Friday, April 18, 2014

Whisper Falls by Elizabeth Langston

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: April 17, 2014

While training for a mountain bike race, high-school senior Mark Lewis spots a mysterious girl dressed in odd clothing, standing behind a waterfall in the woods near his North Carolina home. When she comments on the strange machine that he rides, he suspects something isn’t right. When Susanna claims to be an indentured servant from 1796, he wonders if she's crazy. Yet he feels compelled to find out more. Mark enters a ‘long-distance’ relationship with Susanna through the shimmering--and temperamental--barrier of Whisper Falls. Curious about her world, Mark combs through history to learn about the brutal life she's trapped in. But knowledge can be dangerous. Soon he must choose between the risk of changing history or dooming the girl he can't stop thinking about to a lifetime of misery.

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I can't remember every book I've ever read, but I have a soft spot for Caroline B. Cooney's Time Travelers series. My cousin and I read the books together as tweens and I've always remembered them fondly which probably explains my nostalgic interest in Elizabeth Langston's Whisper Falls. 

A young adult piece, the book actually has a lot going for it in terms of content. Langston does a wonderful job illustrating the plight of the indentured servant and the desperation suffered by those mistreated by their employers. I particularly liked how Langston countered the harsh realities of Susanna's existence with the moments of joy and the contrast that brought to larger picture of her life with the Pratt family.

Unfortunately, Langston's inexperience is blatantly obvious and while I acknowledge this is her debut release, I think it clear she has room to grow and develop her skills. For one, there is a gross imbalance in terms of character development. On a scale of one to ten, Susanna dominates the competition with a perfect score, but Mark, our male lead, falls somewhere between a five and six. Primary supporting cast members like Mr. Pratt and Mrs. Lewis collect around four, but individuals like Carlton, Alexis, Keefe, Marissa, Dorcas and Jedidiah felt so vague and half-hearted that I can't even calibrate their scores which is disappointing as Langston's heroine proves she is capable of so much more.

Langston's tendency to introduce conflict that never evolves is another point of concern. Do Marissa and Mrs. Lewis ever figure it out? What kind of person is Fletcher? How did Carlton get mixed up with Mark's ex? Is Jedidiah a friend or foe? How does Susanna's mother fair with Mr. Shaw? Did John recover from his obscure head wound? Langston dropped the ball in failing to provide closure to her subplots, leaving readers to wonder at their necessity in the finished narrative.

When all is said and done, I found myself wondering where the editor was with this piece. Both of my previously mentioned points should have been easy enough to recognize, but there also continuity issues that should have been caught before this piece went to print. 
It was a good thing the research assistant could make copies, because I hadn’t thought to bring a camera. I’d take her up on her offer. For now, I was consumed by my first real exposure to Susanna’s master.
Langston's already made it clear Mark has a cell, he whipped it out of his pocket to show Susanna in the cave behind the falls, and since built-in cameras are a typically standard feature... I'd stop there, but this blunder is further emphasized in book two, where we find Mark taking photos of Phoebe’s journals in the archive basement with his phone.

Langston's target age bracket will probably appreciate Whisper Falls, but I personally found the haphazard construction left much to be desired. 

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I persisted, ignoring the velvet voice of my dream demon. Swiftly, I pushed through the tall grasses, then plunged into the darkening woods toward the home of my master.
Behind me, the falls whispered: come back
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