Friday, August 07, 2009

Alyzon Whitestarr, by Isobelle Carmody

Beach Reading Contest Book #4

The title of Isobelle Carmody's book Alyzon Whitestarr sounds like an eighties hair band, the cover model looks like Gossip Girl's Little J in a bad Goth wig, and the official plot description reads like that of any other teen paranormal romance, but we are happy to report that none of the three come close to doing this sprawling, ambitious YA fantasy novel justice.

Sixteen-year-old Alyzon has always felt like the odd man out amongst her talented, bohemian family. But when she's injured protecting her baby brother, she spends a month in a coma and wakes up with a unique new ability: her senses have sharpened to the point that she can see auras, smell changes in people's emotions, and the gorgeous complexity of a cello piece leaves her with a bloody nose. As Alyzon struggles to understand and control her powers, she discovers that several of the people around her are harboring a horrible secret, and she may be the only person capable of preventing their plans from coming to fruition.

At 501 pages, Alyzon Whitestarr is so long and complex that it might lose readers with shorter attention spans. (If you like your supernatural romances snappy and quip-filled, try Meg Cabot's books.) Instead, Carmody's novel is idealistic and sincere, with flashes of genuine creepiness and a charmingly low-key romantic subplot. This is the rare YA novel that takes itself quite seriously—and for once, we mean that in a good way. Sure, you have to get past the Vegas-friendly cover art and the, er, "artistic" spelling of the heroine's name, but fantasy fans willing to overlook such trifles are in for an extremely pleasant surprise.

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