Saturday, October 17, 2009

Conflicted Nya in The Shifter by Janice Hardy

OK Junkies, last week we looked at some oldies-but-goodies, but this week I'm going to rant about a new drug on the street. In my pathetic attempt to keep my finger on the pulse of the YA book market, I heard about this book a while ago and have been anticipating it for a couple months.

The Healing Wars: Book One, The Shifter by Janice Hardy came out few weeks ago. I gobbled it up and will now regurgitate for you, my beloved Junkies.

Nya is an orphan in a war-torn land. She steals and works odd jobs to feed herself, while her younger sister, Tali is an apprentice in The League, learning to be a healer. Now, I love YA urban-fantasy, but I'm usually wary of any book that begins with a map of a non-existent place and has fantastical names for races of fantastical creatures.

Hardy, however, introduces her imagined world with a finesse that never makes me turn back to look at the damn map. In the beginning, Nya is chased by a cute soldier for stealing eggs. The first chapter grabbed my attention and left me hankering for more. Without an info-dump, the reader figures out that Nya is Geveg in a land conquered and now ruled by Baseeri.

Nya's parents were wealthy and powerful, but were killed in the war that left Gevegs as second-class citizens and Nya all-but homeless. Nya's grandmother and mother were healers. They drew pain out of the sick and injured and transferred it into this magical metal known as pynvium. Tali, Nya's younger sister, also has the ability to heal and is learning the subtleties of her ability in an institution known as The League.

Nya also has strong powers. Nya can draw pain out of those suffering, but cannot transfer it into pynvium. Instead, she can do something no other healer can, she shifts the pain into others.

Before she died, Nya's mother made Nya promise to never use her ability, and Nya kept her promise, until now. Nya's frightened of her own power and terrified of hurting people, but when her sister's life is in danger, she must make terrible choices.

Now, my dear junkies, I do not intend, nor will I attempt, for this blog to serve as an analytic review of any book. It's more of a place to rant about the novels that make me bliss out. With that said, there are a few things about The Shifter that I have to get off my chest.

I think, but I'm not sure, that this book is marketed as middle-grade, instead of young adult. If not, I advise you think of it as such, anyway. To me, there's a fundamental problem with middle-grade novels written in first-person that have an adolescent protagonist.

(Well ok, let's back up a second. Actually, the problem is that I'm an intelligent adult reading a book meant for ten-year-olds, but just hear me out.)

The problem is this: If the book is written in a sophisticated way that makes my brain happy, then part of me is always kind of thinking "Wait! Thirteen-year-olds don't think like this. This narrator is too insightful, empathetic, and logical to be thirteen!"

Or, if the author does a great job of capturing the mindset of an adolescent, then I'm stuck inside the head of a damn thirteen-year-old for 200 pages!

Hardy suffers a little bit from the latter problem. Nya is a very realistic adolescent. But sometimes her thought process and the way she draws conclusions is pretty illogical and hard to follow (again, realistic).

The premise/theme of The Shifter is that Nya is essentially a weapon. She must choose who to hurt and who to save, and she battles herself to decide whether or not to hurt one innocent person in order to save a group. I get that, hard choices, heavy stuff. But I think Nya struggles with this a little too much, and there's a whole lot of justification going on from other characters. There was a little too much, yes she made this tough decision and she hurt someone who didn't deserve it, but she's still a really good person, let's take a minute and explain why.

I like my heroines to be imperfect. And come on Janice, didn't you get a three book deal? Let Nya be racked with guilt for the next two books. Everything got tied up into too neat of a package for me at the end.

But then again, I'm 20 years older than the target audience. Maybe fifth-graders need the explanation of why it's OK that their heroine hurts strangers.

With all that said, I'm still totally excited for the next installment of The Healing Wars. Justified, or not, Nya is a total bad-ass. By the end of The Shifter, Nya and the reader discover what she's capable of, and she's a force to be reckoned with.

OK Junkies, what do you think? Should I be less picky as an adult reading kids' books? Should I just grow up and read books for people my own age?

But I'm addicted! I need my heroines!

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