“Ethan Wate is from a small town in the south and he is gradually feeling suffocated by it all. While he goes through the motions at high school, playing on the basketball team, hanging out with his best friend, he cannot wait until he's old enough to get away--to see new places and things. In small Gatlin, South Carolina, nothing ever changes. People stay and live in their assigned roles. Re-enactors fight the local battles of the Civil War over and over again. It doesn't help that Ethan is missing his mother, an "outsider" to Gatlin, who was killed in a car crash the year before, nor that his father, a writer, has retreated to his study and rarely comes out. He also has been plagued by nightmares of a strange girl he is trying to save, but never does.
Ethan thinks nothing will ever change, but then suddenly, everything changes. A new girl, a rare occurrence in Gatlin, is attending his school. Anyone who is not from Gaitlin is viewed as an outsider, but Lena Duchannes, even though her uncle is from one of Gatlin's oldest families, is the kind of girl who never fits in anywhere. She is bound to be an outcast in school, scorned and teased. But Ethan knows she is the girl from his dreams. Now he must decide whether he will take the chance to be outcast too, in his pursuit to get to know her.
And there is magic, mystery and death, too. The dreams and nightmares are just the beginning. Lena's old, eccentric family are much more than just the kind of things people in small towns love to gossip about. There is an old curse and a tragic love that begins to haunt both Lena and Ethan. And a time approaches when a deadly choice will have to be made that will affect them both.
This book was absolutely fantastic. I could tell from the first page--I just wanted to curl up with it and dive in and stay there for as long as I possibly could. I am long past my high school years, but Ethan's situation was one that anyone with any sensibility at all could understand and empathize with. He narrates in the first person with a unique voice that is both an everyman (or boy, rather) and yet a distinct personality. Through his thoughts and views, everything was fascinating--from negotiating the routine of getting to class on time and avoiding the pitfalls of antagonizing cliques and friends and teachers and relatives, to spending time with aged relatives, to the most strangely supernatural events--I could follow him anywhere and endlessly. (I hope he continues as narrator if there are sequels. He truly does have one of the most memorable and engaging voices I've come across in years.)
Lena, also, is a great character. Very human and sympathetic, and as the "strange girl," manages to avoid stereotypes. She isn't goth, isn't all that rebellious or independent; she is herself, and still troubled by her past and her future,but trying hard not to be (the same as Ethan). There are no vampires or werewolves, but plenty of magical beings just the same. And just what is it about the whole Southern Gothic thing? Whatever it is, it works here. The feeling is modern, but there's a lot of the past hanging about and along with it, a sense that things beyond the everyday are always there, just lurking around the corner. It is a setting that narrows the suspension of disbelief like it was nothing, creating the perfect atmosphere for such a story as this.
While I dip into YA now and then, it's not what I primarily like to read, but this book felt as if it could be read and enjoyed by nearly anyone. Yes, I do feel it transcends the genre and the age group. The writing was gorgeous, the story moving and utterly fascinating in all respects, the characters wonderful... I am running out of superlatives, I know, but whatever... I have read, literally, thousands of books, and this is definitely among the favorites.”
aprillee wrote this review Tuesday, April 13, 2010.