Are the horrifying changes in Emily’s personality due to magic or madness?
Reading Level: Young Adult
Release Date: January 25, 2011
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Pages: 309 pages
Source: Amazon Vine
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry
This young adult, contemporary-fantasy novel begins with an interrogation of the teenage heroine, Emily Webb, by a man named F. Savage who is part of a shadowy organization called the Vesper Company. This opening scene is presented in transcript format, and in it Emily is, for reasons unexplained, referred to as “Vesper 1.” We learn within the first page of the book that Emily and several of her unnamed friends have been kidnapped and are being held in a secret facility. At the request of the powers-that-be in the Vesper Company, Emily has written out her story. She declares to Savage that she hopes that her cooperation will earn the release of both her and her friends, but it is by no means clear that her wish will be granted. Emily’s written statement comprises the body of the novel Vesper, which is frequently interspersed with more transcripts of her ongoing interrogation with the Vesper Company man.
At the start of Emily’s story, she is behaving like someone who is either suffering from a manic phase of bipolar disorder or hopped up on some kind of dangerous street drug. She is in the midst of climbing out her bedroom window because she wants to “dive into the darkness” beyond her bedroom window and “get filthy and carefree.” She’s interrupted by a phone call informing her that a girl from her school, Emily Cooke, has just been murdered. The shock of that announcement shakes her out of her manic state, and she behaves like someone waking from a trance. This version of Emily is appalled to find herself dressed in flashy, trampy clothes which, her thoughts tell us, are completely out of character. The real Emily Webb is a modest, very introverted geek.
As the book progresses, we experience the traumatizing pull between what Emily comes to call “Nighttime Emily” and her normal self, “Daytime Emily.” Emily has three theories: She’s either going insane, possessed by the vengeful spirit of the other, dead Emily, or she is relentlessly transforming into something unimaginable. Something that isn’t entirely human.
This is an intriguing paranormal story which is equal parts action-adventure plot, murder-mystery plot, and a uniquely intense coming-of-age plot. There is also a romantic subplot, and those that like to be kept guessing a bit as to who the heroine in a YA novel will end up with will enjoy the unexpected way the author handles it.
This book definitely has the potential to produce, at the least, a trilogy, because the end of the book, though satisfactorily answering the main plot questions posed in this book, brings up multiple tantalizing new questions to be handled in the next book.
Some readers may experience the literary technique of beginning the story with an event that has happened after the main story has ended as lessening some of the story’s suspense, as well as resulting in the main body of the book consisting of a massive flashback. It is also a bit disconcerting that the book is interrupted several more times with additional transcripts of the same interrogation that begins the book, which rather awkwardly breaks up the forward momentum of the story.
Though it works well for the plot itself, in terms of marketing this book, it is unfortunate that the major paranormal hook that would cause teen readers to want to pick up this book and read it is not revealed until the climax. That means that any reviewer or promoter of the book who reveals it to grab a potential reader’s attention is committing a spoiler. Because that plot point is so interesting, though, beware that many readers who review this book, on Amazon and elsewhere, will be tempted to blurt out this important plot point in their reviews.
Regardless of the flaws in the structure of the novel which, of course, many readers may not find to be flaws at all, the particular strength that most recommends this book is the personality and characterization of the heroine Emily. She is a strong and dynamic heroine with a relentless drive to solve the mystery of her frightening split personality.
For parents and teachers concerned with the content of this book, I would rate it PG-13 for violence. There is no sex, but many of the scenes of “Nighttime Emily’s” wild-child exploits are quite provocative and drenched in substance abuse. However, this is leavened by “Daytime Emily’s” shock at these actions.