Monday, December 26, 2011

Sophie's Secret by Tara West

Title: Sophie’s Secret
Series: Whispers
Author: Tara West
Length: 2700 Kindle Units
Rating: 2 stars

The Plot

Sophie is starting her freshman year as a new person. She spent a year at a private school, where she lost a lot of weight, and she’s ready for all her old classmates to see her in a new light. Her life is slightly complicated by the fact that she can read minds, but she also has the support of her best friends, AJ and Krysta, who also have psychic powers.

Unfortunately, Sophie’s year isn’t going quite as smoothly as she would like. The school bully won’t stop picking on her, and she has to take photography lessons from the class slut. Her pregnant older sister and her deadbeat boyfriend have moved back home and stolen her room. Her crush Jacob is turning out not to be as nice as she thought. And on top of it all, her powers seem to be growing…

The Good

The most interesting thing about Sophie’s Secret was Sophie’s ability to read minds, although the gift ends up being tangential to the plot. The set-up creates a kind of irony in which Sophie has the ability to know things about people that others have no way to know, but at the same time she remains unaware of things that should be obvious to her. Despite her gift, she is unable to determine that Jacob is a jerk, Frankie really likes her, and her math teacher is horribly depressed.

I also have to give credit overall that there were very few grammatical and punctuation errors in the book. What problems there were with the book were not related to the technical errors that I see all too frequently.

The Bad

A quick google search about YA books will give a plethora of articles on how the genre has been changing in the last decade or so. The genre has been going more exciting, with teenagers taking on epic responsibilities in their search for identity. The last three books I reviewed, for example, featured a girl expected to broker peace between two warring factions, a girl with powers over time like no one has seen before, and a girl who has been gifted by the gods to save humanity from vampires. And we as readers look forward to watching these girls triumph over incredible odds. Well, so long as they end up with the right boys at the end.

Sophie’s Secret feels more as if it belongs to the old school of YA novels, where the characters face the ordinary problems that plague every teen searching for identity – family problems, difficult schoolwork, bullies. Twenty years ago this may have worked as a story, but current readers expect greater danger and higher stakes.

The Romance

Sophie’s romantic dilemmas felt more as if they belonged in a middle grade novel, rather than a young adult novel. Instead of dealing with more confusing sexual dynamics, she was just hoping that a boy would take her to the dance and give her a first kiss. This is partially explained by the fact that Sophie is 14 years old, whereas the modal age of YA heroines is 16 or 17.

The primary romantic conflict stems from Sophie’s crush on Jacob, which appears to be based on his looks alone, as it becomes increasingly apparent that she does not know anything about his personality. Nonetheless, she seems to have decided that her crush imbues him with a winning personality that he magically maintains in spite of all evidence to the contrary. As Jacob repeatedly asks her to cheat for him and spreads rumors about other students, a logical person would say, “Oh, I guess that he’s cute but a jerk. Crush abated. Problem solved.” But for Sophie this becomes a major internal conflict, one that I can’t find myself being all that sympathetic to.

Will I read more?

The next books in the series appear to be about Sophie’s friends AJ and Krysta, each of whom have a supernatural power, seeing the future and speaking to the dead, respectively. There were a few places in the Sophie’s Secret where we got information about her friends’ powers, the most notable of which was when we discovered that their powers are all increasing. If I were to find out that this was happening because there were a world-eating monster on its way to destroy the earth, and only the powers of Sophie and her friends can save us all, then I might be motivated to pick up the next in the series. But if the books continue to be about ordinary high school problems with some incidental psychic powers stuck in, I’ll probably skip them.


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