by Paige Bleu
Over the past 18 months, it has been my pleasure and privilege to read a number of extraordinary Young Adult novels; so many that I’ve run short on superlative adjectives and am now forced to recycle a few. Needless to say, there are quite a few gifted authors out there and this reader believes that he’s just found another one.
Finding Summerland tells the story of Wesley Rochester – Wes to his friends – who lives in the Texas oil country. Though his family is quite well off, money has brought him little happiness. Wes suffers from being a middle child, sandwiched between his younger sister who is all into beauty pageants and competitions – spurred on by an indulgent mother – and his older brother, Channing, who was a star athlete, Mr. Popularity and an all around heart-throb. Wes has lived in Channing’s shadow all his life and now that shadow has deepened; Channing disappeared on a post-graduation trip to Mexico less than a year before the story opens. While Wes never really wanted to compete against his older brother, that is thoroughly impossible now. How can you compete with someone who is no longer there? Wes is not Channing.
Instead, Wes is a loner, a misfit. He would love nothing more than to be alone in his room with his guitar and away from the goldfish bowl that’s high school. Wes has been diagnosed with learning disorders, ADD and has been marked with this ever since he was little. Is Wes really a victim of the disorder or is he a victim of something else; Not fitting in this world or this life? What Wes can say is that something odd is going on and has been for quite some time.
Wes has dreams. Inexplicable dreams. He does inexplicable things like drawing in his sleep and then waking up to find that he had not done just one sketch but many. One of those drawings seems to be both original and meaningful so he has it tattooed on his back. Wes is haunted. One of his dreams features a pair of beautiful girl’s eyes are looking at him. Just what is going on here?
Wes has a best friend, Wyatt, whom he has known since kindergarten. Highly intelligent, Wyatt has stood by Wes and stayed with him even when Wyatt’s intellect could earn him a chance to take honours courses. Wyatt is the reason Wes is where he is in school with the finish line a few months away. Without him, Wes would have faced the prospect of being left back, multiple times.
Concerned about Wes, Wyatt has finally coaxed him out of his shell somewhat and somehow induced him to come along on a Spring Break expedition to Corpus Christi. Wes admits to himself that it just might do him good to break away from the confines of high school life and go back to his parents’ beach house, the scene of his happiest memories. It is this decision that will change his entire life.
The second night of his stay, Wes takes his beloved guitar and slips out to the beach in order to get away from a raucous party going on in the beach house. Finding his favourite spot on the sand – a log, actually – he sits, plays and works on lyrics to some of his tunes. That is, until he feels himself being watched. In a Madison-esque moment, Wes discovers that it’s a girl who has been watching him. A girl named Olivia. Things will never be the same for Wes.
Finding Summerland is told from a 1st person viewpoint by Wesley Rochester. This is news in and of itself as the vast majority of YA Mer-fiction is told in 1st person by the heroine. While this reviewer enjoys a tale that’s told in a feminine voice, it’s always good to hear from the guys; they make up 50% of the population after all. While the feminine viewpoint can give YA males an insight into a YA girl’s thoughts, feelings and aspirations, the road goes both ways and YA girls have an opportunity to learn that guys have feelings, are sensitive and are not quite the dumb beasts that many paint them to be.
When this seemingly rare event occurs in YA Mer-fiction, this reviewer is usually amazed at how well women authors – and there is definitely a preponderance of them in YA Mer-fiction – get it right. Ms Bleu is decidedly one of those writers and Wes Rochester is indeed portrayed with a healthy dose of reality. While Wes may come from a privileged background, he is not the arrogant, unfeeling jerk that is all too often a stereotypical figure in novels. Paige Bleu has created a character with warmth and feelings. Wes is a real guy.
In stories narrated in the first person, the other central characters seem two-dimensional more often than not. In the case of Finding Summerland’s girl of mystery, Olivia, the character is quite palpable. Of course, we don’t know everything there is to know about Olivia – it wouldn’t be much of a novel if we did – but the reader does sense that she is just as real and multi-dimensional as Wes.
If readers are expecting tails, scales and a mystical, magical mermaid-land, they are in for disappointment as none of this appears in this first book of The Amryn Chronicles. It becomes obvious that Olivia “isn’t from around here” and both the facts that there is a hidden land and that Olivia doesn’t always walk upon terra firma are spoken of but never seen in this installment. The story builds slowly but deliberately. With four more books to come (!!!) Ms Blue can afford this luxury. What Paige Blue does do is weave a spell-binding tale that is both compelling and haunting. She seems to have an extraordinary gift for story-telling; one that caused this reviewer to peruse this book in almost record time – stopping only to catch his breath – in order to unravel the mystery that is Olivia and learn what happens next. To praise Paige Bleu’s obvious talent any further would only be gilding the lily. If you are a fan of Mer-fiction, paranormal romance and mystery, by all means read this book.
Paige Bleu’s novel seems to have it all: loss, grief, anger, discovery, joy and – ultimately – heartbreak, all set in the milieu of a Texas high school as students teeter on the brink of departure and escape. There are many more questions than there are answers in Finding Summerland. In a planned 5-book series, there is plenty of time for answers and this reviewer suspects that they will not come as fast – or as easily – as readers would like. Ms. Bleu should not worry too much about the next installment of The Ameryn Chronicles being a success. If the subsequent novels are as engaging and well-written as Finding Summerland, Paige Bleu will have readers queuing up – both virtually and physically – to learn what comes next. This reviewer can hardly wait.
Paige Bleu’s website is at paigebleu.blogspot.com
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Read a sample of Finding Summerland