I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Sparked by Helena Echlin, Malena Watrous
Published by Geek & Sundry on October 3 2017
Genres: Young adult, Paranormal
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Sparked started out very strong, and I really enjoyed the first half of the story. But unfortunately, around the halfway mark, things started to go downhill for me, and it ended up being a typical YA paranormal that reminded me of so many other stories I’ve read. Which is sad, because I’ve had great luck with publisher Inkshares up to this point (Sparked is actually published by Geek & Sundry, who has partnered with Inkshares to create several writing contests.) But as I’ve had some dubious luck with young adult books in general lately, I’m starting to wonder if I really am too old for them! Sparked has tons of four- and five-star reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, so obviously this is just one reviewer’s opinion. But I’ll attempt to describe what did and didn’t work for me, as usual. And like I said, things started out great!
Fifteen-year-old Laurel and her seventeen-year-old sister Ivy live with their single mother in a trailer in the woods of Oregon. Both girls attend the local high school and try to stay under the radar, since their mother is on the verge of being deemed “unfit” and losing her daughters to foster care, due to some bad choices in her past.
One morning, Laurel wakes up and Ivy is missing. The trailer door is wide open, and Laurel immediately suspects that something terrible has happened to her sister. She goes to school as usual, hoping that Ivy will show up eventually, but when she doesn’t, Laurel’s worry begins to turn to fear. None of the adults around her seem to be concerned, but luckily Laurel finds someone to trust in the mysterious newcomer at school, a boy named Jasper Blake, who turns out to have the power of starting fires with his mind. Later, Jasper reveals that he’s been meeting with Ivy in secret and helping her learn to control her power (telekinesis), which Laurel knew nothing about.
Jasper tells Laurel about an ancient prophecy that says an evil entity called druj will destroy the world on Halloween, unless four people with powers—”sparks”—join forces to stop it. Jasper believes that Ivy is one of the four, and so he and Laurel set out to find her, as well as the other three sparks, before time runs out.
I want to start with the positives. I absolutely loved the fact that Laurel, Ivy and their mother are poor and barely hanging on. You just don’t see this type of marginalization in young adult fiction that often. The authors do a great job of making their situation believable. Laurel’s mother is a struggling artist, although that storyline isn’t really developed. Laurel never acts resentful for their family’s situation, she’s always trying to help her mom out in any way she can, and her real support system is Ivy, although now that Ivy has disappeared, Laurel is left floundering a bit and has to step up and do things for herself. The mother has a horrible boyfriend named Bryan who occasionally stays in the trailer. He’s your typical pervy boyfriend who ogles both Ivy and Laurel and walks around the trailer half-nude. He made me very uncomfortable, and I was glad when the mom finally throws him out later in the story.
I also loved that Laurel is a budding writer and gets encouragement from her English teacher, even though that encouragement feels like criticism. Like many authors, Laurel feels as if her work is being torn apart, when her teacher is actually going out of her way to help Laurel improve her innate skills. Jasper also encourages her, and I wonder if this bit is autobiographical.
But while the beginning of the story was exciting and fresh, as the reader is introduced to the mystery of what happened to Ivy and who the heck is this newcomer Jasper, it soon became predictable and silly in many ways. I got a strong Edward/Bella vibe from Jasper and Laurel—mysterious and broody new boy at school meets unpopular, introverted girl, forbidden love ensues, boy is unapproachable yet charismatic. I feel like I’ve read this story a hundred times before, and while I really loved Laurel’s character, Jasper did absolutely nothing for me.
Ivy seemed like she would have been a fantastic character. Unfortunately, she’s not even in the story until the very end, and I feel like it was a lost opportunity for some great character development. And since I’m complaining about characters, the girls’ mother annoyed the hell out of me. She continues to stick up for the abusive Bryan, even when she sees that her girls might be in danger. She does finally come around and kick him out, but even that felt forced and unnatural.
But the main downfall for me was the “been there done that” trope of special teens saving the world. I know that isn’t going to go away anytime soon, but authors, you really need to come up with better ways to do it. In this book, the authors base their scenario on an ancient prophecy—hey, it’s hard to dispute those!—but the explanations were so flimsy that I spent a great deal of time either confused or laughing at the sheer absurdity. For example, the prophecy states that four “sparks” will join forces to combat the evil, but it’s not clear who those four are. We learn that sparks all have the exact same star-shaped birthmark somewhere on their bodies, and when their power is working, the birthmark starts to itch like crazy. Jasper is clearly a spark, since he can start fires, but he claims he can’t be one of the four because someone tried to destroy his birthmark with a lit cigarette. Two mean girls at school turn out to be sparks, and Jasper says that Ivy is one, but the fourth could be a woman named Simone, or maybe not. Maybe it’s Jasper or maybe it’s Laurel! Hey, it turns out Laurel is a spark too! But Laurel’s birthmark (of course she has one!) isn’t star-shaped, so that doesn’t make any sense. The whole thing was a head-scratching mess, unfortunately.
I also hated the fact that Laurel turns out to be utterly stupid. She’s so desperate to find Ivy, and no one is taking her seriously, so she jumps head first into some terrible situations. She breaks into houses, goes down into cellars, and confronts angry strangers, all without a moment’s hesitation. I get that she’s frustrated, but at this point I lost all respect for her.
I’m giving this book three stars because I did enjoy the beginning, and I think the authors touched on some important topics. I actually think this would have been a much stronger story without all the paranormal shenanigans, but unfortunately, that is not the book that was written.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.