Saturday, April 1, 2017

Dead River by Cyn Balog

Rating: WORTHY!

This marks the start of three Cyn Balog books I got from the library, but it also marks the end of my interest in her, because the other two sucked. I really liked this author's Fairy Tale; it was quite different from your usual high-school romance novel and I appreciated it for that. This is the same thing - different from what you expect, and I think people will condemn it for that, which is their prerogative. For me, despite it having problems (as negative reviewers have no doubt discussed), I still like the book and consider it a worthy read.

The premise is Kiandra's visit to her cousin's family's log cabin in the woods by the river. Ki hasn't been anywhere near the river in a decade or so. Her over-protective father has kept her well away from it since her mother walked into the river and never was seen again. As soon as she arrives there with her boyfriend, Justin, her cousin, Angela, and this obnoxious guy her cousin invited along for no apparent reason, Ki starts hearing snatches of conversation when no one seems to be around.

This weekend is the weekend of the prom, and Ki really wanted to go, but Ki is about as weak as they come. Even though she's been dating Justin for three years, she couldn't put her foot down, and he's still not even remotely clued-in to the fact that she'd much rather go to the prom than go white-water rafting on Dead River.

You have to wonder what the two of them see in each other, but realistically viewed, this is how people end up. They start dating way too early in high-school before they have a clue what's what, and suddenly they're in a long-term relationship and don't know how to get out of it, or even if they want to because it's become kind of a rut and not one that's entirely unpleasant. Plus Ki has zero motivation as does Justin.

It's cold and wet and muddy out here and Ki is a bit of whiner, but she puts on a brave face and when they go out on the raft the next day she decides she's going to try and have fun, but things go wrong. She falls overboard and despite the best efforts of Justin to pull her back aboard, she's pulled under - quite literally. She comes around on a shore not too far from where they put in that morning. A guy named Trey has rescued her, and apparently healed her injured back. Suddenly she notices that he has a serious injury to his arm, which despite it bleeding out, doesn't seem to bother him. She realizes Trey is a ghost - the ghost of the very kid someone told a story about over the campfire the previous night.

From that point onwards, Ki can't not be interested in the river - or more to the point, she's obsessed with it, and with the east bank, which is where the dead supposedly live. This is nonsensical of course, because pretty much everyone lives on the east bank of some river (though it may be far away!). In Ki's case, Her mother might well be over there, waiting for her. Ki meets Jack - another ghost and he seems to have a quite different approach to death than does Trey. Who should Ki believe?

This is where the story got interesting for me, because of the way the world of the dead works in this place (unsurprisingly, given it's a water world, it relies heavily on Greek mythology as to how the dead pass over. Yes, if you look too closely, the world-building falls apart as it does in all of these horror stories, but if you're willing to overlook the fact that the fabric is rather threadbare in places, it's not too bad of a world the author creates here. It's a bit thin in some parts, and a bit repetitive in others, and it's disjointed in others. Some parts of it read like a first draft rather than a polished novel, but despite all of this, I liked the story and the atmosphere.

I think that a part of the problem was Ki's perspective. In true blind, sheep-mentality, YA fashion, it was told in first person by her and she really wasn't a very good narrator. I won't say she's unreliable because that's not the tack the author takes here, but she's very selfish, which accounts for how thinly the rest of the world is veneered when we see it from her perspective. I'm not a fan of first person at all, but in this case it was interesting to see up close her juvenile and sadly-blinkered view of the world. It makes me glad I'm not in high-school anymore dealing with people like that!

The ending reflects how very selfish and self-centered Ki is, too. She ends up with Trey. This isn't a spoiler because it's so obviously coming from the moment we first encounter him. There is no tension and no surprise here except in the fact that the author glosses over the same insurmountable problem that Stephenie Meyer cluelessly failed to address in Twilight: why would a several hundred year old vampire fall for a vacuous juvenile who must have been a baby relative to him?

Yeah, he'd no doubt want to jump her bones, but why would he have any other interest in her? Fall in love? Ain't gonna happen. The same problem arises here since Trey died in 1936, and has been living in ghost world ever since. In short, he's over eighty years old and would have zero interest in a child, yet Balog portrays him as being just like a teen. Nope. That's garbage. Yes, he's portrayed as innocent in the ways of women, but it still doesn't work because that doesn't do anything to un-age him! He'd be courting her mom (or even her grandmother) before he'd ever be interested in hitting on Ki for anything other than sex.

So that was pathetic, but that aside, I liked the way this novel flowed - like a rock-strewn river, heading for a crash down a steep waterfall. I'm not even sure why I liked it. Normally I would trash a novel like this, but something in it spoke to me, so maybe it was very personal, so I recommend it with the above-mentioned caveats.