by Kita Helmetag Murdock
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Reading level: MG
Book type: prose novel
For as long as she can remember, Laney has been having “future flashes”—visions of the future that she sees when she makes physical contact with another person. Left on a doorstep as a baby, Laney’s past has always been cloudy to her, despite the clarity with which she can see the future. Her caretaker, Walt, claims to be her father, but Laney has a nagging suspicion that he isn’t quite telling her the entire truth. And when a new kid, Lyle, moves to her small town, Laney is dreading meeting him—she almost always gets a future flash when first meeting someone new, and the flashes aren’t always good. Unfortunately, her meeting with Lyle isn’t just bad; it’s painful. Engulfed in flames, Lyle’s future flash is the worst Laney’s ever experienced. But what does it mean? Is there anything Laney can do to change the future? And will she be able to save Lyle not only from a fiery death but also from the merciless class bully without becoming a victim of his antics herself?
(synopsis from Goodreads)
This book was so frustrating. It had the potential to be really good. Unfortunately, there were a number of things that kept it from being anything more than a bland, preachy, condescending criticism of bullying.
The first thing I noticed was the use of stereotypes instead of well-developed characters. I nearly stopped reading when I first encountered Ms. Fontane, the gym teacher: the 300-pound, lazy gym teacher who sits in a chair, sweating and panting, while instructing (not demonstrating, of course) her students how to dance. And that was just the beginning. We've also got a crazy cat lady with literally dozens of cats, and an irresponsible local shelter that keeps allowing her to take more, even though her house stinks of cat pee; the redheaded boy with freckles who wears a t-shirt with the periodic table on it, who immediately gets picked on by the local bully, and who has allergies that make him sneeze (because a nerd's not a nerd without allergies); the "bad seed" who used to be a nice kid, but who apparently lost his mind when his parents divorced and now goes around violently assaulting his classmates and setting fire to action figures; and the unwashed shut-in who can apparently move house over and over again in the space of three years, but somehow can't muster the energy to change out of her bathrobe and open the front door. The main character, Laney, isn't much better. She dresses in black (instead of pink, like the other girls at school) and likes to draw and paint. I also had a big problem with her character because she was the narrator. The book is told in first person, present tense. The problem is that Laney is twelve but her voice sounds more like an adult. And yet, at times, she comes across as stupid or as if she has a memory impairment; she tends to remember things only when they're convenient, or after the reader has already remembered them.
The writing was also pretty bad. There were numerous typos, comma splices, said bookisms, and homophone mistakes all over the place (callous/callus, peak/peek, chord/cord). The author didn't seem to know the difference between lie and lay, and thus had characters "laying" all over the place. (What were they laying? Eggs?) I wondered if perhaps she did this because Laney might not have known the difference... but I kind of doubt it.
But the worst part was that so many things seemed contrived for convenience. At one point in the story, Laney draws a picture of her classmate on fire, and gets in trouble with the teacher. The teacher doesn't call home until days later... when it's convenient to the plot. Then there was the extended conversation in a burning hallway that stretches the limits of credulity, fire behaviour, animal behaviour, and human physiology. This is when Laney dumps an important piece of information on the reader right at the height of the climax, one that ultimately helps resolve the plot. When this happens, I pretty much lose all respect for the author. These sorts of things need to be properly set up, or they come across as contrived.
The final paragraph left me convinced that this was nothing but a preachy little book for middle schoolers with the message that bullying is bad and that you need to tell an adult. The message is not sophisticated or nuanced at all; it pretty much hits you over the head. And that's disappointing, because the potential was there for this to be a good story. I'm not saying the message needed to be done away with completely, but it could have been a little more subtle. I feel like I was deceived into reading this book, because I expected something quite different. It was like someone had tricked me into eating broccoli when what I thought I was getting was dessert.
I've never seen a dead person before. A tear trickles from Lyle's closed eye down the side of his right cheek. I saw a dead deer last year in the back of a pickup truck at the gas station. Its eyes were unblinking and tear-free. Aside from the slow-moving tear, Lyle is perfectly still.
"Are you dead?" I ask him. He lets out a small snort but doesn't move.
"I wish," he says after a minute.
Recommended to: middle graders who don't mind overly didactic stories
Writing & Editing: 2/5
Overall Rating: 2.14 out of 5 ladybugs