Author: Amy Garvey
Genre: Speculative Fiction, Young Adult
Publisher: Harper Teen
Publication date: September 2011
Hardcover: 304 pages
It was a beautiful, warm summer day, the day Danny died.
Suddenly Wren was alone and shattered. In a heartbroken fury, armed with dark incantations and a secret power, Wren decides that what she wants — what she must do — is to bring Danny back.
But the Danny who returns is just a shell of the boy Wren fell in love with. His touch is icy; his skin, smooth and stiff as marble; his chest, cruelly silent when Wren rests her head against it.
Wren must keep Danny a secret, hiding him away, visiting him at night, while her life slowly unravels around her. Then Gabriel DeMarnes transfers to her school, and Wren realizes that somehow, inexplicably, he can sense the powers that lie within her — and that he knows what she has done. And now Gabriel wants to help make things right.
But Wren alone has to undo what she has wrought — even if it means breaking her heart all over again.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone novel.
How did we get this book: ARCs from the Publisher (via BEA)
Why did we read this book: The premise of this novel – a grief-stricken girl that decides to revive her lost love from the grave – caught our collective smuggler eye. We both immediately gravitated to this book.
Thea: I have to admit that while I was excited to read this book, I was also a little wary because the premise – while cool – could go sour, very easily. Thankfully, my fears were completely unfounded because I loved this book. An incisive, effective portrait of grief, the power of first love, and the need for one to take ownership of one’s actions, Cold Kiss is a beautiful, effective novel. Let me put it this way – by the end of the book, I was both bursting into applause and wiping away tears (the good kind).
Ana: I had similar feelings to Thea’s prior to reading this book and just like her, was surprised at how it turned out to be much more than I hoped for: a worthy exploration of grief and love, of power and the responsibility that comes with it. I ended up enjoying it very much although I was not as emotionally invested as Thea was (for a change) by the end of the book.
On the Plot:
Thea: Wren has a secret. She’s always had the ability to do things – a gift for energy, for making the impossible real, like turning a piece of paper into a fragile paper bird. She’s never talked about her power, though, because ever since after her father disappeared, Wren’s mother folded in on herself, refusing to even acknowledge the family gift. When Wren’s first love, Danny, dies in a tragic car accident, her grief is so deep, her heart so shattered, that she does the unthinkable.
Wren brings Danny back to life.
Whenever she can, she slips out of her home and sneaks over to her neighbor’s garage where her impossibly alive boyfriend lies in wait for her, day after day. But the new Danny isn’t really the same. It’s not just that he’s impossibly cold, with no heartbeat. He still looks the same, still smiles the same smile that’s Wren’s alone. But this version of Danny lives only for Wren and cannot understand why she leaves him, why she doesn’t want to be with him always. And as the weeks pass, Danny’s memories grow in intensity and he becomes restless, confused, and violent. Wren knows she’s made a mistake, and must find the strength to undo the pain that she has wrought.
Cold Kiss, the first novel I’ve read from Amy Garvey, is a book that completely took me by surprise. I loved this quiet, introspective novel about grief, responsibility, family, and love. There might not be much that happens in the way of plot or action in this novel, but the story is an emotional tornado, as readers are taken through the initial love story of Wren and Danny, to the grief that colors her life after his death, the growing guilt she feels after she brings him back, and finally coming to terms with what she has done. Wren’s isolation is almost absolute when we start the book, as she’s cut off her friends, she blocks out her younger sister Robin, and she keeps away from the pressure and constant concern of her mother. It’s only when Gabriel, the new boy, shows up at school that Wren begins to open up and must deal with the consequences of the nightmare she has brought upon herself and the lost, trapped remnant of the boy that was Danny. At first, I was terrified that the new boy – especially a new hot boy, who conveniently automatically detects Wren’s power – was the catalyst for the plot, but Ms. Garvey balances the newcomer against the memory of Danny and Wren’s own personal struggle beautifully. The fact that Wren feels something for another boy at the same time she reconciles her own broken heart is a complicated but honest thing, and I loved that she does grapple with these emotions.
Beyond the internal struggle that characterizes the plot, the supernatural element of the novel is also wonderfully wrought. I love that the version of the zombie in this novel is more the traditional Haitian voudoun variety, closer to the lines of Bela Lugosi’s White Zombie than George A. Romero’s Living Dead that hunger for human flesh. I also loved that the powers that Wren and her family has aren’t explained in some contrived infodumpy family reunion/magical mentorship session – there is no manual for the magic that Wren, her mother and sister can weave, and that’s all there is to that. In order to bring Danny back to life – and to send him back to his grave to rest – Wren uses what is in her heart and the power she instinctively feels and creates as magic. And that is pretty damn cool, folks.
Ana: Cold Kiss is the very best kind of a zombie novel i.e. not a story about zombies at all but a story about people and this particular case, a story about the power to bring someone back to life and the consequences of doing so. It is a very emotional, character-driven novel exploring grief after the death of a beloved one and all that relates to it. Like Thea I loved the flashbacks to Wren and Danny’s relationship and how loving, sexy and fun it was. I also loved the other relationships in the book and how realistically normal they felt.
Above all, I loved that this story read to me, more like a non-preachy cautionary tale about obsessive love and about power and its consequences. The former fits beautifully – yet apart and above – the Paranormal Romance subgenre of YA novels and its recent slay of obsessive love portrayed as a good thing. Even though Wren and Danny’s relationship prior to his death seemed to be quite healthy and cool, the moment he dies, Wren is overcome with such grief that it turns her love into an obsessive, ugly thing in which she feels she and Danny belong together forever, apart from everything and everyone else and as though she owns him. This is of course not a good thing and Wren’s realisation that love doesn’t work like that is the central theme of Cold Kiss. The later, regarding power and consequences was incredibly well done as well, with Wren understanding the scope of what she has done and having to own up to it and fix it.
On the down side, I did think the middle sagged a little bit with repetitious moments like Wren’s encounters with Danny and his “cold body and non-beating heart”. And although I fully comprehend that the supernatural aspects of Wren’s magic is not really the point of this novel, I did feel many things were left unanswered and that frustrated me. I do get Thea’s point about the novel not having contrived infodumps and explanations but I did feel that the complete lack of an explanation at all and how it was presented in the story (with Wren’s mother point blank refusing to discuss anything and keeping secrets till the end) was a bit contrived in itself. I can’t but feel that this signifies a sequel when I feel a sequel to this story is completed unnecessary.
On the Characters:
Thea: Just as with the overall, heartwrenching story, I also felt that the characters – particularly Wren – are beautifully written. Wren is the heroine of the piece, and while she can be frustrating in her determination to put off the inevitable and to push off what she knows needs to be done, it makes her a more real, genuine character. Wren’s pain permeates the book, as she cuts herself off from everyone and everything else – but for all that she tries to isolate herself and preserve the memory of Danny, she also gradually realizes that she cannot simply turn herself off from the world. When Gabe arrives, yes, she feels attraction again, but more importantly, she also begins to engage with her friends, her sister, and her mother. It’s also important to note that the loss of Danny isn’t the first or only loss she’s endured – her father simply disappeared (we don’t know if he’s alive or dead until the end of the book), and like their shared magic, Wren’s father is not a topic that is discussed by the family.
The book isn’t all just darkness and pain, though – I also loved Wren’s memories of Danny, and of the two of them falling in love (in contrast, the slow attraction that builds between Gabe and Wren is quieter, more cautious, and less intense). Ultimately, while Gabe is a good foil for Wren, this isn’t his book – and there’s a part near then end of the novel that makes that very clear. This isn’t insta-love, or maybe even a love story at all – it’s really the story of a new beginning for Wren. And instead of relying on Gabe as a crutch, ultimately, Wren’s journey is one that needs to be completed on her own.
Ana: I completely agree with Thea that Wren reads as a completely genuine character, fully realised in her complexity. Frustratingly stubborn, very loyal to her friends and family even when she keeps her distance from them – I loved that she had a whole range of relationships with her girl friends and even with boy friends (who are not boyfriends at all.) After reading about her relationship with Danny it is easy to understand and sympathise with Wren and what drove her to commit such a terrible act –it is also very easy to feel for Danny when he starts to “wake up” and for Wren when she realises what she has done to someone she loved. Heart-wrenching is the perfect word for this.
Unlike Thea though I do think there is an element of insta-love when it comes to the budding relationship between Wren and Gabriel especially on his part. He is inexplicably attracted to her at first glance and becomes completely dedicated to her too easily, too soon. Having said that, I do appreciate how Wren stands up to him and some of his more pushy tendencies and above all, I appreciate how this relationship exists at all – it signifies that life doesn’t stop when someone dies (as hard as it sounds) or that it is possible to feel attraction and love for two people at the same time.
Final Thoughts, Observations & Rating:
Thea: I loved this book, with all its emotional highs and lows, it supernatural slant, and its quiet introspection. I will certainly be back for more from Amy Garvey in the future.
Ana: Despite my minor criticisms, I too, loved Cold Kiss. It is quite possibly, one of the most surprising books I read this year.
Notable Quotes/Parts: Using Harper’s Browse Inside feature, you can read a good chunk of the novel:
Alternately, you can download a PDF excerpt here.
And you can check out the book trailer below!
Ana: 7 – Very Good
Thea: 8 – Excellent