Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2010
Read for YA Best Overlooked Book Battle.
Summary from goodreads: Cheerleader Isobel Lanley is horrified when she is paired with Varen Nethers for an English project, which is due—so unfair—on the day of the rival game.
Cold and aloof, sardonic and sharp-tongued, Varen makes it clear he’d rather not have anything to do with her either. But when Isobel discovers strange writing in his journal, she can’t help but give this enigmatic boy with the piercing eyes another look.
Soon, Isobel finds herself making excuses to be with Varen. Steadily pulled away from her friends and her possessive boyfriend, Isobel ventures deeper and deeper into the dream world Varen has created through the pages of his notebook, a realm where the terrifying stories of Edgar Allan Poe come to life.
As her world begins to unravel around her, Isobel discovers that dreams, like words, hold more power than she ever imagined, and that the most frightening realities are those of the mind.
Now she must find a way to reach Varen before he is consumed by the shadows of his own nightmares.
I was excited about this book once I found out that it incorporated Edgar Allan Poe. Sadly the main story used was Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death," which I hadn't read before. I was hoping for a wider variety of stories and though there were some allusions to "The Cask of Amontillado" and "The Raven" as well as others, Masque was the main one. That's not a bad thing; I just would have preferred a different reference story that I knew better.
Second, this book is LONG. And I think some of the scenes were expanded past the point they needed to be. Luckily there are a few excerpts from the actual Poe story so that explains part of the length but I ended up skimming some scenes because they were boring and they didn't contribute to my understanding or enjoyment.
My main criticism stems from the main character Isobel-girl is not bright. She starts the story dating creepy possessive Brad, QB for their school's football team but once she is paired up with goth boy Varen for an English assignment, she becomes interested in his art and writing. Isobel is a cheerleader who had previously failed to complete an essay so she has to do well on this project. However I don't think she ever reads a Poe story despite Varen lending her a collection of Poe's work. She is a poor judge of character as her original group of friends screw her over because of her assigned association with Varen. She's not as mean as them but she's not exactly nice. Her family life was bizarre as her dad grounds her from even working on her English project because he's suspicious of Varen and in general he had some mood swings, from angry, angry man to helpful father.
Varen is somewhat of a cipher as he is constantly fleeing. The paranormal aspects of this book are a dreamworld designed by Varen and similar to what Poe accessed before his death. They were not explained until very late in the story and even then it was very imperfectly described. The mysterious Reynolds character confused me. I think he's also known as Pinfeathers or was that a typo at one point?
I did like secondary characters Gwen, a new friend Isobel makes, and Danny, her little brother who despite their sometimes combative relationship comes through for her in several ways.
Regardless of these complaints, I flew through the book and I'm eager to read the second, Enshadowed, which appears to be shorter and hopefully more cohesive.
Cover: So the actual cover does not feature Varen wearing a lip ring although the character does have one. I'm not sure where I found this picture (I merely googled the book) but I guess it's an early version?