Two Book Reviews by Penny
Let me pose this question to you: Is everything that happens predetermined? Like, from the day I was born, was it inevitable that at this exact moment in my life I would be here asking you if everything that happens is predetermined? Or could I have chosen to ask you instead what your favorite flavor of ice cream is? Or maybe I could have seen you from a distance and quickly turned around and gone the other way so I wouldn’t have to talk to you at all. (This is just hypothetical. I wouldn’t actually do that. I like you.)
Both the books I’m about to recommend to you share that question in common. Is the future written in stone? Or is it written in butter? You know, so it can be changed. In a melty way. Or spread. Maybe I should have said sand. Or wet cement. I totally should have said wet cement! Let’s pretend I did. Is the future written in stone or wet cement? But wait. Wet cement eventually dries and becomes like stone. Oh, brother. In the words of my friend Beverly, let’s just get on with it already!
Beverly and Bigfoot get annoyed with me when I tell them about books I like. They say I give too much away. So, I’m going to try to tell you how good these two YA novels are without ruining the endings for you. Or the middles. Or any of the parts, really. No promises or anything, but know that if I tell you too much, it will be on accident, not because I’m trying to be a jerk. I hope you’ll forgive me. Bigfoot and Beverly always do. So far.
In THE MARK by Jen Nadol (Bloomsbury, 2010), Cassandra Renfield sometimes sees a certain glow around a person. At first she doesn’t know what it is, but eventually she figures out that the person she sees surrounded by the glow will soon die. How cool is that? I mean for a story. It would be horrible in real life. But it’s a freaky premise for a book, and that’s why I wanted to read it. I love supernatural stuff.
I would have liked THE MARK if it was just about Cassandra’s different experiences in foreseeing people’s deaths. But I loved it because it was much more than that. Cassandra’s struggle to understand her ability opens up a lot of questions. Like, she wonders if, when she sees the glow, she should warn the glowing person so that they can try to avoid dying. But then she wonders if it’s really her place to intervene. Maybe everybody’s time to die is written in stone (insert tombstone pun here), and it’s not for her to try to change what is meant to happen. And then she wonders, if that’s true, why does she have this creepy ability in the first place? I won’t tell you more than that, but I will say that there is going to be a sequel out next year that I’ll definitely want to read.
On a side note, I wonder: Was it predetermined that Jen Nadol write this book, or could she have decided to pursue a career in synchronized swimming instead? For the record, I’m glad she’s a writer. (I’ve never met her, though. Maybe she does both.)
The other book I want to recommend is THE RETURNERS by Gemma Malley (Bloomsbury, 2010). I’ll have to be extra careful when telling you about this book because one of the things I liked most about it was being almost as in the dark as the narrator.
Will Hodges, the narrator, has been having nightmares about terrible atrocities. If that’s not bad enough, a bunch of stalkers approach him to tell him that he is a “Returner.” I don’t think I’m giving too much away by telling you what that means, do you? I don’t want to make you mad. I’m going to chance it. It means he’s lived previous lives. The people who have been stalking him are also Returners. They knew him in those previous lives. There. I hope that wasn’t giving away too much. I think you had probably already figured that out.
The other Returners tell Will that the future is predetermined and that Will has a role to play in making that future happen. Will is not happy with his part, or the future as the Returners see it. Just like Cassandra in THE MARK, Will wonders if he has the power to stop certain events from taking place.
Will’s world is a lot like ours. Fear and hate make people do horrible things to each other, and the strong stomp all over the weak. A lot of times we think of atrocities as events we read about in history books. But THE RETURNERS is a reminder that those types of things go on in the present, too. THE RETURNERS is also a kick in the pants that we each need to do our part to keep injustices from happening again and again and again. You’ll have to read the book yourself to see what Will does. Or doesn’t do. (Did I leave that open enough?)
There are a lot of books that explore whether we have a set-in-stone destiny or buttery free will. It’s probably because most of us can’t help but wonder what’s going to happen tomorrow. It can be kind of scary not knowing. It can be extra scary thinking that something we do (or don’t do) today might mean something terrible will happen tomorrow. Like, say I eat an English muffin today and get food poisoning. The next day I still feel sick, so I stay home. I was supposed to go fishing with Bigfoot, but now he decides to take a hike. Campers catch Bigfoot on video and that night the video is posted on YouTube. Within the hour it has had half a million views, and within two hours the Paparazzi are ruining Bigfoot’s vacation.
But say I eat an apple instead. A piece of it gets stuck in my throat. It’s okay, though, because Beverly is swimming nearby and she performs the Heimlich maneuver. The next day my throat is sore, so I go to the drug store for some lozenges. When I go to pay, I drop all my change on the floor and knock over a candy rack. I'm so embarrassed that I run out of the store and into the street. Wouldn't you know it? I get hit by a bus.
Just think about it. If everything is predetermined, it wouldn’t matter whether or not I eat an English muffin or an apple. That’s kind of comforting, isn’t it? I mean, if everything is set in stone, we don’t have to worry that our actions will cause any bad stuff to happen. But then, I suppose that also means that if there’s bad stuff in the future, there’s nothing we can do to avoid it. That’s kind of depressing, isn’t it?
You know what? I’m going to go find another good book to read to take my mind off all this. And I’m kind of hungry. An apple would hit the spot. Or better yet, an English muffin. With butter.