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REVIEW: Connected by Kim Karr

Dear Ms. Karr:

I picked this up as part of my continuing attempt to get into the NA genre. It’s a genre that appeals to me in theory, but in practice, my experiences have been mixed, at best. I’m doubting that Connected counts as NA, though, since the characters are actually about 26 during during the bulk of the story. Wikipedia, sage of all the things, tells me that NA usually encompasses the ages of 18-25.

Connected by Kim KarrThe story opens in 2006 (after a brief prologue in 1999). Dahlia London is a college student, and it’s Halloween. After meeting up with her boyfriend Ben at a frat party, Dahlia goes with her best friend, Aerie, to a local bar. There, she meets and is inextricably drawn to the lead singer of the band that’s playing, one River Wilde, of the Wilde Ones (I may have sighed at this point at the names). River wants to meet up with Dahlia after his set (he’s as attracted as she is), but Dahl, shaken by the encounter and fearful of how close she feels she is to cheating on her boyfriend, waits until River is back on stage and then hustles out of there.

Fast forward four years. Dahlia and Ben are living together and seemingly happy. They’re getting ready to go to a dinner at which Ben will be presented with a prestigious journalism award (one of many details that didn’t quite ring true, given Ben’s age). Ben is acting kind of mysterious and strange; begging for a quickie one moment and crying in the bathroom the next. His mysterious behavior is forgotten, however, when they are carjacked on the way to the awards ceremony and Ben is shot and killed.

We then get a montage of sorts of Dahlia too distraught to do much but lay around her house and cry for a couple of years. When she finally starts to come out of her grief, she takes a job at her friend Aerie’s magazine, and that’s how she ends up re-encountering River Wilde (sigh again), in Las Vegas. The two again feel an immediate connection; at first Dahl doesn’t think River remembers her, but of course it turns out that he does and that their brief encounter five years earlier was as significant for him as it was for her. The two spend the night together and are basically together from then on, though naturally the path to true love ¬†doesn’t run smooth.

There was a lot wrong with this book – starting with the vaunted “connection” between Dahlia and River. I could never figure what it was based on, other than physical attraction. The fact that they find each other “hot” – their word, not mine – is repeated ad nauseum throughout the book. River verbalizes it often (seriously, he just says “that’s hot” or “you’re hot” to her in a way that was reminiscent of Paris Hilton, circa 2003). Dahlia thinks a lot about how hot River is. There’s a lot of lip-licking on both parts (seriously, I wanted to give them each a Chapstick). At one point River is mooning over Dahl and tells her “You’re just so beautiful” and I made this note in my Kindle: “Is she? What’s so great about her?” I seriously couldn’t figure out if Dahlia was supposed to be really extraordinarily gorgeous (that can be hard to determine from a book written in the first person, which Connected is, since the protagonist doesn’t usually go on at length about their looks*) or if it was just that he was so attracted to her that she seemed more remarkable than she objectively was.

* Notable exception: Jennifer Wilde’s old bodice-ripper, Once, More Miranda, which I read years ago and which I remember being notable for the number of references the heroine could get in to her long crimson tresses. Anyway…

Both characters seem juvenile – they bond over a shared love of Rebel Without a Cause. Now, don’t get me wrong – James Dean is well worth seeing and the movie has a certain melodramatic appeal. But even by the time I saw it (in the 1980s), it felt pretty dated, and I would think it would appeal more to histrionic teenagers than a couple on the downslide to age 30. Also, at one point River cuts a line and bullies a hotel employee to get Dahlia’s lost necklace back, and I guess we’re supposed to take it as a sign that he’s hot shit and also that he’ll do anything for her. It just made me think he was rude.

There’s a *lot* of sex in Connected, but it didn’t feel like it was meant to be an erotic novel; the sex scenes are fairly explicit but nothing out of the ordinary. Rather, all the sex feels like filler between other scenes, like the author couldn’t figure out what to do with her characters, and just decided to have them screw again, over and over. I think it was again meant to convey how “connected” River and Dahlia were and how “hot” for each other – but if that was the case it didn’t really work for me. The connection continued to feel shallow and based solely on animal attraction.

Music is supposed to be a big part of the story – Dahlia’s late father was a manager at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles, and so Dahlia feels very connected to music and has been to a ton of concerts. This is an interest she obviously shares with River, but it’s not drawn out; we’re not really given an idea of what type of music he plays or if she really even likes it his music much. Her tastes were a little bubblegum for me, and I get the sense that The Wilde Ones (sigh) were more of an alt/rock band – maybe like Kings of Leon or something? I’m not sure. Some of the music Dahl mentions kind of made me roll my eyes, like, “that’s what you consider a really significant, life changing song? ‘A Beautiful Day’ by U2? Really?” Now, I *know* I’m being unfair here because I really believe that the ¬†music that touches or moves a person is a very personal thing, and I also know that if the author had picked really obscure songs and musicians, I probably would’ve rolled my eyes at that, too. So, okay, I’m being unfair, but let’s just say it didn’t strengthen the connection I felt to Dahl as a character.

One thing I’ve noticed about the NA genre (even if this book isn’t entirely NA, it still has a distinctive NA feel to it) is that the characters often seem to have been beset by an unusual amount of tragedy for their young lives. This certainly holds true here – Dahl loses her parents and an aunt in a plane crash as a teenager, and later loses the uncle that raised her afterward (I’m guessing he was the aunt’s husband, though I don’t remember it being entirely clear in the story). Then she loses Ben – that’s a lot of sudden, violent death for someone in their mid-20s.

In other ways her life seems surprisingly easy – she’s somehow independently wealthy enough to never have to worry about money for the nearly two years she’s grieving over Ben, and when she’s ready, why, there just so happens to be a fairly glamorous job waiting for her. River has a more conventional background, but his rise to success seems to have been unusually easy. I kind of had to go by clues but the sense that I got was that the band was “on the verge” but were not really big stars yet, though they seem to have had enough success for River to buy a house in the L.A. hills that I bet would have cost a zillion dollars in real life. His main professional roadblock is some ambivalence over how much higher he wants to rise – whether he wants the fame and the touring and all of the stuff that goes with that. I did actually like that aspect of the story, though I wondered a bit at River’s lack of commitment to music.

There’s really not much conflict at the heart of the story; mostly it’s just Dahlia’s vague fears about the intensity of her feelings for River vs. her loyalty to Ben’s memory. River comes on really strong pretty much the whole time, which scares her (and IRL, would be a giant flashing DANGER sign for me).

As I mentioned, the book is told in the first person. The bulk of it is told from Dahlia’s perspective, and then for some reason the last few chapters are from River’s. (Among River’s Deep Musings about Dahlia: “She’s beautiful, tall, thin and has these amazingly sweet doe eyes that make her look innocent, and make me want to keep her safe.” Ugh. Good to know she’s not a fattie, River.)

The prose style is a bit choppy; Dahlia will start to reminisce in the middle of a scene about, say, the first time she and Ben had sex, or some anecdote about her father, and I would get confused about where the reminiscence ended and the return to the present time began.

The story ends with an epilogue that sets up the action for the next book; without giving too much away, I woulds say that a surprising twist really wasn’t that surprising (I had been kind of expecting it), but it was lame and unbelievable. Though to be scrupulously fair some of it *might* make more sense once it’s better explained, presumably in book two. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll be reading that one. My grade for Connected is a D.

Best regards,

Jennie

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has been an avid if often frustrated romance reader for the past 15 years. In that time she's read a lot of good romances, a few great ones, and, unfortunately, a whole lot of dreck. Many of her favorite authors (Ivory, Kinsale, Gaffney, Williamson, Ibbotson) have moved onto other genres or produce new books only rarely, so she's had to expand her horizons a bit. Newer authors she enjoys include Julie Ann Long, Megan Hart and J.R. Ward, and she eagerly anticipates each new Sookie Stackhouse novel. Strong prose and characterization go a long way with her, though if they are combined with an unusual plot or setting, all the better. When she's not reading romance she can usually be found reading historical non-fiction.

10 Comments

  1. Darlynne
    Jul 04, 2013 @ 13:11:13

    Was the carjacking episode and its fallout/trauma addressed at all, beyond two years of grieving? Because that right there is a big enough story line all by itself, let alone coupled with Ben’s mysterious behavior. Is any of this explained or resolved? I don’t know why it matters, but it seems like an enormous hole to leave in the story.

    Thanks for the review. I was sighing right along with you.

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  2. Kate Hewitt
    Jul 04, 2013 @ 17:04:30

    I have to agree with you re the tragedy in characters’ lives in NA. It reminds me of the Disney princess type movies, where it seems there can *never* be an intelligent or even present parent figure in the heroine’s (Belle, Jasmine, Ariel, etc) life. I wonder if NA suffers from the same dilemma of needing a young person to feel like he/she is on her/his own, without older adult guidance, in order to grow as a person. I’d love to see an NA where the characters are neither extraordinarily damaged nor beset by excessive tragedy.

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  3. Jennie
    Jul 04, 2013 @ 18:29:43

    @Darlynne: Well, there were some vague mentions of the perpetrators being in prison, but there was nothing about Dahlia testifying at a trial or anything like that. It seemed weird, but then late in the book (BIG SPOILERS AHEAD)
    .
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    Dahlia has her house ransacked and is attacked by a stranger who seems to think she has something he’s looking for. Then, in the epilogue, it’s revealed that….dun dun DUN….Ben faked his death because some bad guys were after him (this is the twist that I referenced; I had a feeling he wasn’t dead but the whole thing is just left hanging, presumably for the next book).

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  4. Jennie
    Jul 04, 2013 @ 18:32:18

    @Kate Hewitt: I think the comparison to Disney stories is an apt one. It reminds me that when I was younger I really liked dystopian fiction that featured young heroines on their own* – I guess it satisfies something in the young mind about being unmoored from the connections we have to our parents, etc.

    *Actually, I still do like dystopian fiction that features young heroines on their own.

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  5. k8899
    Jul 05, 2013 @ 00:29:44

    on twist. Aside from all the ridiculousness, faking your own death is Serious Business and usually comes along with legal implications in real life. It’s not a morally uncomplicated thing to do. I get that he may be the hero in the next book?

    Also, the relationship sounds like it has the emotional depth of Bella/Edward.

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  6. Maili
    Jul 05, 2013 @ 01:44:17

    For some reason, your comments made me think of this: Rock Chicks by Ronni Cooper. Although it’s a while, I think I have mixed feelings on this one. If there’s a copy in your local library, I’d love your take on this book.

    I was torn to mention this as it’s the kind that would send anyone into a rage (it did me yet still hooked me; hey, I was a kid): ‘Easy Connections’ and its sequel, ‘Easy Freedom’ by Liz Berry. Those were published as YA during the 1980s (it’d be NA if published today), and both surprisingly still have a massive cult following (I don’t quite know why as I think both don’t date well). Again, if those are still in your library (that’s if they haven’t already been stolen), I’d love your take as well.

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  7. Maili
    Jul 05, 2013 @ 01:50:28

    (Tried to edit my previous comment, but it wasn’t loading, so excuse this one.) Forgot to mention another by Berry: Mel, which has a rock-star hero, but not much music and such. It’s quieter and more thoughtful. Not brash, provoking and in your face like the Easy books.

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  8. Darlynne
    Jul 05, 2013 @ 10:37:26

    I remember watching Finding Nemo when it was first released and while I loved it–and still do–the reaction of all of us adults was “oh, c’mon, the mother doesn’t have to die every time.” But, metaphorically at least, the parents/guardians do have to exit somehow because otherwise the children/young people can’t have an adventure; we’re all too busy working to keep them safe, which means nothing really exciting will happen to them, they won’t learn valuable life lessons, and so on.

    So I don’t have an iron-clad problem with the concept, but the trauma here to Dahlia seems excessive. If she’s not completely freaked out by the death of everyone around her, and being hijacked, attacked, ransacked, then that young woman is made of stronger stuff than I am.

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  9. Jennie
    Jul 05, 2013 @ 22:11:10

    @k8899: That may be doing a disservice to Bella/Edward.

    I’m guessing the next book is just more on how hot River and Dahlia are, and if anything Ben will be the spoiler that tries to break them up. Also, there’s kind of another spoiler out there, one that’s not spelled out but was SUPER OBVIOUS – that Dahlia doesn’t know. She mentions that Ben got in trouble with her once for IMing with some other chick, and it just so happens that River has a sister and from some stuff revealed in the book it’s so, so clear that she was Ben’s piece on the side, and furthermore that she got into some terrible car accident because…something something Ben’s fault? I don’t even remember any more. Ben might be a hero at some point, but I don’t think he’s finished being a cad.

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  10. Jennie
    Jul 05, 2013 @ 22:13:27

    @Maili: I’ll see if I can find it. I was actually intrigued in theory by the music angle but the execution didn’t work for me. The characters’ connection to music seemed as shallow as everything else about them.

    ReplyReply

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