Review Detail4.5 5
Robin Wasserman has managed to write an original YA story, by which I mean one that's not remotely like the standard YA book. Nora, for example, is not your standard YA heroine. She's not absurdly clutzy, but she is incredibly intelligent, as in a genius at Latin. Nor is Nora particularly attractive; she's kind of average looking. Her hair is mousy brown, her nose too large for her face and she doesn't wear makeup almost ever. In short, she looks like a lot of girls, rather than some super shiny-haired YA cover girl. This makes her so much easier to relate to.
Then there's her storybook love. Well, he's not your usual guy fare either. The perfect-ish guy is her best friend, Chris, who's dating her other best friend. Her boyfriend is Max, who she thought was creepy for quite a while after first meeting at him. Apparently, he stares a lot, perhaps to a Maureen Johnson-esque degree. Max wears glasses and is totally socially awkward, very much not your usual YA hero.
Actually, this book has a lot more in common with novels like The Rule of Four. Both focus on academic research of an old text about which very little is known. Where Caldwell and Thomason's book is solely historical fiction though, Wasserman has added a paranormal element. In some books, paranormal is overdone and melodramatic. Here it creates the perfect creepy, gothic atmosphere. For most of the book, you don't even know what the paranormal is; you just sense its presence lurking just off screen, creating serious suspense.
As Nora's story progresses, so does her research into the letters of Elizabeth, which could possibly provide insight into The Book her group is researching for Hoff (crotchety professor in search of glory). Although the individual letters are fairly short, I found myself getting just as sucked into Elizabeth's tale as into Nora's. In some historical fiction with this setup, the 'historical documents' are the weak point. Wasserman deftly avoids that trap with the grace of the dancing hippo from Fantasia.
The book is dark, unrelenting, soul-breakingly, fabulously, perfectly dark. Everything in Nora's life has pretty much already fallen apart, leaving her bruised, even before the book has begun. Well, things are just getting started for poor Nora. Her world gets shaken on its foundations. Robin Wasserman definitely goes on the list of awesome YA authors not afraid to do terrible things to their heroines/heroes. I love this, because, well, have you met life?
In undergrad, I was a theology minor, despite having been an agnostic all of my life, leaning much closer to the atheist side of things than the religious. The reason for my study of theology is that, simply put, I find belief fascinating, both on a global and individual scale. Certainly, it's interesting as a historian to look at how the religions themselves developed from a single person or group to a massive organized thing. Even more so, though, I love hearing the stories of individuals, of how they came to subscribe to their particular faith (or lack thereof). The theology in this book is wonderful, and, if you have any interest in that, I highly recommend this. Again, I think Wasserman was very daring to write this, and I applaud her for it. My favorite quote was one that pretty much sums up my opinions on the idea of God.
The story of The Book of Blood and Shadow is also incredibly intricate. I have so much respect for Robin Wasserman for having pulled off a book of this scope. She did so much research, both into Prague's history, into ancient languages, and into secret codes. To sum up this review into just a few words: Robin Wasserman is BRILLIANT, and so is her book. It's out now, so what the heck are you waiting for? GO GET IT!
This was my first foray into Robin Wasserman's books, although I have checked out Skinned from the library at least three times and then not had time to read it, but it will by no means be my last. In fact, I'm pretty sure Skinned is getting bumped up the TBR list.
Not typical YA
No cheesy romance