June 16, 2016

Christopher Pike: "Strange Girl"

Title: Strange Girl [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Christopher Pike [Facebook | Goodreads]
Genres: Contemporary with a Twist, Paranormal
Year: 2015
Age: 14+
Stars: 3.5/5
Pros: Peculiar story (though...see: cons), heartfelt and honest.
Cons: ...But Pike already wrote something similar (see: review). Characters sound oldish and a bit stiff. Some incidents sound contrived. An abusive behaviour is "almost" condoned.
WARNING! Some sex but mostly implied. Hints of violence. An abuse story recounted without details.
Will appeal to: Those who are in for a mystical journey working its way around a series of real-life occurrences.

Blurb: From the moment Fred meets Aja, he knows she’s different. She’s pretty, soft-spoken, shy - yet seems to radiate an unusual peace. Fred quickly finds himself falling in love with her. Then strange things begin to happen around Aja. A riot breaks out that Aja is able to stop by merely speaking a few words. A friend of Fred’s suffers a serious head injury and has a miraculous recovery. Yet Aja swears she has done nothing. Unfortunately, Fred is not the only one who notices Aja’s unique gifts. As more and more people begin to question who Aja is and what she can do, she’s soon in grave danger. Because none of them truly understands the source of Aja’s precious abilities - or their devastating cost. (Amazon excerpt)

Review: Apparently, a few months ago, Christopher Pike joined Wattpad (well, Simon & Schuster had him joining Wattpad) with the sole main purpose of advertising this book (the first 6 chapters can still be read on the site, BTW). I'm saying this because he used to be on there every day or so until the book came out...then, silence. Well, to his credit, he did post all of Remember Me (I mean the first installment) and a great advice-for-aspiring-writers series, too. Anyway, I'm digressing. What I'm trying to say is, either S&S had him cornered, or he did think Strange Girl was his best book like he went on repeating, or probably both - but he talked like this novel was special and deserved special attention. Well, this is the pre-review I posted on Goodreads after reading Strange Girl for the first time...


I've reread this novel since then, and unfortunately, I still feel the same way. I honestly can see where Pike is coming from. But I'm still, honestly, not thrilled. Here's the good, the bad and the ugly about it.
(...Psst...just in case you don't know, or you're too young to remember - The Good, the Bad and the Ugly was an Italian movie starring Clint Eastwood...and it came out the year I was born. Actually, the day after I was born. Erm).

THE GOOD

  • As far as young adult books go, Strange Girl is unprecedented. Though Pike is used to weave Eastern spirituality into his novels (from Remember Me 2 & 3 to, more notably, the Thirst series), this is the very first time that he has a character embodying not only some of its concepts, but a transcendental entity. I have mixed feelings about the result, but I can see that he tried hard and earnestly to walk the fine line between what he calls the Big Person and the Little Person. And though I can't say I love Aja, there are at least a couple of beautiful scenes where she tries to explain her inner truth. Then again, to be honest, I'm not a spiritual person, so the book as a whole might reach a different audience better.
  • There's a strong accent on friendship in this novel. I really like how Pike never shuns pairing boys and girls together as best friends. There's also a gay character, who is not particularly developed, but at least his sexuality isn't made a big deal of - plus he later conveys the normality of gay marriage and paternity.
  • Music plays a big role. The main character Fred and his friends are in a band, and love for music is portayed in different ways, none of which à la "I-want-to-be-a-teen-idol". OK, it may not be a popular concept among nowadays teens, and someone might say that Pike is not in tune with them - but it's refreshing to meet characters who actually have a passion for music instead of a craving for being on TV, and it's healthy for young adults to be exposed to them. [...]

THE BAD

  • OK, let's address the big elephant in this room: at its core, Strange Girl is the YA version of an adult book by Pike himself called Sati (where the main character drops in the middle of a small community, says she's God, doesn't actually perform miracles but changes lives in several ways, and then...um...is gone). Not to mention a whole plot point taken straight out of another YA novel by Pike called Witch, and a scene that made me think of a third book of his, See You Later. I'm not the biggest fan of Sati, but I suspect it may ultimately be regarded as a stronger book than Strange Girl, though the latter was more readable to me.
  • Fred is recounting the events ten years after they occurred. This is probably the main reason why he doesn't sound like a teen...that is, because he shouldn't. Then again, maybe not. If you write a YA novel, you have to make your characters sound like real teens...and Fred and the gang don't (I'm not talking about Aja, because she's the odd duck by definition. But what about the others?). To the point that, when Fred mentions being a regular hard-on back when he was around his ex, it sounds so for-the-sake-of-it, it's almost embarassing. And then again, not something a teen boy would say in so many words. (OK, he's not a teen anymore while he recounts those events, but to me it's like the author wants him to sound like a teen, only to fail). The fact is, both the inner monologue and the dialogues sound older than the characters' age. I had the same problem with Witch World, and regardless of the main character recounting (again) past events, this is off-putting in a YA book. I'm not saying people have to talk slang or something, but they have to sound their age...
 
THE UGLY

    • There's a problem of representation in Pike's books, and this one is no exception. I love that he always includes non-white characters, especially Latinx. But they're usually from poor and dangerous neighborhoods, street-gang members, selling drugs for a living - you get the idea. All while being good persons deep inside (well, most of them, that is). I'm talking about stereotypes here. Please, Mr. Pike, I know you're not a racist by any means, but this is not the way to approach the matter anymore. Bad boy out of necessity, but with a heart of gold? Please, let it go. Thank you.
    • Same for a crucial plot point that I can't openly discuss for spoiler reasons. Suffice to say, an abusive behaviour is ultimately forgiven, to some extent. OK, I can understand the victim feeling partially responsible - I've seen enough Law & Order: SVU episodes to know it can happen (well, assuming the authors have done their research). But I can't buy the reason for the abusive behaviour itself, nor the story as a whole, nor the forgiveness. It all left a bad taste in my mouth.
    So, bottom line? I'm sorry to say this isn't the best book Christopher Pike wrote - not at all. A honest and heartfelt attempt, yes. But not a masterpiece. I was lucky S&S never sent me a review copy. Because being a party pooper isn't fun : /.

    For more books by Christopher Pike click here.

    8 comments:

    1. Bummer. I still haven't read anything by him. Will I ever catch up? No.

      Karen @For What It's Worth

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      1. Shame on you. Me and Kate "Midnight Book Girl" will gang up on you and force you to read Pike until you drop!

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    2. I haven't read anything by Christopher Pike, but it doesn't sound like this is where I should start. I do like the somewhat peculiar characters, though - do you think I might like this better since I haven't read anything else of his to compare it to?

      Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

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      1. I guess you might, for that very reason...but the book of his I'll never get tired to recommend is Remember Me (that's a trilogy, to be precise, but the first installment is hands down the best). A murdered girl who investigates her own death - how does it sound for peculiar? :) Or the Thirst series, if you aren't fed up with vampires - though I have to say that the series started back in the '90s, so it was like the mother of all modern vampire stories. Not to mention, the vampire in question is female! and 5,000 y.o. And her story is weaved with a lot of Eastern mythology. And though it was classified as YA when it first came out, it's definitely more mature than that in tone, for a whole lot of reasons. Something different for sure :).

        I have a Christopher Pike page with links to more reviews, in case you are interested, here.

        Thank you for visiting!

        http://offbeat-ya.blogspot.it/p/christopher-pike-room.html

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    3. I read this book (but I guess I didn't add it as read to Goodreads, which is not like me). But I didn't love it. It actually made me sad. I've always preferred Pike's earlier books (his murder mysteries and monster books to his alien and/or Eastern Mystic books), but he really did talk this one up, so I got my hopes up.

      It did feel like a Sati redux. I loved Sati the first time I read it, but it was sad, as is See You Later- I liked both books but they both depressed me. But while Strange Girl is similar, it didn't feel as well executed as his earlier books.

      Maybe I just need to stick to re-reads of The Final Friends series. Gah, I feel so bad for not loving this one!

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      1. LOL, I see where you're coming from, but we're not supposed to love his new books on the strenght of his old ones. He's a big boy, isn't he? I know he was pushing this book left and right (probably following S&S's directions), and I'm aware he needed a bestseller in order to re-establish his successful-author status in front of his publishers. But it's his responsibility to actually write one. Like you said, part of the problem is in the execution. But the fact that he had already written Sati should have prevented him from doing a YA version of that book. (Also, YA? I'm not even sure this one qualifies, if not for the characters' age...). And you nailed it...SG is a sad book (SYL too, but it was more fun to read anyway). Thanks to your comment, it occurred to me that his characters are always sad lately. It's not just in the plot - it's in the way they muse about things too...I don't know. Maybe it's because they're doomed, or their lovers are doomed, or their friends are doomed - and they know that the whole time, since they're telling the story after it unfolded. Maybe Pike should revert to telling a story where the main character doesn't know what's coming for him/her in advance. The only exception to me is still Sita. I love all the Thirst books (though with some small reservations). In that case, Eastern Mystic suits me :). I can't wait for the next Thirst installment (maybe you heard it should be out at the end of the summer. Or so Pike hopes...).

        Final Friends is not one of my favourite series but at least it was fun. I keep going back to Remember Me 1. It's so bittersweet and crazy and fun, and Shari's voice is perfect. RM 2 and 3 could have been avoided, but Book 1 was a masterpiece. I also like Last Act a lot, and Weekend. Of course, there are still so many of his books that I haven't had the chance to read.

        I was thinking that maybe we should do a buddy re-read of a Pike novel and cross-post in on both our blog LOL:

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    4. ANDDDDDDDDD I NOW KNOW YOUR BIRTHDAY. BRILLIANT. Much plotting planned. *evil laughter*

      That's all I had to say to spam you.

      Well, actually... it was somewhat relevant.

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      1. I should shut my big mouth up :(. LOL.

        Delete

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