Author: Kelly Creagh
Genre: Paranormal, Fantasy, Horror, Young Adult
Publisher: Atheneum Books (Simon & Schuster)
Publication Date: August 2010
Hardcover: 528 pages
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.
His life depends on it.
Stand alone or series: Book 1 in a planned series
How did I get this book: Advance Review Copy from the author
Why did I read this book: I, like most people in their right mind, love the stories and poems of Edgar Allan Poe. Take that love, added to a young adult novel with a horrific twist inspired by Poe’s work (and his mysterious death), blended together with a sort of ‘star-crossed lovers’ type of deal and I am instantly sold. I was ecstatic to get my hands on a copy of Nevermore.
Isobel Lanley appears to be your typical popular cheeleader – blonde, pretty, perky as hell, with a hot football playing beefcake of a boyfriend, a shot at Cheerleading Nationals, and a circle of tight-knit friends. Varen Nethers is, on the opposite side of the spectrum, your typical goth kid, complete with dyed black hair, pale skin, a morose wardrobe, a particular taste in the obscure and macabre, and an imposing “stay away” attitude. Both Isobel and Varen have their own circles and comfortable niches, content never to have to challenge the status quo. So, when Isobel and Varen are paired for an english project, neither one of them is exactly thrilled at the prospect of having to work together – Varen finds Isobel vapid and ridiculous, Isobel thinks Varen is a rude, judgmental jerk, and more than a little bit unnerving with his cold demeanor. The uncomfortable situation only becomes even worse when Isobel’s overprotective boyfriend Brad gives a truly disinterested Varen the macho territorial treatment, and Isobel’s friends give her grief for having to spend time with Varen to work on their project. Social foibles aside, Isobel and Varen gradually come to understand each other, accept each other, and even become something more than just acquaintances and casual friends – against every instinct and social rule, Isobel finds herself falling for the aloof, guarded Varen. But there’s more than social expectations and rules that will keep the two apart, as Isobel comes to discover only too late that their project on Edgar Allen Poe has a deeper, more significant implication for Varen. And soon, Varen’s waking nightmares follow Isobel too – and she’s the only one that can help him break free of the darkness that threatens to consume them both.
Against all expectations, I fell in love with Nevermore. After reading the synopsis for the book, I was excited for it, true, but i was also wary – Nevermore had the potential to be incredible, but also the equally opposite potential to be incredibly bad. Happily, Kelly Creagh’s debut proved to be the former. At first glance, Nevermore looks like a stereotypical starcrossed lovers tale – but what makes Nevermore so effective and memorable is the play on tropes and stereotypes. I loved that the heroine of this novel is Isobel – a happy, perky, popular cheerleader. The girl cheerleader is anathema in YA lit, so often portrayed as the villainous airhead/bitch/slut (see Karen Healey’s excellent recent guest article about the phenomenon). I loved that narrator Isobel is a different type of heroine – she isn’t the common shy/awkward/geek gal – in fact, Isobel isn’t much of a reader or brain, and she’s more caught up with the pressures of school and her fiercely athletic love for cheer (again, COOL). As she tells Varen at one point, she likes the sun and cheerleading and she’s not ashamed of it. By that token, Varen also isn’t some noble hero or sparkly outsider that is instantly drawn to Isobel. In this novel, Isobel is our intrepid heroine, and instead of waiting for Varen to stick up for her or break down barriers, instead of crumbling under the expectations of her friends and her meathead boyfriend, Isobel is the one that takes a stand (there is one scene in the cafeteria with her confrontation and it is amazing – it will break your heart and make you furious and fall in love with Isobel even more). That, readers, is pretty freakin’ awesome.
That’s not to say that Isobel or Varen are perfect creatures, because both are incredibly textured, layered and wonderfully flawed. I love that Ms. Creagh takes her time building these characters, starting with initial mutual dislike, and slowly peeling back the layers of their personalities. If there’s one criticism I have of YA romance (or even romance in general), it’s that there’s a lack of tension and build-up – two characters almost always find themselves inexplicably drawn to the other’s ravishing good looks, or air of mystery, or whatever. With Nevermore? Not the case. The chemistry is perfect and it simmers slowly throughout the novel at a beautiful, restrained pace. There are no happy endings here, there is a ton of pain and grief that goes their way – both natural and supernatural.
And…this is where the novel’s strengths falter a bit. I *love* the idea of this dream world that Ms. Creagh has created in Nevermore, replete with ghouls and living nightmares and shades; I love the idea of a cold Morella/Ligeia type of character and all the horrific allusions to Poe’s works. It’s clear that Ms. Creagh has done her homework and has beautifully integrated many favorite Poe stories and poems (“Dream Within A Dream,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” “The Masque of the Red Death,” “The Raven,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” etc) into the overall novel, through the surreal dream world that threatens to trap both Varen and Isobel. However. For all that the ideas of the dreamworld are fascinating and unique, there is some stumbling with the executionof this realm. If anything, the hazy dreamscape is a little too amorphous, and unevenly paced as these supernatural-heavy turns all take place for the book’s last act. The result is a bit disjointed – for the first two thirds of the book, Nevermore focuses on character development and the harsh realities of high school drama, tinged with a bit of a spooky supernatural vibe. But the last third of the novel is chock full of supernatural dealings – Nocs and Shadows and the legacy of Poe and the mysterious Reynolds. That said, I think both the realistic and the surreal elements are done very well – they just aren’t integrated and married as a whole very well. I loved the ending of the novel and that Ms. Creagh isn’t afraid to draw things out – as I mentioned before, there are no simple happy ever afters here – and of course, now I’m impatient as hell for the next book. Nevermore is a book that I really and truly enjoyed, with only a few executionary flaws to hold me back from loving it with complete abandon. Absolutely recommended (and this is coming from someone totally burned out with the teen YA paranormal romance novel at large).
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:
By the end of fourth period, Isobel’s espresso buzz from that morning’s venti latte had long since worn off. She yawned, fast approaching crash-and-burn territory and shifted in her seat as Mr. Swanson droned on and on about the green-eyed monster, Desdemona, thus, thou, and yea verily. She traced and retraced the looping spiral design she’d all but ground into the front of her blue notebook.
“And with that,” Mr. Swanson said, finally snapping closed his ultrathick teacher’s copy of their text, cueing the rest of the class to follow suit with a unanimous thunk, “we’ll leap into further discussion about Iago and his supposed honesty on Monday.”
Isobel straightened in her seat, brushed her sheet of blond hair behind one shoulder, and shut her own book with relish.
“But hold on, hold on,” he said above the rustling and scraping of chairs. He raised both hands and lowered them through the air, as if such a motion somehow held the power to still the room and reinstate the Elizabethan-literature-inspired stupor he’d managed to cast over all.
Kids jonesing for lunch and already halfway out of their seats sank back down again, their butts reconnecting with their chairs like magnets snapping together. All around, backpacks slipped from shoulders and chins returned to hands.
They should have known better, Isobel thought wryly. Swanson never let them out early. Never. Especially not as early as a quarter till.
“Don’t go and get antsy on me yet, folks,” he warned, now brandishing a stack of what looked suspiciously to Isobel like fresh-from-the-copier pages.
“Heads-up to the syllabus being passed around,” he called, licking a finger and leafing through the first few. Then, rewetting his fingertips, he sent out the next stack, and the next.
Isobel blanched as she watched the papers make their way toward her, and she hoped she’d be lucky enough to snag one relatively free of Swanson saliva.
“We’ve avoided it long enough.” He sighed in mock remorse. “Now, I’m sure the seniors all warned you about this one. Well, here it is. The big one. Better to get it over with early in the year, I say. You guessed it—the Swanson project.” He announced this last bit cheerfully (if not maniacally), and a grin spread its way beneath his wiry gray-white mustache.
Groans arose from key points around the room, Isobel’s own buried in the back of her throat.
Projects took time. A lot of time.
“This is to be a partner project,” Swanson continued, “due the last Friday of the month. That’s Halloween, for those of you who haven’t got your iPhones or BlackBerries or Kicksides or whodiwhat calendars handy—which I hope for their sake no one does.”
The boredom that had only a moment ago made Isobel’s limbs heavy and her mind sluggish slipped away from her in a quick whoosh, like a magician’s cloth.
Hold up. Did he say Halloween? Uh, yeah, where was his calendar? Did he not know that was the night of the rival football game against Millings? Lift up the rock, Swanson. Breathe. It’s called air.
Isobel’s grip tightened around her pen. She kept her gaze steady on her English teacher, all dials now tuned to the Swanson channel.
“This project,” he said, “will consist of both a presentation and a detailed ten-page paper. I want you and your partner to select a famous American author—any American author. Though, in the spirit of Halloween, let’s make sure they’re dead, okay? In other words, no Stephen Kings, Heather Grahams, or James Pattersons. Also, this is an assignment to be completed outside of class, since we’re currently in the middle of Othello.”
Ten pages? Ten pages. That was epic. That was like . . . the freaking Gettysburg Address. Was Swanson really going to sit down and read all those papers?
Probably, she thought. And love every minute of it too.
She just didn’t get it. Why did Swanson have to assign a huge project due on the day of the rival game? No one ever got any work done that week. He could have at least given them that weekend.
It always amazed her how teachers seemed to think that students didn’t have lives outside of school. They couldn’t seem to grasp that by the time she got home from cheer practice, ate dinner, and scribbled down something on the mound of homework she already had, it was practically time to go to bed.
Isobel started an immediate scan of the room. This was serious, and she needed to locate a brainer—stat.
She eyed Julie Tamers, marching band geek extraordinaire, and began to plan a strategic route to the open chair next to hers when Mr. Swanson spoke again.
“FYI,” he began, class roster poised in one hand, chin tilted down, wire-rim glasses perched at the tip of his nose, “I’m trying something different this year in hopes it will both broaden your perspective and improve overall project results. That said, I’ll take a moment to include my little disclaimer that all pairings have been made at random. So after I read your names off the list you can partner up, brainstorm among yourselves, and then head to lunch. Starting with Josh Anderson and Amber Ricks.”
Isobel felt her jaw unhinge.
Wait, she thought. Just wait. Random pairings were so third grade. He could not be serious.
“Katlyn Binkly and Alanna Sato,” he continued. “Next we have Todd Marks and Romelle Jenkins.”
Around her, those whose names had already been called rose from their seats to find their corresponding partners. Isobel sat stunned at their willingness. For real? Was she the only one who felt the burn of injustice? Wasn’t anyone else going to say anything?
“Isobel Lanley and Varen Nethers.”
She felt her chest contract.
Oh, no. No way.
She turned her head slowly and took a long, reluctant look to the opposite end of the room. He sat in the back row against the far corner, slumped in his seat and staring straight ahead through shreds of inky locks, his thin wrists lined in black leather bands specked with hostile silver studs.
This could not be happening.
You can read the full excerpt online HERE.
Additional Thoughts: Author Kelly Creagh pays a wonderful, gothic homage to Edgar Allan Poe with Nevermore – and as a fellow Poe fan, this is a truly delightful treat. My favorite Poe poem is “El Dorado” (it’s the first poem I learned by heart when I was a kid), story is a toss-up between “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Cask of Amontillado,” and – of course – Vincent Price adaptation has to be The Black Cat, The Raven, or Morella (these are each wildly different than the source material, but are awesome in true Vincent Price fashion). (And yes, one of my favorite collections was Vincent Price’s Tales of Terror – costarring the wonderful Peter Lorre. AWESOME.)
Make sure you stick around, as author Kelly Creagh stops by to answer some of our burning questions for another segment of “SMUGGLED!”
Rating: 7 – Very Good, and with bucket-loads of upside potential.
Reading Next: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins