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).
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. [...]
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...
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 : /.