Tags: young adult, supernatural, abuse
Elizabeth Caldwell doesn’t feel emotions . . . she sees them. Longing, Shame, and Courage materialize around her classmates. Fury and Resentment appear in her dysfunctional home. They’ve all given up on Elizabeth because she doesn’t succumb to their touch. All, that is, save one—Fear. He’s intrigued by her, as desperate to understand the accident that changed Elizabeth’s life as she is herself.
Elizabeth and Fear both sense that the key to her past is hidden in the dream paintings she hides in the family barn. But a shadowy menace has begun to stalk her, and try as she might, Elizabeth can barely avoid the brutality of her life long enough to uncover the truth about herself. When it matters most, will she be able to rely on Fear to save her? [summary from Goodreads]
Debut author Kelsey Sutton took a big risk in deciding to write about a protagonist who can’t feel any emotions. After all, one of the biggest criticisms of unsuccessful YA is about bland characters. And while there is an external reason for why Elizabeth is like a shell of a person, I am sorry to say that, instead of being a bold experiment in defying common YA problems by facing them head on, SOME QUIET PLACE merely fell into those very traps.
I’ll be straight with you: Elizabeth has no personality. And it’s not just her being her usual emotionless. She literally doesn’t have anything that distinguishes her from a blank slate other than what’s imposed on her from the outside. When describing Elizabeth, one has to resort to external descriptors: she has rotten parents, an absent brother, she likes to paint. This doesn’t tell us ANYTHING about Elizabeth. People need not be defined by the abuse of their families nor the fact that she paints with all the investment of one doing the dishes. Even sociopaths, who medically do not feel empathy, can have personalities. Elizabeth doesn’t, and that’s not a symptom of her problem.
The lack of personality is not just limited to the MC. Side characters are flat with (again) no personality of their own. Elizabeth’s father is the cardboard drunk and abusive character, while Elizabeth’s mother is the repressed and resentful housewife. Elizabeth’s best friend is the dying girl scared of dying. These are tropes, not to be confused with characteristics. With personality.
SOME QUIET PLACE furthermore falls into common YA pitfalls regarding its plot and mystery. Like too many other YAs that describe themselves as mysteries, SOME QUIET PLACE’s unfolding of its mystery is stuttering and unsatisfying. A great mystery reveals just enough hints in unexpected yet narratively consistent intervals to keep readers ensnared and invested. The “mystery” in this book—of what in Elizabeth’s past caused her to be the way she is—remains a mystery until its sudden anticlimax. The purported “hints” dropped throughout the book are not, actually, hints. “Hints” implies relevance to the plot and mystery; it’s not supposed to be a foray into a dull miniadventure leading into a dead end that the book insists to be a hint, but is in fact just pacing weakness, Insert Dramatic Red Herring Here. The so-called suspense in this book, unfortunately, was so unsatisfying as to frustrate me into apathy.
I could write more, but I’ll stop there and say this: It is completely possible to write from the point of view of a person who can’t feel emotions. But SOME QUIET PLACE was an amateur’s attempt, and sadly it wasn’t long before I realized that I could not feel anything towards Elizabeth and her predicament. And it’s not because I can’t feel emotions.
Jackie Morse Kessler
Sarah Rees Brennan
Cover discussion: Isn't it luscious? I can practically feel the texture of that dress.
Flux / July 8, 2013 / Paperback / 336pp. / $9.99
e-galley received for review from publisher and NetGalley.