Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Book Review: The Turning

The Turning Book 1: What Curiosity Kills
by Helen Ellis

Mary Richards lives in New York's Upper East Side with her strict but loving adoptive parents and her adoptive sister, Octavia. After a childhood marred by neglect from her biological parents, Mary knows how lucky she is to have loving parents, even if they are luddites that restrict the girls' access to cell phones and computers. Mary and Octavia attend the exclusive Purser-Lilley Academy, where their only problems are not unusual: fitting in, schoolwork, and boys.

Then Mary has an encounter with a strange cat, an encounter that leaves her with...fur? Yes, fur: an orange patch of it on her leg, that she tries to keep hidden under her socks. More strange things keep happening, and finally Mary learns the truth: she is Turning, Teen Wolf style, into a cat, and that she is one of a rare group of teens that can do so. Being a cat is exhilarating, but the Turning itself is painful, and Mary finds herself caught in the middle of a brutal war, and between two very different boys.

The Turning was different than I expected. I had thought that it would be a lot about what it was like for a teen girl to experience the life of a cat, but while there are some passages from the point of view of Mary as a cat, they are few and don't give a strong picture of what it might be like to be a cat. That's not a bad thing, but it just means that the audience for this book is different than I had thought it would be. I interact a lot with fans of animal fiction, and I thought it might be a book that would appeal to them, but after reading it, I wouldn't put it in that niche.

I enjoyed the book quite a bit, however. This is a compelling and immersive book that keeps you turning the pages. It has interesting characters that have a lot of teen appeal, and the story moves along quickly and keeps you involved.

For the most part, What Curiosity Kills does pretty well in the diversity department. New York looks like New York should: with a diverse array of characters of all ethnicities and backgrounds. Mary's adoptive sister Octavia is African-American and one of the most interesting characters. Octavia is the captain of the debate team, assertive and smart, and not afraid to show it. Asian characters probably fare the worst; the mean girl is Chinese, and the "bad boy" who tries to tempt Mary into joining the "other" group of cats is Korean-American.

One thing that bothered me was the climax, which seemed contrived to me. I can't say too much without giving away spoilers, but the situation seemed to be artificially set up to create a moral dilemma. It seemed to me that there would have been other options that Mary could have used; those options might still have been morally ambiguous, but at least wouldn't have had the same implications. The climax, for me, marred what was otherwise an enjoyable book.

What Curiosity Kills is the first book in a series, and it will be interesting to see where Helen Ellis goes with this series.

FTC required disclosure: Review copy provided by the publisher to enable me to write this review. The Amazon.com links above are Amazon Associate links, and I earn a very small percentage of any sales made through the links. Neither of these things influenced my review.


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