Dear Author

REVIEW: Raven by Allison Van Diepen

Dear Ms. Van Diepen,

I can’t remember exactly where I first stumbled across your work. I think it might have been through a string of random link hopping that originated from a list of future Harlequin Teen authors. While your first book from Harlequin Teen won’t be coming out until next year, it turns out that you’ve already published a couple young adult novels. This one, in particular, caught my eye because it featured breakdancers.

Nicole’s family life is in shambles. Her brilliant older brother crashed and burned during his first year of college and has taken to the streets as a meth addict. Despite knowing what has happened, their parents enable him — giving him money in order to keep a roof over his head even though it’s more likely he’ll use the funds to keep up his drug addiction.

To escape the turmoil that is her home life, Nicole has thrown herself into the life of a breakdancer. It wasn’t something she thought she’d ever do before her brother left. But one night, she saw a dancer named Zin at a club and it was love at first sight. Originally she thought to use breakdancing as a way to get closer to Zin, a way to set herself apart from the other groupies, but she soon realized she actually had a talent for it. Now Nicole’s life consists of being a member of a dance crew and working weekends as a waitress at Evermore, the very club in which she first met Zin.

Unfortunately, her relationship with Zin is at a standstill. It’s frustrating for her, to say the least, because she doesn’t understand why he won’t pursue a relationship when it’s obvious that he reciprocates her feelings. Then one night, Nicole is attacked while walking home from work and in that moment, she learns Zin’s secret. He’s no longer human. He’s not even mortal.

I really enjoyed reading the dancing sections of the book. I know some people might find those portions hard to follow and heavy on the slang, but anyone who’s ever enjoyed watching America’s Best Dance Crew will definitely like those parts and can easily visualize what the dancers are doing and feeling. It brought a fresh angle to what otherwise would be a very familiar storyline.

I do wish the book description would make more obvious what the paranormal aspect is. In fact, it wasn’t until I learned what exactly Zin that I wanted to hunt down and pick up this book. It turns out that Zin is a jiang shi, or a Chinese undead. I’m always up for books that feature supernatural creatures that aren’t the ones we’ve grown familiar with, overly so some would say, and when those supernatural creatures come from a non-Western culture? Sign me up.

That’s another thing I enjoyed about this book. The cast of characters is diverse, which is good since the book is set in New York City. I liked the fact that the characters were multicultural without there being a central focus on their respective ethnicities. It was a part of who they were but didn’t make up the entirety of what they were. That was nice.

On the other hand, I thought the ending was very rushed. The book proceeds at an easy-going, almost dreamlike pace for much of the story, which I thought suited it. But then it’s almost as if the book remembered it needed an exciting climax so it was crunched into the final few chapters.

In some respects, I also wish we would have gotten a closer glimpse into the Chinese warrior-scholars that hunt Zin’s kind. That seemed like a missed opportunity to showcase more of this unique and different mythos that we don’t see very often.

In addition, I also felt like Carlo’s motivations were not entirely believable. In fact, I suppose you could say I thought they were contrived. Why does everything have to boil down to visions and prophecies? I’m also not entirely clear as to Nicole’s connection to the raven. I know what the raven traditionally means in folklore, but why her? Why then? That aspect of the plot left me with more questions than answers.

While the book wrapped up Nicole and Zin’s story, I thought it left some loose threads that leave room for another book or two in this world. I’m not sure if there are plans for any more. I certainly think it’s fine to leave it to a single, standalone novel but I definitely wouldn’t complain. It’s nice to read about a different sort of supernatural creature — even though the mythos has been modified a bit from traditional lore — in a genre filled with the same old, same old werewolves and vampires. At any rate, I’ll be on the look-out for your forthcoming book from Harlequin Teen. C+

My regards,

Jia

This book can be purchased at Amazon or in ebook format from Sony or other etailers.