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Jennifer Rush

REVIEW:  Erased by Jennifer Rush

REVIEW: Erased by Jennifer Rush

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Dear Ms. Rush,

While your debut, Altered, left me underwhelmed, the fast-paced action of the plot stuck with me. I wanted to see if the second book improved. Sometimes it takes a book or two for a series to find its legs. (Hey, I started out a fantasy reader. Believe me, I know about series that take a while to get going!) So I picked up Erased with those hopes in mind. Maybe they were misplaced.

After the events of Altered, Anna and the boys — Sam, Nick and Cas — remain on the run from the Branch, the organization that made the boys into super soldiers and Anna into their control switch. But the time away from the Branch has had other results. Without the drugs constantly pumped into their system, old memories are resurfacing — memories that were once suppressed.

Anna struggles to make sense of her memories, trying to put together the pieces in a way that makes sense. Then she discovers that her beloved sister, Dani, may still be alive. Every sign points to a trap set by the Branch, but the truth may be even more surprising.

Much like Altered, Erased is action-packed and zips along at a fast pace. Because of this, it’s a quick read but once the last page is turned, the flaws come tumbling out one after another. This is a novel with lots of flash but not much substance.

First of all, Erased deals with lots of heavy topics: identity, suppressed memories (whether by natural means or no), estranged family members, and abuse. But not enough time is given to these subjects and I can’t help but think that’s to the novel’s detriment. Maybe it’s the length of the novel. I don’t know if you can balance these themes and the plot and do them both justice in less than 300 pages.

Secondly, I’m forced to admit that Anna is a very reactive character. I don’t know if this is a holdover from the Hunger Games school of “strong” female protagonists but from page 1, Anna is reacting. Every decision she makes is in reaction to an event that happens. For a protagonist, she doesn’t really control her own fate, even in a small way. You don’t notice this immediately while reading the novel — or at least I didn’t — but having finished the book, I’m left feeling distinctly unsatisfied.

Some of the problems from Altered carried over. I’m still not entirely comfortable with the fact that Anna and Sam are in a relationship, when Sam was once in love with her older sister, Dani. Yes, the same older sister who returns in this book. While I’m relieved there are no awkward love triangles in Erased, I still think that aspect should have had more impact on the present-day relationships. Sure, everyone’s memories have been tampered with in some way but still, wouldn’t you feel awkward when you were reunited with the sister you lost… who also used to date your current boyfriend? I’m sorry. Anna is a teenager. There’s no way a simple conversation can put all those worries to rest.

I’m also disappointed by the relationship between the sisters. Yes, they’ve been estranged and yes, Anna’s memories have been altered and gaps are missing but this is a sister practically come back from the dead. Shouldn’t there be more impact? It just seemed underdeveloped and lots of missed opportunities abounded. In many ways, I wondered if Dani even needed to be Anna’s big sister. She could have been a best friend based on the ways that part of their relationship affected the plot and its implications.

Finally, the romance between Anna and Sam bored me. I know it’s hard to keep an established relationship interesting. That’s why so many awkward love triangles get introduced after the couple has gotten together. This isn’t me saying I want that. The opposite, actually! But Anna and Sam are on the run. Anna is learning survival skills and Sam is the perfect soldier-assassin. Shouldn’t there have been some friction in their relationship under this conditions? That’s a lot of stress!

Ironically, I found myself wanting Anna to get together with another character (Nick). Their dynamic is more interesting and after some revelations in Erased, I’d almost say them getting together makes more sense. Or maybe that’s just my favorite tropes affecting my judgment. (I’ll refrain from saying more because that’d be a spoiler.)

While I’d hoped for some interesting developments in the second book of this series, I realize now those expectations were misplaced. If you enjoyed Altered, I suspect you’ll like this book. But if you were left dissatisfied by the previous book, I wouldn’t bother picking this up. It’s more of the same. C-

My regards,
Jia

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REVIEW:  Altered by Jennifer Rush

REVIEW: Altered by Jennifer Rush

Dear Jennifer Rush:

I’m glad young adult novels have started to move on from the dystopian craze. After all, there can be only so many books about oppressive future societies whose citizens don’t necessarily recognize as oppressive and the teens who fight the system. To be honest, I’ve been yearning for more action-based thrillers. Your debut novel, Altered, scratches that itch but still left me wanting for more.

altered-jennifer-rushAnna lives a secretive life. Homeschooled, she spends much of her time helping her father with his work. What’s his work, you ask? Four boys living in their basement.

The boys are living experiments. They’ve been genetically engineered and Anna’s father monitors their vitals and runs test to examine their progress. But when the agency in charge of the project comes to retrieve the boys, they escape. And because her father urges her to accompany them for her own safety, Anna goes with them.

On the run from the agency, Anna and the boys piece together the memories of their past. You see, none of the boys have any recollection of their time before living in Anna’s basement. But as they uncover secret after secret, it becomes apparent that Anna is connected to their past and may not be who she thought she was at all.

This is a difficult book to review. It’s flawed in so many ways but I enjoyed reading it. The plot moves at a fast clip and I found myself unable to stop turning the pages. Because of the fast pace, it’s easy to get swept up in the story and fall into step with the narrative’s internal logic. But when I finished the novel and returned to the real world, I realized so many things do not make sense.

For example, Anna first encounters the boys at the age of thirteen when she wandered into the basement beneath the family farmhouse. Now I don’t know about you but if I were to discover four boys living in cells beneath my house, I’d have screamed bloody murder. These aren’t little boxes either. This a high security facility, complete with an access code required for access, and not to mention all the equipment necessary to run blood tests and a battery physical and psychological exams. On top of that, she soon becomes her father’s assistant when it comes to treating the boys. That is hardly normal and Anna taking it all in stride requires a huge suspension of disbelief.

Even though it’s revealed early on that the agency indulges in mind control and memory alteration, those two details remain huge questions for a large portion of the book. I can see this going either way for readers. It may propel some people through the book in the hopes of finding more answers. Others may get frustrated because nothing about that makes sense. Who recruits their thirteen year old daughter to assist in experiments upon genetically engineered soldiers? Right from the get-go, something is not right. I will say it’s explained late in the novel but that might require more delayed gratification than some people are willing to tolerate.

Most of the plot is devoted to Anna and the boys fleeing from the agency while trying to find out their connections to it. As you’d expect from this sort of story, there’s lots of running, hiding, near-captures, and dramatic escapes. It’s very much like a TV show in that respect.

But maybe because of that, the characterization is shallow. Each boy has a defining trait: the hot leader love interest, the one who’s like a big brother, the antagonistic one, the comic relief with a bottomless stomach. But other than Sam, the leader of the boys, I didn’t see it going far beyond that despite some rudimentary attempts to flesh out their backgrounds.

The romance between Anna and Sam is rote. She’s been fascinated by him ever since she was thirteen but I thought it could have used more delving. After all, there’s a huge difference between being a thirteen-year-old girl crushing on a hot boy who will forever separated from you by a glass wall and being a seventeen-year-old girl interacting with that hot boy in close, personal quarters. To make that romance work, the issues arising from that change really need more exploration, especially when you take into account certain revelations from Sam’s past.

Despite enjoying the breathless pacing of the book, I’m left with many questions and wish certain things had been explored. The boys have been genetically engineered. They are killing machines whose services are sold to the highest bidder. Their memories have been wiped multiple times. Some characters have had new memories implanted. There are forms of biological control at play. These are heavy topics. Or should be. It’s a little disappointing that the ramifications of these things aren’t given the weight they deserve.

Even though I found the story very flawed, I did enjoy Altered. It’s a good choice if you’re in the mood for action and cat and mouse chase scenes. Just don’t expect much attention be given to the worldbuilding and the issues that arise from it. B-

My regards,
Jia

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