by Jennifer Bosworth (Doubleday, 2012)
As soon as I saw the cover for this book I wanted to read it. I have a borderline-unhealthy love/hate relationship with lightning, for a start. I'm terrified of it but I just find it fascinating, particularly how every strike victim is affected differently (something Bosworth addresses very early on), and the beautiful Lichtenberg figures (or 'lightning trees') that bloom across the skin afterwards. It's also one of the most powerful covers I've seen yet in 2012 and definitely one of my favourite YA covers of recent years.
Gorgeous cover aside, this is a thrilling addition to the seemingly unstoppable wave of new dystopian fiction. Mia is a lightning addict. She's been struck so many times that she has a positive charge all her own, and doesn't feel truly alive until a storm brews overhead, setting her skin tingling and her energy reaching out to draw the lightning down. For now, however, she has quite enough on her plate trying to keep her family together in the aftermath of the great earthquake that shook LA a month ago. Thousands are homeless and starving, her mother is wracked with anxiety after her near-death experience, and now she and her brother must go back to school in order to qualify for food rations. But things aren't going to go back to normal for Mia anytime soon. Two warring cults are rising, both proclaiming that the end of the world is coming, that a great storm will herald the beginning of the apocalypse - and that Mia is the key. Throw Jeremy into the mix - a beautiful tormented boy who sees visions of the future and warns Mia away from both the darkly mysterious Seekers and the super-religious Followers - and the scene is set for a cracking good read (no pun intended)!
This is a fantastic, complex novel that proved to be quite thought-provoking even as it was roaring towards the gripping climax. I think a lot of this complexity stems from the way Mia has to navigate her way between the two cults that dominate the story. This IS a fantasy novel, and the spiritual Seekers with their blood-red cloaks and tarot readings definitely sway more in that direction, but the Followers and their leader, Rance Ridley Prophet, really gave me pause for thought. Stripping away the fantastical elements, what we're left with is a televangelist who is clearly exploiting the fear and desperation of the people of LA to preach his message of fire and brimstone. That part didn't seem so far-fetched! Nor did the general post-earthquake setting, which felt brutally realistic as I was reading. I thought that staging this apocalyptic battle against such a bleak but entirely plausible backdrop really helped keep the book grounded (or should that be earthed? Pun definitely intended this time!).
I really enjoyed Bosworth's debut, and I'm looking forward to reading more from her in the future. She gave me everything I wanted from a dystopian novel - evocative writing, characters I could root for, mysteries I could puzzle over, messages about society to reflect on, a sizzling romance (thank you, I'm here all week) to savour, and a film-worthy climax to race towards - and, of course, a little lightning fix of my own!
- "My name is Mia Price, and I am a lightning addict. There. Now you know the truth. I want the lightning to find me. I crave it like lungs crave oxygen. There's nothing that makes you feel more alive than being struck. Unless, of course, it kills you."
- "Up ahead, what remained of the Santa Monica Pier tilted like a ramp into the ocean. The longest of the wooden pilings that supported the pier had bent and broken during the quake, pouring hundreds of tourists and a dozen or so chintzy restaurants into the Pacific. A section of the famous Santa Monica Ferris wheel still protruded from the water, like the spine of some Lovecraftian sea beast emerging from the depths."
- "The heat collected inside me, concentrated in the center of my chest. It smouldered in my heart, an ember that would burst into flame and consume me from the inside out. At least, that's what it felt like. I tasted metal. There was a scent coming off me, like burning wires and ozone. Like the moment before a storm cracks the sky wide open."
Source: This book was sent to me by the lovely folks at Random House Children's Publishers, in return for an honest review.