Monday, January 28, 2013

Review: What We Saw at Night

What We Saw at Night
By Jacquelyn Mitchard
Published 2013 by Soho Teen

Allie Kim suffers from XP - xeroderma pigmentosum - a severe allergy to the sun that leaves her to live in the night world. Thankfully, she's not alone - her two best friends have XP as well, and the three of them have inhabited their nighttime world together. But things begin to seem a bit off with Juliet - and then Allie sees something disturbing one night, something that might possibly be murder. What's really going on here?

Well, I think my review could be summed up by simply repeating that last question: what's really going on here? I requested this title because it sounded like it had potential - I'm hoping that mystery is the next big thing in youth literature and the intrigue of XP definitely gave this one a twist. Unfortunately, this book did not work for me at all. Mainly this is because I can't answer the question I've asked twice - I have no idea what the heck is going on in this book. I don't know if it's a matter of poor execution or poor plot or both. But I'll try to take a closer look and see if I can find some answers.

Execution-wise: this book is not well-written. I'm struggling to remember whether I've read Mitchard before (edit: I've just looked - I read All We Know of Heaven and actually specifically mentioned that I thought it was well-written) but if I go by this book alone, I'd struggle to know how she is a successful author. Many, many times throughout the book (too many to count) the writing just didn't make sense - I found myself wondering if I'd somehow managed to skip a paragraph or a page or something but I never did. The writing is just disjointed and the narrative does not work well at all. I rolled my eyes at the melodrama that is Allie - and when I spend too much time rolling my eyes over a character, chances are the book is not going to be a win for me. I get that Allie and her friends live a very unique life and may experience a bit of arrested development, their exposure to the greater world being severely limited by their medical condition. But that makes me want to be sympathetic to them and it sort of feels like Mitchard is doing everything in her power to make Allie annoying so I won't feel any sympathy for her. She is a bit too much for me, I'm afraid. But is this poor writing simply due to a poor plot?

There is so much going on here and none of it is what I thought this book was going to be about. There is the exploration of friendships changing and perhaps dying as people grow up and change. An exploration of how a shift in one relationship can cause many seismic shifts in other relationships across the board. There is the exploration of a life so outside the realm of what most would consider normal, and how an otherwise typical teenager deals with this life. And then there is the mystery - the so-called murder that Allie spies one night. As with the narrative, this entire plot line felt disjointed and confusing - it made no sense to me. I felt like Allie was constantly searching in every conceivable direction for the answers and it irritated the crap out of me. The best part is that, though the murder happens relatively quickly in the book, the bulk of the investigation into it doesn't play out until maybe 3/4s of the way through, and even then seems secondary to everything else going on. The inclusion of Parkour really threw me - what does this have to do with anything? For a book published by a mystery/crime imprint, I expected more focus on the mystery.

In the end, this was just not a book I enjoyed and I have a difficult time figuring out who I'd recommend this book to.

Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via NetGalley.

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