My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Length: 310 pages
Release date: 3 October 2017
Fifteen-year-old Laurel Goodwin wakes up to find her older sister Ivy missing from their Airstream trailer in the Oregon redwoods. A recurring nightmare convinces her that Ivy was abducted, but no one takes her dream seriously, including her mom. Laurel, a loner, has to learn to ask for help, and Jasper Blake, a mysterious new kid who shares her love of old books, quickly becomes her ally. Together they find their quiet town holds a deep secret and is the epicenter of a dark prophecy.
Laurel soon learns that her worst enemies, mean girls Peyton Andersen and Mei Rosen, are developing powers that she needs to find and save Ivy. With time running out, Laurel realizes that power doesn’t always take the form that you expect. And once she learns to look beyond her snap judgments, she develops an unexpected gift of her own.
I have rather conflicted feelings on Sparked.
On one hand, when it’s good, it’s really, really good. The novel, which is billed as a YA supernatural but has more than a touch of horror mixed in, includes some deliciously scary moments that gave me the chills as I read it in bed late at night. Maybe it’s just that I scare easily, but I actually had to take a few five-minute breaks when the atmosphere got intense.
On the other hand, Sparked‘s fatal flaw was that it couldn’t decide what kind of story it wanted to be. Was I reading a paranormal romance? An apocalyptic thriller? A coming-of-age teen drama? There’s absolutely no issue with writing across genres, and in fact many of the best books do: However, instead of subverting expectations and offering something new, like those books do, Sparked grabs a few tropes from one genre and a few from another to mash it all up into a product that feels uncomfortably derivative of Twilight and Dan Brown at the same time. It would have been better off picking one of the styles to give its full attention to executing well.
If the above sounds harsh, I should clarify: Sparked is not poorly written at all. In fact, it’s one of the better flowing novels I’ve read recently. Echlin and Watrous’s writing style is down-to-earth and authentic, and you can tell that there’s incredible potential there. Their talents extend to character development, which barring Laurel and Jasper, is solidly above average. I find Mei and Peyton particularly interesting–yes, they’re your standard “mean girls who are really just misunderstood,” but they each have a compelling backstory and a witty inner monologue that left me wishing to read more chapters from their POV.
See how I said “barring Laurel and Jasper”? Riiiight. This is where Sparked most veers into PNR territory: Heroine is a misfit at high school with few friends. Just when she needs it most, new guy shows up who is brooding and mysterious. Let’s call him BMG for short. BMG is drawn for whatever inexplicable reason to the otherwise 100%-organic-vanilla heroine. Weird things start happening around BMG, and vanilla heroine gets a bit suspicious, but BMG continues to be guarded like a max-security prison and won’t divulge anything about his life. The back and forth continues for a while until one day BMG finally admits his deep dark terrible secret to the teenaged heroine he’s infatuated with. To no one’s surprise, deep dark terrible secret isn’t anywhere near as terrible as it’s been built up to be. Then heroine and BMG are suddenly in the truest love even though they’ve known each other for all of one week.
Oh, and BMG is a powerful, hot immortal.
Okay, in the sake of fairness, Sparked is far from the worst offender of the lazy romance plot that a lot of YA contemporaries fall back on. Although it doesn’t evade the gross factor of a 100-year-old in love with a 15/16-year-old, it justifies a few of those pesky PNR tropes with impressive world building. I’m a big fan of what it’s done with the way that powers work. Way too many YA novels give their protagonist(s) these insane OP superpowers and make them the best at whatever they do, then have to invent ridiculous plot devices so that the protagonist doesn’t automatically steamroll her enemies and eliminate the plot in one go. Sparked steers safely away from this trap, creating a balanced power system that gives its users drawbacks as well as gifts. That said, I thought a little more could have been done with the powers themselves–I was expecting a climax a lot more epic than the admittedly underwhelming one we get.
The good thing about a shortened climax, though, is that it leaves plenty of room at the end of the novel to tie up loose ends and explore where the characters go after they save the world. It’s a sort of debriefing that I found refreshingly unique, where we get to see characters follow through on the bonds they’ve built over the course of the novel, riding off into the sunset to enjoy their HEA…except, not quite. There comes the cliffhanger to set up the sequel! I’ll probably pick it up, if for no more reason than to see what happens to Peyton’s piece-of-work father.
*Thanks to Edelweiss and Geek & Sundry for a review copy of this book! All opinions represented remain my own.*