooks, she cleans up. He runs the nature camp where they live, picking up people from the airport, bringing them to the cabins, and taking them on night hikes, rafting, and such, to teach them about the Australian wildlife in the area. Lucy gets online and does her homework -- mostly. She likes to surf the web. She doesn't see friends, much, because only Nelson - called Nel, because she really is a girl, despite the stupid name her father gave her - comes over much anymore.

On the surface, that suits Lucy fine, but inside, she is a roiling, guilt-ridden, suicidal mess. Everyone else has been an overwhelming font of pity and discomfort, since her accident six months ago where she was made paraplegic. Lucy and her mother were on their way from shopping, with Lucy driving at the time, and they were hit, head-on. Now Lucy has half a life, and her mother, none at all.

Lucy thinks she has a handle on her self-pity and rage, but inside she knows she's run out of reasons to go on. The evening she sees a strange ball of light over the gorgeous creek that rushes along down the hill on their property, she's prepared to end it all. But... her curiosity gets the best of her. It's not quite just a light -- it's a light, and a sound, and patterns on the sand, and a --feeling...

Something else is going on in the world -- something other than routine and misery. Lucy's flagging spirits hook onto the mystery, which sends her to the internet, which quickly links her to a new friend, miles away, with whom she talks and shares nearly everything. She moves through her days with a smile and picks up her cello again, her determination to solve the mystery reviving her, and driving her to a place she never expected... This novel is adventure and mystery and science, all rolled into one -- a compulsively readable, unusual and quirky piece of fiction.

Critical Reaction: While Lucy moves organically from depression and isolation toward a more balanced acceptance at the beginning of the novel, the last half of the book becomes plot driven, and seems to lose this elegant balance. I had a hard time understanding Lucy's choices, after specific instances. She has had a single, spidersilk thread of a lifeline since her accident -- her bestie, Nelson, who has, during her own personal tragedy, moved in with her. Lucy's treatment of Nel, while at first accidental, is horrendous, given her faithful friendship and patience. Lucy's treatment of her recently bereaved father is less upsetting, as parental friction is all but expected in a YA novel, but it is still shoddy and thoughtless. Drawing another character into a lie she chooses to tell - with no clear reason as to why the lie must be told - struck me as disingenuous. Lucy barely reacts with either emotional consequences or internal dialogue that lasts more than a single scene. In contrast to the potential for self-awareness and personal development of the character at the beginning, by novel's end, Lucy seems cold and robotic, simply being forced to move through the labyrinthine plot, emotionally and personally unchanged, despite her change of circumstances. Readers may find themselves unconvinced by the convenient romance as well; the novel may well have been stronger without it.

The science in the novel is real - but the fantasy elements overwhelm it, and they are less well-rounded, and, next to the realness of the science, appear very thin, undeveloped, and hastily constructed. Lucy is thrust into an instant quest, gains an instant nemesis, and is the standard bearer for an instant cause, which leaves the reader clutching a bit, as if the ground has shifted. The author indicates at the end of the novel that a sequel is coming -- we can hope that it more strongly ties the novel together, to a harmonious finish.

You can find LIGHTS OVER EMERALD CREEK by Shelley Davidow online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

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