Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Review: Anna, by Meghan Riley

Anna (The Starseed Series, #1)The biggest disappointment in reading Anna is that the story isn't quite what's advertised. The story, as suggested on the back cover, doesn't truly begin until the very end of the novel. There is a shadow man, yes, as the back cover titillatingly reveals, but he doesn't appear until 120 pages in, and even then it takes another 60 before Anna believes he is real. Really, what this novel is about is the life of a seemingly normal teenage girl named Anna who is only beginning to have somewhat weird things happen to her, but things that aren't so important as to make her forget about stuff like boys and the homecoming dance. And that's disappointing because this is a well-written book with better-developed characters than other, similar young adult novels, but its reluctance to get to the heart of its story will test the patience of its readers.

Anna is in her last year of high school at East Bank, and she can't wait to be done. Her father was killed in Afghanistan four years ago, and since then she has dropped substantially in popularity. She has only one friend, Heather. Her family is poor - they only have one cell phone for the entire house, and they have no internet and no computer. Anna's mom works as a waitress, and Anna herself works at a jewelry store. Her brother, Michael, locks himself in his bedroom playing video games and he also hangs out with kids who are into some shady activities. Anna often has to babysit him when her mom has to work, which limits her own social activities. Not that she minds. She is a good student who spends her time at home doing homework. She's very bright. In fact, her dream job involves astrophysics.

If you'll notice, that above plot summary does not involve any shadow persons. It also does not contain information about the story's main contents - a love triangle. Anna has a crush on the high school's star quarterback, Steve McCormick. Yet, of course, he has no idea she exists. That is, until she bumps into him one day and knocks his books all over the hallway. In helping him gather his things, Anna accidentally grabs the copy of Steve's physics midterm that is due the next day and only discovers this while at home. Having no access to the internet and, thus, no way to facebook him, Anna's only choice is to complete his assignment for him. When Anna tells this to Steve the next day, he becomes smitten with her, suddenly realizing the beauty behind the nerdy nobody. He asks if she will tutor him in physics and she ecstatically agrees.

Yet another boy appears. Anna joins an astronomy club through the East Bank Community College, where she meets Jared, a student from rival Milford. Jared, like Steve, is tall, handsome, athletic. Only, he plays lacrosse instead of football. He is instantly attracted to her, though she is too naive to notice. While Steve is a nice guy, perhaps a little too nice for a star quarterback (he doesn't even have an ego), Jared is also nice, but he has a little more personality. He's much more flirtatious, giving Anna the nickname of Copernicus due to her apparent astronomy genius. It seems the stuff of dreams (and cliche) that a nerdy girl with low self-esteem becomes the love interest of the two most popular boys of their respective high schools.

Now, I've given three paragraphs for plot details, when I generally stick with just one or two, and that's because there is a lot going on in this book. And I haven't even gotten to the shadow man parts. The problem is, this novel suffers a glut of plot. Anna has boy trouble. She also has a freckle formation on her arm that is shaped just like the constellation Pleiades. Her friend Heather is upset that her mom is remarrying and that Anna is being a selfish friend who won't listen to her problems. Michael is playing too many video games, and he's also getting into drugs and stealing. Anna's crush, Steve, is giving her mixed signals, and it's unclear whether he still has feelings for his on-again, off-again girlfriend, Jessica. Anna's mom is constantly under stress. Anna's arm becomes itchy and develops boils. Oh, and a shadow man visits her bedroom but her mom assures her it's just sleep paralysis.

Meghan Riley has a very pleasant, refined writing style. It helps make the book read smoothly despite all the details and plot points she throws the reader's way. There are moments that will make you chuckle, and many readers will likely fall in love with the romantic guessing game of "Who Will Anna End Up With?" I was enjoying this book immensely for a good chunk of it. But then I began to grow impatient. I began to flip to the back cover to remind myself what got me interested in reading it in the first place. This is a supernatural romance story that fails to utilize its own unique identity. In Twilight, Bella falls in love with the vampire Edward, thus making up the entirety of the plot. In The Hunger Games, Katniss is enlisted in a free-for-all death match that involves one boyfriend inside and one outside. In Divergent, Tris finds herself fighting an oppressive ruler while trying to sneak in a date with her own boyfriend. Anna, the novel and the heroine, is much smarter than all three of these, yet Riley fails to exploit her novel's unique identity. In the end, it's a story about Anna worrying about homecoming dance, about whether Steve really likes her or if she should go with Jared, and during those non-fantasy elements, it's just ordinary.

Anna is a heroine who I think is needed in the genre. She is smart. She is ambitious. The two guys she has a crush on are both very nice. She does not have a violent streak or any hints of masochism. Anna feels very real, much more fleshed out than the heroines I mentioned above. I like Anna. Not many young heroines seem to have much of an interest in being smart, yet Anna has a passion for astrophysics. She even talks passionately about facts and figures, the sort of things that would bore Bella or Katniss or Tris. Anna is a brilliant creation by Meghan Riley.

Yet in the end I have a tough time recommending this book. Those who enjoy such books as The Hunger Games and Divergent will have trouble enjoying this because of a lack of action. And while Steve and Jared make for nice romantic figures, the lack of a darkness within them also makes them less exciting. Finally, those intrigued by the premise will be sorely disappointed, as I was, when it takes Riley 350 pages to finally arrive at what was promised, but by then you will be too drained from having read Anna's ordinary life adventures. Things happen so quickly at the end that several questions arise that go unanswered, but I can't pose them without ruining what happens (and one of them is HUGE). I may or may not continue with the series, but my concern is that the sequel will follow the same formula as this - waiting until the end before it makes any meaningful advances in its story. I really hope Riley begins diving into her story proper before then.

*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.*

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