Valentine by Jodi McAlister
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Okay, so I read this in a day, what do you reckon? IT WAS AWESOME! I received this as part of my subscription to the Never Never Book Box, an Aussie spec-fic bi-monthly book-and-look box, and I couldn't be happier with the selection this month. A modern Australian fairytale set in small-town New South Wales populated with wholesome, believable and relatable young characters swept up in a gritty, sometimes gruesome fairy mystery - while not a perfect read, any issues were minor enough that I still genuinely enjoyed every single page of this book, and I will be preordering book two.
The premise: Pearl, Finn, Cardy and Marie were all coincidentally born on the same day in the same small town. Pearl and Marie are friends, Pearl has a crush on Cardy, but Pearl HATES Finn, class clown and nemesis. She can't stand him. Or is completely hot for him. Either way, she thinks about him all the time. Very YA, but that's okay, because it's a YA book about Year 11 students, and... I remember it being like that. The story starts at a high school party out in an abandoned stable, where a beautiful black horse appears and seems to transfix everybody present. In the week following, Marie, the one person to interact with the mysterious animal, stops coming to school, and it becomes clear that tragedy has come to their town, though rational explanations are elusive.
Thrown together in the weird circumstances that follow, Pearl and Finn bicker, argue and snap at each other constantly as they attempt to solve the mysteries and not die. The sexual tension is beautifully built and played out through this narrative. I love the intensity set up between them by the uncertainty of the deaths and disappearances of their classmates, and their growing understanding of the machinations of the fairy courts manipulating their lives. Sometimes these characters got a bit dramatic ("I won't let you do that for me!") but they spent most of their time annoyed with each other, or being snarky (some very funny dialogue), and I liked that enough to get me through the sappy bits. Plus, when they eventually stopped arguing, they were hot.
I found this book refreshing. Teen characters pointing out "But I'm seventeen. What do I know about XYZ?" and having to ask their guardians for permission to do things like actual kids, and getting online to research their supernatural problems only to come up with 8 billion unhelpful search results, all helped to establish both the realism, and my position to the book as an older, wiser reader, like a little wink from an intelligent writer. She knows that all YA adventures are unrealistic! So here, have some real kids that feel real, from a place that feels real (and it did - I LOVED reading about an Australian setting, it was like I was there with them, it was so relatable) and put them in real circumstances and now throw a crazy story at them. They reacted superbly! I liked the Indigenous heartthrob and the ranga ex and the diverse cast. I liked the hippie names of Pearl's family, though others mightn't. I'm a teacher, trust me, weird names happen! I really liked the approach here to the chosen one trope. For the protagonist to not be the one with the powers made Pearl's struggles more interesting because she had more to protect with her secrets and lies, and less she could do about it.
I also liked the consistency of the characters. Phil could have been fleshed out more, but she was constant in her practicality and flat-out no-nonsense attitude, and I liked her. I hope to see more of her in Ironheart. Shad and Disey felt real, one easy and the other tough, their bond stretched and challenged by the difficulties imposed on their family. And I really, really liked Finn. Best book boyfriend in a long time!
I think this is a great YA read for lovers of paranormal/fairy romance, but especially for Australian readers who otherwise might believe, as other such books would have you believe, magic only happens in nondescript small-town America or England.
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