Here is yet another paranormal romance story inspired by the success of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series, only instead of vampires we have mermaids/sirens. It seems to me author Amanda Hocking could have had a lot more fun with this story if she left out the broody, serious teenage romance. At least Hocking doesn't romanticize being a siren the same way Stephenie Meyer romanticizes being a vampire. This is better written than Twilight, and has a better story, but I don't think it benefits from its uber-serious approach to monsters and love, what with its two uptight female heroines, all-too-nice boy love interests, and predictably moody villains. Still, I'm sure teenage girls will grow giddy with what transpires on the pages of Hocking's Wake, the first of four in her Watersong series, and boyfriends relieved to have survived the Twilight saga may find themselves having to put up with yet another paranormal romance series.
Gemma, a sophomore in high school, is a talented swimmer. She and her coach have set their sights on the Olympics. In fact, Gemma feels so drawn to the water she likes to go out for nightly swims all by herself. But she's a good girl; she always makes it home in time for her ten o'clock curfew. Her sister, Harper, a recent high school graduate, is the more protective of the two. She despises her sister's going out every night to swim in that dangerous cove where something could happen to her, which inspires some tedious dialogue between the two sisters. Their father, Brian, tries his best to make both girls happy. In keeping with YA tradition, Hocking keeps Brian out of the story as much as possible. Harper is the adult in the family. During a scene when Gemma is missing, Harper convinces her father to go into work instead of help search for his youngest daughter. He's a very unconvincing father, and the mother, who has suffered a mental illness that seemingly transforms her into a hormonal Justin Bieber fan, is even less convincing. Hocking could have at least done some research on mental illness.
The story is told from the alternating perspectives of Harper and Gemma. I think it would have been much improved sticking with Gemma, since Harper's sections aren't as interesting and only slow the story down. However, Hocking knows what her readers want - not one, but two hunky boys for her heroines (and readers) to crush on. Harper gets Daniel, the handsome, muscular, tattooed twenty-year-old who lives in a dingy boat on the docks where her father works. Their meet-cute happens when Harper is delivering her father's lunch, and Daniel happens to be peeing over the side of his boat and gives Harper a glimpse of his genitals. When Harper reacts with disgust, Daniel laughs at her, and apparently this is charming. You might find it hard to believe that he's actually a very nice guy. And he spends a good chunk of the novel shirtless, so he can hug Harper close when he helps her onto his boat.
Gemma's boy is the next-door neighbor, Alex. He's pure fantasy, a high school video game nerd who has suddenly developed muscles. Hocking must not know very many video gamers. You don't magically develop muscles by sitting on the couch all day long. He and Gemma fall for one another well before either are aware of it. There's plenty of hand-grazing, heart-fluttering, and near-kisses, all to whet our sensual appetite. However, there isn't any real romance. There's some melodramatic, broody, I-need-to-be-there-in-your-time-of-need kind of stuff, and very awkward, clumsy conversations with bad jokes and prying comments that are supposed to be sweet, I guess. If that sounds wonderful to you, then this is definitely the book for you. It seems that, thanks in part to Twilight, our culture has embraced broody, serious romance. There's no wit. Love's no longer any fun. It's more like a job, a duty. And it's very tiring.
Gemma eventually becomes tempted (seduced?) by a group of three beautiful girl new to the town: Penn, Lexi, and Thea. These girls have a menacing feel to them, but they're also very seductive and capable of washing away any ill-feelings towards them in a matter of a few singsong words. Obviously these are the sirens. The story eventually breaks down into Gemma becoming pulled in by these girls and Harper on the other side worrying about her. You can probably imagine which story is more interesting. Where some have mentioned Twilight as a metaphor for abstinence, I see Wake as a metaphor for joining the wrong crowd. Penn, Lexi, and Thea strut about town like they're straight from the movie Mean Girls, and Gemma feels a strong compulsion to be one of them. Hocking could have had a lot more fun with this had she allowed Gemma to become more fully consumed by her new group of friends. Instead of exploring the consequences of going full-on bad girl, though, Hocking is more concerned with Gemma's feelings for Alex, because the most important part of a girl's life is pleasing the boy in her life.
As I said, Wake is a better novel than Twilight, though not by much. I would say Hocking is also a better writer than Meyer, though again it's not by much. Hocking, like many other modern YA authors, uses too much bad dialogue and has the bad habit of describing every feeling and desire of her heroines. Knowing less about a character makes that character more compelling, because oftentimes knowing more is disappointing. Also like Meyer and most other writers of fantasy, Hocking takes a very serious approach to her material. It seems a lot more fun could have been had with the mermaid theme, with the freedom of swimming in the sea and with the grace and power one would have as a mermaid. But Hocking avoids that because to become a mermaid means to give in to one's baser instincts. Saints are much less interesting characters than those who, like any human being, have a dark side and can't help but give into it. But really, Hocking must know what she's doing because plenty of readers have fallen in love.