So, I've been sitting on my review for Lynne Matson's fabulous NIL since October. It releases on March 4th, and I was trying to wait to get as close to publication date as possible, before posting.
BUT I CAN'T WAIT ANYMORE. This book is awesome, and needs to be read ASAP.
Hardcover, 384 pages
Expected publication: March 4th 2014 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Format read: E-ARC via publisher
Part science-fiction mystery, part survival story, with just a hint of a star-crossed romance, this is a book that will absolutely stay with you.
Synopsis via Goodreads:
Seventeen-year-old Charley doesn’t know the rules. She doesn’t even know where she is. The last thing she remembers is blacking out, and when she wakes up, she’s lying naked in an empty rock field.
Lost and alone, Charley finds no sign of other people until she meets Thad, the gorgeous leader of a clan of teenage refugees. Soon Charley learns that leaving the island is harder than she thought . . . and so is falling in love. With Thad’s time running out, Charley realizes that to save their future, Charley must first save him. And on an island rife with dangers, their greatest threat is time.
My to-be-read pile is often teetering with a number of intriguing, exciting books that are demanding to be read as soon as possible, so I’ve developed a tendency of reading through a book, and then putting it down and beginning another book as soon as possible.
But when I finished Lynne Matson’s NIL, I put it down and then immediately picked it up again. I reread my ARC again in the same afternoon, and still felt like that wasn’t enough. I wanted to revisit sections, revisit characters and just spend more time in her intriguing, mysterious world.
Why? Because Matson’s book is quietly stunning. Readers will likely go into it thinking that it’s another dystopian/mystery, but they’re going to find themselves immersed in a world that they won’t be able to stop thinking about, long after they’ve finished reading.
With that being said, let’s get on with the review!
Things that worked:
Charley is described as being extremely beautiful, almost as soon as the book opens.
But don’t let this fool you – she’s anything but a stereotypical perfect YA heroine. She’s self-conscious about her height, she’s extremely savvy and fast-thinking in challenging situations, and despite all evidence to the contrary, she also has an unfortunate tendency to think that she can’t measure up to people who are already on the island.
I don’t think Lynne Matson necessarily intended for Charley to be read this way, but Charley is an excellent example of someone who is in fact extremely capable (and beautiful) in her own right, but doesn’t necessarily realize the degree of her own strength, until she’s forced to face NIL’s machinations.
I think younger readers will particularly relate to Charley’s journey from being already capable, to being more in-touch and more aware of her gifts and talents.
At the same time, I think that readers will also connect with the innate leadership shown by Thad. This is a guy who had once envisioned a very different life, but now clearly knows how to do the right thing, even when it’s tough and awkward.
He leads the team. He tells other island residents off, when they step out of line. And at the same time, he also allows himself to experience and see beyond his preconceived notions, when he finds himself developing an attachment to Charley.
* The writing
Matson’s prose is smooth, realistic and a breeze to read. She utilizes a dual narration technique, switching flawlessly between Charley’s narration and Thad’s.
Both narrations offered intriguing insights into the background of the two characters, while also highlighting the diversity of the people who have had the misfortune of landing on the island, and how people adapt to circumstances that are beyond their control.
* The pacing
Matson makes excellent use of an ongoing countdown clock for all island residents, to begin with.
However, she emphasizes that disparity even further, when she pairs countdown clocks against one another. Without giving any spoilers away, this a book that moves quickly, and will have you gasping at the ending, which occurs in the blink of an eye.
* The mystery of the island
When it comes to the mystery of the island, Matson beautifully demonstrates how a setting can be a significant character in its own right.
Matson does a fantastic job of setting up the understanding that there are certain rules which must come into play on NIL – e.g. just how the island residents arrive there in the first place, and how (and when) they can leave – but doesn’t spend too much time unnecessarily dwelling on how or why the island came into being in the first place.
The details that she does choose to share, along with the things that remain unexplained, maintains the fine balance that good mysteries require – a sense of continued eeriness, a plethora of unexplained questions, and the unmistakable feeling that for many of the people in her world, NIL is still waiting out there.
Things that didn't work/Things to consider:
While the thought process behind the angst was admittedly true to the plot and to the two characters in question, I still had something of a knee-jerk reaction to reading it.
It reminded me a little too much of the whole I’m-staying-away-from-you-to-protect-you theme that became incredibly popular after Twilight, and I was immediately crossing my fingers, hoping that the book wasn’t going to go down that route. Fortunately, it didn’t, but I can sort of anticipate other readers having the same reaction while reading.
Readers will likely wonder how they would react if put into a similar situation like Charley and Thad, and will likely question what kind of leadership positions they would take on if they were to live in NIL city.
I recommend this book for fans of dystopian and science fiction, but I also recommend this book for fans of shows like LOST and Caprica.
About the author:
When she's not writing or reading, you'll find her hanging out with her husband and their 4 boys, usually at the beach. Cookies are her kryptonite, especially thin mints.