This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.
p110 "I don't feel like taking right now " should be 'talking'
This is the first day I can post this because of an embargo, although I see scores of reviews already out there from other reviewers. Oh well! Anyway, Raven is a DC comics character who is almost the same age as the mature author of this YA graphic novel, but given that, and unlike authors unfortunately, comic book heroes never die and are paradoxically constantly reborn. Raven is being rebooted here yet again as a high-school senior and it's a major fail for reasons I shall go into shortly.
This is written by the author of Beautiful Creatures, something which it turns out, isn't a good idea. The story had annoying issues pretty much from the off, such as the whole vudu thing, which doesn't ever work for me. I just can't get with any spirit who can be bribed with spirits.
Plus despite the reboot, the story offered nothing new - only tired and outdated tropes: the new girl in high school, the school bitch, the creepy guy who instantly latches onto her and is entirely inappropriate, her "instadore" response to him for no reason at all, and this despite several warning signs that the guy is a creep. Authors are just so obsessed with adding a "romance" (I use the term loosely) that they're quite evidently willing to do anything, including selling-out and otherwise cheapening their main character, just to get it on.
If you haven't read the comics before this and you missed the pretty decent TNT live-action television series (which is how I came to be interested in this comic), Raven's name is Rachel Roth - and no, we can't get away from DC's tedious alliteration! Sorry! Her new male friend's name is Tommy Torres! Barf! Her backstory is that she's a 'cambion' - the offspring of a demon and a human mother - some might call her the antichrist!
In this new rebirth, she's a teenager who survives an MVA that kills her prospective adoptive mother, and in another trope, robs Raven of her memory. She's taken in by an aunt. Why this didn't happen first - why she was about to be adopted by a stranger instead of moving in with an aunt who is family - remained a mystery, and no explanation for that was forthcoming. Since this is New Orleans, naturally, her 'aunt' is a vudu priest, and her aunt's daughter Max evidently has supernatural powers although there was little evidence of that here.
Max is short for Maxine, and I found myself wondering, "Who named their kids Tommy and Maxine, seventeen years ago?" No one I know of! Thomas was 36th on the list of most popular names in 2002. Maxine wasn't even in the top 100. Clearly the author, admittedly stuck with 'Raven', expended no thought whatsoever into the naming of her other characters, but these things matter, especially in a book about magic and demons! These are not even the original names from Raven's earlier incarnations: they were apparently dreamed up by the author.
On top of this, I have to say that Tommy comes off as a complete creep the way he's written here. He passes her a note in class essentially demanding that she meet him in the gym, and she passively goes along with it. She doesn't even know this guy. She hasn't interacted with him anywhere near enough to get any sort of vibe let alone a good one, much less be full-frontal crushing on him, so this debased Raven for me right from the outset.
It ruined the story, which was supposed to be about Raven trying to figure out who she was. As is so often the case in these YA efforts, the story instead became that of Raven melting like ice cream in the heat emitted by the torrid Tom cat. His grand gesture was to bring a bag full of candy bars to the gym rendezvous, like Raven was some sort of retard who couldn't figure out which she liked best on her own and so desperately needed this Tom foolery? This whole event had the vibe of some sick guy trying to lure kids into his panel van by offering them candy. It was downright creepy.
As if that wasn't bad enough, later we get a guy (who at first I had also thought was Tommy because of the average to below average illustration) asking Maxine for a kiss right in front of Raven in the school hallway, and neither of the two girls thought there was anything wrong with that. This is at the same time as Tommy is trying to 'move in on' Raven like he wanted to own her, yet she's never remotely suspicious about any of his behavior even though she's pretty much paranoid about everything else, and is also going through a time when she's hearing voices? It all felt unnatural and far too forced.
I have to confess, at this point, that it's possible, due to laxity in illustration, that I'm confusing one male character - Tommy - with another - a guy who has the decidedly odd name of 'name' backwards - Eman. The two looked so alike and were so interchangeable that I honestly couldn't tell the difference to begin with. Part of this problem was that the Eman (it's right there in the name how masculine he is: Eman and the Masters of the Wombiverse!) was not even a character in the story worth the mention, so rarely did he appear. It took me some time before I realized that I might have been confusing the two of them until I was about two-thirds the way through the novel, but even if it's true, it didn't make any difference because they were so interchangeable. All it actually meant was that there were two dicks instead of one and that Eman was just as bad as Tommy was.
As the school prom draws closer, one of the two (I guess Eman?) was going on and on about the girls buying roses (which are sent to the boys to ask them to the prom), and putting his arm around Maxine's neck uninvited. Despite being clearly told "No" several times, he keeps on trying to force the issue, offering to give them money or to buy the roses for them. Tommy was definitely a dick at this point, evidently willing to pimp the girls out, convinced that they do protest too much!
This wasn't remotely funny, and a female author - even a YA author - should know better than to do this to a female character - especially when she fails to have that female character react negatively to a clear #MeToo moment. This author is obviously out of touch and is a part of the problem. This is why I don't like YA relationships because they're usually so very poorly done - as badly as this one was. They're sending the wrong message in any era, let alone this one today.
I honestly don't know what the hell the problem is with YA authors; I really don't. They will gasp in horror when they hear of the latest abuse of women even as they're actively writing the next one in their latest book. The whole lot of them, with few exceptions, ought to be shipped-off to sensitivity training for sure. The problem is even spelled-out in this very novel, and still no one gets it. Max has made it clear to Enama that the answer is "No!" yet he will not, we learn, leave her alone. If Tommy had known Raven for years and they were friends, that would be one thing, but he doesn't. As he tells Raven earlier in the story, he's new to the school too. So no. Just no for either of these "relationships."
On top of all of this, we have the tired and antique trope of Raven tripping and pretty much falling into Tommy's arms. I felt almost literally nauseated at that point because it is so pathetic and such a tired and douche move by an author. He of course grabs her hand and almost drags her into the school like she's a child in desperate need of his guidance and protection, but I guess this is how this guy wants 'his woman': passive, compliant, and child-like, so he can own and manipulate her at will. This attitude is rewarded, because Raven falls for him, showing what a moron she is, too. Wrong message to send.
So the worn-out YA trope of the new girl in school, which I don't like because it's been done to death, and the ancient trope of a guy coming into her life to validate and rescue her, I can do without. New guys can be as much a curse on a story (particularly one by a YA author) as they can a blessing. In this case it was quite clearly a curse, unsurprisingly. Tommy was in no way needed for this story, and yet there he was. On top of those inexcusable issues, the problems Raven has with her memory seem curiously random: she can't remember her favorite song or candy bar, but she knows math and cooking?
But on with the story. Oddball things seem to happen around Raven for which she has no explanation. She can hear the thoughts of classmates which doesn't freak her out as much as you might imagine it would. Curiously, wearing earplugs drowns out the voices. I didn't get why that was, since she was clearly not literally hearing them. Maybe the earplugs had a psychological effect? Who knows? This story isn't deep enough to go into things like that, since there's a hot romance to cold brew.
Later, from unwilling interactions with the annoying, trope school bitch, Raven discovers that she can also have a physical impact on other people, like making this same girl trip over or choke on some food after she's said something mean. There's also another voice which she hears from time to time, like it's her conscience or her advisor. "Raven? Can you hear me? It's Trigon.
This ARC copy (which in my case was an ebook) seemed odd to me in that there were red lines around the borders of the pages. I don't know if this is a development thing - part of the creative process which will be removed from the final edition, or if it's actually a part of the finished book. I just found them annoying. Gabriel Picolo's art work was curiously basic, too, like he didn't care enough about this project to make any real effort. I mean it was okay in that it serviced the text, but it was certainly nothing spectacular and as I said, it really made the two guys indistinguishable for the most part.
Why there were references to Dracula, I do not know, but Raven has a copy of Bram Stoker's novel and it has notes inside that are in her handwriting. We're told it was her mother's favorite book, but it had nothing to do with the story, so maybe the author wanted to try and add some sorely needed literary cred? It didn't work. Neither did the inexplicable dichotomy between Raven's failure to remember even simple things - a memory which doesn't seem to be returning - and this blooming and seemingly endless growth of her powers. It was a bit much. Plus it's so amateurishly one dimensional.
Raven seems to be using only the sense of sight, not that of smell, hearing, or touch (though it's touched on, so to speak, in passing). I imagine someone who has lost their memory would be rather more attuned to her senses, drinking in everything, and hoping the experience will trigger locked-up memories, but no, not really. Not here, anyway. Again, the story is too shallow and limited to explore something like that.
Next she's 'astral projecting' - so we're told - in that she was, while sleeping, able to see this sacrificial plea for help her 'aunt' made at the local cemetery. So, another power popping up out of nowhere for no apparent reason. Again, it seemed so random. Whenever she needs a magical power, there it is at her fingertips! And she's an instant expert in using it!
This leads to her aunt declaring that Raven's powers are developing faster than expected, only a short while after this same aunt claims she has no idea what's going on with Raven. How would she? She and Raven's mom were estranged for a long time, but that doesn't explain why the aunt, now seemingly so concerned, apparently had never wanted to get in touch with Raven after her mother had died, to the point where Raven was going to be adopted by someone else. None of this made any sense.
Rather like the movie Carrie, based on the tedious Stephen King "novel" of the same name, this one once again fails to be original, and uses the same trope of a climax at the prom. By this point I was only glad it was over and I didn't have to read any more. There are so many ways this novel could have broken new ground, liberated young super-powered females, and set standards, but instead, it chose to wallow in worn-out and threadbare YA trope with the requisite weak, female main character. It abused the main character every bit as much as those macho male-authored comics which star improbably pneumatic and skin-tight costumed super hero women, and call them girls, yet doing it this way is so much more insidious isn't it? This is why I can't commend this comic at all.