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Bookends: Troubled Teens Seek Answers at a Strange School December 29, 2013

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Bookends: Troubled Teens Seek Answers at a Strange School

By Dan Davidson

October 2, 2013

– 740 words –

 

The SummoningThe Summoning

By Kelley Armstrong

Doubleday

400 pages

$16.95

Kindle edition,

$9.99

 

It’s a fair jump from majoring in psychology and computer programming to becoming a major genre name on the occult/supernatural shelf, but with nearly 20 novels to her credit since the first one (Bitten) came out in 2001, Sudbury born Kelly Armstrong has made that jump quite handily.

Bitten launched her ‘Women of the Otherworld” series of 13 books, stories featuring strong female leads in stories about witches, werewolves, and a variety of other creatures.

Most of these have been what is called urban fantasies, stories set in the now, but nevertheless full of magic and strange beings with powers. Most have been aimed at adult audiences.

The Darkest Powers trilogy, begun in 2008, was written for the Young Adult (YA) market and borrows, to a certain extent, themes and situations which are common to the Harry Potter novels and the original X-Men comic books.

The narrator of The Summoning is Chloe Saunders, who is just entering a somewhat delayed puberty. This is about the same age when Harry gets told he is a special boy and gets sent off to Hogwarts. It’s the age when kids get sent to study with Professor Xavier because they’ve begun to manifest strange abilities.

As her mother is dead and her father is often absent, Chloe has been living with her devoted Aunt Lauren. We learn that she’s often had a bit of trouble settling into school and getting along with others, but her recent entry into a school that emphasizes the arts fits in well with her dream of becoming a film director (there are a lot of film references in this book), and she’s been settling in nicely.

Then she gets her first period and with it the unexpected gift, or curse, as she sees it, of second sight. In her case, it’s the ability to see and communicate with ghosts. It’s not just that she sees and hears some dead people, it’s that the ability is totally outside her experience, totally distracting, and terrifying. She thinks she is going crazy, and the professionals her aunt calls upon to deal with her don’t disagree after she completely flips out one day at school.

She is packed off to a special school called Lyle House that deals with troubled teens. There she meets half a dozen other youngsters who have a variety of “gifts”, none of which any of the instructors at the school will admit are anything but delusions to be treated with therapy and drugs.

There’s brainy, charming Simon and his ominous, unsmiling hulking brother Derek, obnoxious Tori, and Rae, who has a “thing” for fire. There’s also Liz, and something weird happens to her. She is taken away after an incident with Tori, and Chloe starts to see her in the form of a ghost that doesn’t seem to know its not really there.

Each of the teens is, it develops, blessed or cursed with a specific power. Tori’s is called necromancy. Eventually all of them but Tori stage a breakout to get away from their keepers, people who they come to believe do not actually mean them well.

The latter part of the story is about their escape and the consequences that flow from it. I can’t really say more other than to indicate that Chloe’s entire life to date has been something of a lie and that she’s in way more distress as the book ends than she has ever been.

Yes – it ends on a cliffhanger; one that picks up and carries plot threads through the next two volumes of what I would really have to call one large book. I haven’t read those yet, but I can tell you that I’m going to have to, just to find out how this all works out.

While Armstrong’s work is often compared to that of Laurel Hamilton and Charlaine Harris, I found this reminded me more of the voice that Kathy Reichs (of Bones fame) has been using in her YA oriented Virals series, the main difference being that the kids in those books are powered by a “scientific” altering of their genome by a genetic virus. That’s another series where I’ve only read the first book, and another one I mean to visit again.

 

-30-

 

 

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