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Sarah, a teen with a port-wine stain and body image issues, is abducted, and must find a way to rescue herself.

“Powerful. I raced through it, wanting to know if Sarah would find a way to escape both her captor and her self-doubts. A real nail-biter!“
- April Henry, NY Times bestselling author of The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die

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Kendra must face her past and stop hurting herself--before it's too late.

Awards: #1 in the Top 10 ALA Quick Picks, ALA's Rainbow List, a Governor General Literary Award Finalist, Staff Pick for Teaching Tolerance.

Yes, it's my own arm on the cover of SCARS.

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Caitlyn, a telepath in a world where having any paranormal power at all can kill her, must decide between saving herself or saving the world.

Awards: A finalist for the Monica Hughes Award for Science Fiction and Fantasy, and the Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Award.

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Kate sees visions of the future--but only when she has an asthma attack. When she "sees" her sister being beaten, and a schoolmate killing herself, Kate must trigger more attacks--but that could kill her.

Awards: 2013 Gold Winner, Wise Bear Digital Awards, YA Paranormal category.

STAINED book cover

Sarah, a teen with a port-wine stain and body image issues, is abducted, and must find a way to rescue herself.

“Powerful. I raced through it, wanting to know if Sarah would find a way to escape both her captor and her self-doubts. A real nail-biter!“
- April Henry, NY Times bestselling author of The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die

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Teen Books That Have Something to Say


Avielle of Rhia

Review

Avielle of Rhia
by Dia Calhoun
Marshall Cavendish,(October 2006)
ISBN-10: 0761453202
ISBN-13: 9780761453208

My rating:



When she saw her mother, dressed in royal blue lace over gold satin, her face slightly pinched with anxiety, Avielle walked toward her. Like her sisters, Avielle had had lessons in deportment, and she could walk as gracefully as any princess in the world. But she knew no one cared how she walked. She knew exactly what everyone in the room was thinking, what, indeed, they had been thinking about, gossiping about, and waiting for from the day she had been born. Since the blood of her Dredonian great-great-grandmother, Dolvoka, had sprung up in Avielle--because she looked Dredonian--would Dolvoka's evil magic spring up in her, too?
--Avielle of Rhia by Dia Calhoun, p. 15.

Princess Avielle is kept apart from other people by her parents and family, who act ashamed of her and disdain her, because she has obvious Dredonian traits--silver skin and hair, like her evil great-great-grandmother. Even her own "people" hate her. She faces daily discrimination, even though she is a princess, and has very few people who treat her well, even among the castle; she feels loved only by her younger brother. People are afraid she will be like her evil great-great grandmother, and Avielle is afraid of that, too, though she is consoled by the fact that no magic talent has appeared in her. Then one day she suddenly discovers her magic, and feels threatened by it. When she leaves the castle to talk to the one person who might offer her some insight, a neighboring country destroys the castle and almost everyone in it. Avielle hides her true identity from people, knowing no one would want her to be queen, and fearing for her life--but she has to make choices which eventually lead her to decide whether or not to be queen. This book has overt messages about discrimination, as well as many of compassion and wisdom--but many pages are drenched in pain, and there is not quite enough hope throughout the book. Still, it's a good read.

This book had a slow beginning; if I'd stopped at the first few pages, as I usually do if it isn't grabbing me, I would have missed a good book. Luckily, I read on. The writing started to pick up (for me) about five pages in, where Calhoun alerted the reader to the discrimination Avielle faced, the tension, and a small mystery.

Calhoun's slow beginning made a lot more sense later, when the reader comes to know Avielle better, but the slowness of it may stop some readers from discovering a new fantasy. Once Avielle begins to interact and talk with people, and real tension arises, the book becomes more gripping, compelling, and intriguing.

There are compassionate messages, wisdom, and wake-up-calls woven into the book, especially relating to discrimination, racism, and abuse, as well as some clear parallels to Nazi germany. These messages should touch on compassion in the readers. For instance, it's nice--though rather obvious--how Darien initially has great dislike for and discrimination of Avielle because of her skin, but gradually overcomes this and comes to like and appreciate Avielle as a person after she begins to teach him to read, and relates to him on a ferquent basis. This is a strong healing message in the book, one that rings true. There are also some religious undertones with a focus on the goddess, which can mostly be overlooked for those readers who don't like religion.

Because Avielle faces such discrimination and abuse, the reader will quickly want her to escape, to get safe, and to make things better for herself. This helps the reader to care and to feel some sympathy for her. However, Avielle was a bit too victimy for me, and does not quite have enough of a hero-quality that one would expect in a main character. She rarely stands up for herself, always expects people to hate and demean her, and she doesn't seem to have much compassion for her people, thinking of herself instead of them, and being willing to offer her people as slaves even after repeatedly hearing the more compassionate, strong, and compelling reasons from others why she shouldn't. Many times she appeared to be selfish, and took a long time to help other people (except for her younger brother). At times I found this very distracting (such as when she discovered some runaway Dredonian boys who were starving, but didn't think about them or go back to help them for so long). Those things put me off her character a little. However, I loved that Avielle was intelligent, determined, a great reader, talented at her weaving and magic, and eventually learned a lot and supported other people (though the length of time it takes her to learn things is a bit tiring). In the end, Avielle does what is right, and this helps redeem her.

There is a lot built up about Avielle's magic--about how talented she is, and the power of her magic--but this did not seem to come to fruition in the book. Though Avielle used her magic in the end to help save her people, it didn't feel like the author had a clear picture of exactly what Avielle's magic was doing, and somehow it didn't seem very powerful or moving, most especially after such a strong build up. That so many other people also had magic talents, and that the talents were at times almost mundane, or simply used for menial tasks, was also a slight disappointment (at least for me). Other readers may not find that to be true for them.

Avielle's family, and the way they treat her, bring up many issues that need to be resolved--but all of these issues are suddenly dropped when Avielle's family all-too-conviently die in the castle attack. Suddenly she doesn't have to deal with her familiar attackers, her family, her abusive older brother, but instead the discrimination of strangers--and this feels too neat a solution (or more like an avoidance).

How Avielle's magic first appears feels very convincing and real--that it comes to help soothe and protect her little brother, Rajio, who she deeply cares about. Avielle's strong bond with Rajio, and her protectiveness of him, also feels emotionally true, although her later loss of him does not. Rajio's unwitting betrayal of her secret (her magic) is completely convincing, fits his age, and helps to push the plot forward.

There is too much pain in this book--too many people hating, despising, and mistreating Avielle, too many people being abusive and horrid to her, and too few people being kind and caring to her. The few people that are kind and caring don't appear often enough or soon enough to offset the amount of abuse she receives, and often disappear quickly (are walk on characters, are killed off, or are not fully developed). Many of the abusive people and bullies feel flat and one-sided, especially Avielle's older brother, and at times their actions feel over the top. Some of the kind characters feel forced or placed intentionally to bring relief (such as Esilia, the castle librarian's daughter) but they don't bring relief, as they don't feel real--though, with Esilia, this may have been increased by Avielle thinking that there was no one in the castle that she could relate to, and then a few scenes later Esilia is presented as an almost friend, but before we can get to know her or even care, we're informed that she will be leaving. The overwhelming amount of pain and mistreatment makes the book hard, at times, to get through. It would be more readable and more enjoyable if the kind characters or happy events could be more frequent.

It feels like there are too many characters, most of them not fully developed, some of them clearly walk-on characters, to really relate to them, get to know them, or enjoy them. Some of the scenes with characters feel like they don't help move the plot forward or have little to no emotional weight because the characters are not full or will never be seen again. This is true both within the castle and within the neighborhood; many times they feel placed there to make a point or to teach a lesson. I would have preferred greater character development with fewer characters, and to feel like we could really get to know them and care about them, instead of a great number of flatter characters. Calhoun often uses repetitive character actions to help a character stand out (and the reader identify them), which is a good technique.

When the strongest kind character, Gamalda, the weaver, appears in the book, she is a breath of fresh air and a delight. Her character helps the writing move faster, helps the reader cheer for Avielle, and brings great relief for the reader. She is a wonderful, fully developed character who comes alive on the page and shows Avielle (and thus the reader) great joy, warmth, and compassion. She also pushes Avielle into character change and growth, which greatly helps the story. Sadly, Gamalda gets killed off part way through the book; this did not work for me. I could see the intent--that it was to push Avielle to mingle with the neighbors, to care about them and be cared about, to see them as people--but this felt forced, and no character was as bright, warm, or alive as Gamalda. Some of the life went out of the book when Gamalda was killed; she helped balance the bad things that occurred in the book. However, it was briefly uplifting when the neighbors rallied around to help support Avielle after the funeral, and the neighborhood cat also works to bring some measure of comfort into the text.

Calhoun skillfully hints at some plot elements to come, including backstory, stretches out a few small mysteries, and allows the reader to piece things together for themselves. This works well, helping to build tension and a reader a-ha moment, and increases reader involvement and expectation. It also helps increase believability in Avielle's situation, and the way she herself pieces things together; for Avielle, the discrimination she faces is normal, but the reader can clearly see that it is discrimination and abuse. Calhoun also places some hints of foreshadowing and what will come that savvy readers will pick up on and know what to expect.

Calhoun makes use of some strong metaphors throughout the book that work well, and brings in details of food and everyday living that help ground the story in a setting and make the story more believable and real.

There are a few times when the writing, and particularly the dialogue, feels like it is telling the reader information, things that the characters would already know and don't need to tell each other, or ways that characters would not actually act but are placed there to make the reader understand (such as the servant questioning why Avielle would want to travel without a royal coach, Avielle telling her older brother information necessary to understand the plot, and Avielle telling Gamalda about the discrimination she faces).

The book feels a little chopped up between the life at the castle and life in the neighborhood that Avielle escapes to. Even the way Avielle speaks seems different; in the neighborhood, a great point is made that her speech is formal, but it seems far more pronounced and formal in the neighborhood section than it did previously in the book (which was slightly jarring).

There is a refreshing twist in the plot where Avielle discovers that an "evil" character isn't really evil, just greatly misunderstood and in great pain, and that that villain's actions make sense in the context. Calhoun builds up to this well, with "knowledge" about the villan's acts, fear, and hatred of the villain scattered throughout the book before this revelation. A few other small plot twists also keep up reader interest.

The book has many strong messages, compassion, a deep awareness of pain, and some compelling characters. Despite the flaws, this is an enjoyable, often gripping read.

-Added June 18, 2007


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