Earlier this year, I wrote about Soho’s new Teen imprint and how excited it has me. And my excitement continues! I’ve read two of their three titles—so far they’re batting a thousand—and I’m very much looking forward to next month’s Strangelets. (Blurbed by Robin Wasserman, no less: Be still, my heart!)
Soho Teen isn’t the only new teen imprint that has me doing a happy dance, though: Last September, Angry Robot launched Strange Chemistry, which is dedicated to “modern young-adult science fiction, fantasy and everything in between.” Like Soho Teen, they’re currently releasing one book a month*, though they have plans to double their output later this year. Lately, I’m never more excited about reading a new book as I am when I’m about to read something from Strange Chemistry. Which is funny, as I’ve had extremely widely ranging reactions—from adoration to profound disappointment—to their books thus far: It’s been well over a month since I read and reviewed Laura Lam’s Pantomime, and I’m still head-over-heels in love with it; and I have similarly strong feelings towards Broken, by A.E. Rought, though they’re of a decidedly less-affectionate variety.
Which brings me to their most recent offering: The Holders, by Julianna Scott. Which, ultimately—and sadly!—falls into the same category as Broken.
Ten-year-old Ryland Ingle has always been different: He hears voices that no one else can hear, which understandably causes him problems socially, emotionally and scholastically. Every so often, a social worker or an institution of some sort approaches the family, wanting to “help,” but his older sister Becca has always been there to keep him from being taken away. When men from Ireland’s St. Brigid’s Academy show up, she assumes that they’re like everyone else—that they think Ryland is crazy, that he needs medication or counseling or shock therapy.
They don’t. St. Brigid’s is a school that caters to “Holders”—basically, people with paranormal powers—and they want to help Ryland gain control of his abilities. Soon enough, Ryland is on his way to Ireland...and so is Becca.
At its core, The Holders is a pretty standard paranormal adventure in the [SPOILER!] heroine-discovers-she’s-a-super-special-snowflake vein. It has a lot of problems: The mechanics of the world are doled out via a maddening combination of excessive exposition and illogical secrecy; Becca and Alex (the ubiquitous love interest) do a lot of unnecessary angsting when a simple conversation would solve their problems; much of the character-building is done through telling, rather than showing, which results in the reader having knowledge about Becca, but no emotional connection with her; similarly, the nuances in dialogue are explained, rather than shown (“...he said, feigning offence....” “He was obviously uncomfortable.”), and much of it comes across as stiff due to the aforementioned exposition. Finally, like so many paranormal heroines, Becca is supposed to be extremely perceptive, and she is...in all things except her love life.
Speaking of which, Becca makes a concerted—and on my part, appreciated—effort to avoid Bella Swan-ish obsession, in that when she realizes she’s crushing on Alex, she tries to move past it and into the Friend Zone. However, [ANOTHER SPOILER!] due to events outside of her control—think of Stephenie Meyer’s “imprinting”—all her hard work is ultimately in vain. If you find the lack of agency that comes with this sort of bond problematic, then it’s likely that the romance will feel a bit squicky; but if it sounds hella romantic, this aspect of the book may work for you, since some of the almost-smooching bits are quite thrilling**.
As for me: ah, well. There’s always next month!
*They even offer a subscription package, which is something I’d love to see from more YA publishers. SO COOL.
**I found that once they actually started smooching, the descriptions rapidly moved from “thrilling” to “gag-inducing,”but, as in all matters of the heart, that’ll depend on the personal preferences of the reader.
If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy is probably mooning over Timothy Olyphant’s portrayal of Raylan Givens in Justified. Well, that or she’s hanging out on Twitter. Or both.