Book Reviews

[review] Embrace – Jessica Shirvington

Release Date: March 1, 2012
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Age Group: Young Adult
Pages: 367
Format: Hardcover
Source: ARC received from publisher

It starts with a whisper: “It’s time for you to know who you are…”

Violet Eden dreads her seventeenth birthday. After all, it’s hard to get too excited about the day that marks the anniversary of your mother’s death. As if that wasn’t enough, disturbing dreams haunt her sleep and leave her with very real injuries. There’s a dark tattoo weaving its way up her arms that wasn’t there before. 

Violet is determined to get some answers, but nothing could have prepared her for the truth. The guy she thought she could fall in love with has been keeping his identity a secret: he’s only half-human—oh, and same goes for her.

A centuries-old battle between fallen angels and the protectors of humanity has chosen its new warrior. It’s a fight Violet doesn’t want, but she lives her life by two rules: don’t run and don’t quit. When angels seek vengeance and humans are the warriors, you could do a lot worse than betting on Violet Eden…

Tell Me More: In writing a story set outside reality (paranormal/dystopian/fantasy/etc.), the writer runs the risk of never giving enough information to justify that story. Reading is considered a form of escape–we pick up books to experience different worlds, but if the author isn’t careful, the illusion is easily shattered and they are left with dissatisfied readers. Embrace is a clear example of that pitfall.

Within the YA sphere, there are an awful lot of books that exist because the main character is special. Sometimes the MC is thrust into focus because he/she is the only one who can defeat the bad guy (Harry Potter, anyone?), sometimes it’s because he/she is the long-lost descendant of another special person. Sometimes it’s just because, as it is in Embrace. Violet’s mother died when she was born, so she is automatically part-angel. I find this problematic because it seems careless and unfair to people like Violet. Funnily enough, the reluctance to accept her “destiny” that she displays throughout much of the novel is one of the few traits that remain constant about her. As a reader, I need more than the special powers tag to care about a character or want to see that character succeed. I need characters that are more than the sum of their parts: seventeen-year-old, motherless, super pretty, well-off (or at least middle class), part angel. Violet is average, and I don’t see any latent potential to be anything more.

The structure of the story itself is as average as Violet. Each chapter, instead of moving along at the quick pace I’m used to from paranormal stories, drags and extends each scene until I felt like I was just watching a really long movie. And it’s a shame, because Embrace had the capability to be a commentary on free will and the human privilege vs. right to choose a certain kind of existence. The mythology behind the angels is introduced fairly early on–though it was delivered in a very cliche manner–and I wanted more of that backstory. Instead, Shirvington chooses to introduce another hot boy and have him and Lincoln represent the choice that Violet needs to make.

It’s that kind of lazy conceptualization that I find most disappointing in YA. Teenagers are not shallow, and when stories like this are put out there for them to consume, it only adds to the cycle that the general public laments on a daily basis. When a story about the power of choice and knowledge dissolves into nothing more than a love triangle, it is massively disappointing. This is not to say that a well-written love triangle has no place in YA. But if the situations were reversed, if Violet was a boy, torn between two girls, would it be as appealing? Would readers still want more romance or would they be more interested in the themes of the story? What if Lincoln and Violet had become best friends, partners and comrades in the fight against fallen angels? And my biggest question: why does a romantic relationship have to exist in order to make the plot move along?

Embrace is not an awful book. But it is a symptom of the general consensus that many readers are making about their own society and relationships. Love is grand, love is great, and yes, it even makes the world go round. But love in itself can be wrong and it can be damaging. A story about the dangers of wanting too much and not loving yourself enough to know your limits should know better than to perpetuate an illusion.

The Final Say: Readers looking for predictable, casual YA paranormal fare will find much to enjoy in Embrace, but otherwise? Skip it.

You can visit Jessica Shirvington at her website.

You can check out Embrace on Goodreads and order it from The Book Depository.

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3 replies »

  1. Wow great review. It addressed a lot of the problems I had with this book and others I’ve read. I want something more in my YA (this from someone who loves to read romances), but love triangles are tiresome. If there’s love, let them be fighting against something. Don’t let love be the story.

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