Chapter 1: Kelsey

Oh hey, an update!  I've actually been working on my own novel for the last few weeks, so this has been kind of on the back burner a bit while I've been working on some of the worldbuilding stuff.  Since that's (mostly) done now, I can finally put time back into this thing!  Hopefully from now on I'll post a bit more frequently.

You know what I said before about the prologue not being horrible?  Well, in the first chapter we meet our viewpoint character for the rest of the book.  The quality of writing takes a steep nosedive from here on out, folks.  And we're in the first chapter.

Chapter 1: Kelsey

We open on Kelsey Hayes (an admittedly pretty good name when compared to, say, Isabella Swan), a recent high school graduate, whining about getting a summer job, which is a really great (read: annoying) voice to open with.

"Ahead loomed the future: college, a variety of summer jobs to help pay for tuition, and the probability of a lonely adulthood."

Just in case you were wondering if this was a romance novel.  Because everything has to relate back to love and relationships!

Kelsey is in line at a temp agency to get placed into a summer job before she starts college.  This allows Houck to exposit at us in the form of a job interview instead of revealing relevant information through the narrative or story events.  It's barely a step above using a mirror scene.  The woman behind the desk asks for Kelsey's parents names, to which Kelsey responds that she lives with her guardians, Sarah and Michael.

"Guardians?"

Here we go again, I thought.  Somehow explaining my life never got easier.

Because explaining that you have dead parents is only seen as an inconvenience!

Anyway, the woman places Kelsey in a temporary job for two weeks at the Circus Maurizio, because nothing says "set in India" more than an Italian circus in the middle of Oregon.  There, Kelsey will be responsible for a variety of odd jobs, including taking care of the circus's tiger.  I wonder if that's the same tiger that's mentioned on the back cover that happens to be an Indian prince???  And if that prince is the same unnamed character that's in the prologue???  I have to keep reading to find out!!!

(This book suffers from the same problems as Twilight in that the plot twist is given away on the back cover blurb.)

Kelsey tries to make a joke about the job with the job placement woman:

"Are there elephants, too?  Because I have to draw the line at scooping up elephant droppings."  I giggled quietly at my own joke, but the woman didn't so much as crack a smile.

That woman isn't being paid nearly enough to deal with this nutcase.  1) That's not a joke, that's a statement.  It doesn't have a punchline outside of "poop!" 2) It's not remotely funny.

Kelsey is officially assigned to the circus and leaves without thanking the woman for getting her a paid job.

What had I gotten myself into? I thought as I climbed into Sarah's borrowed hybrid and headed home.

The way that's phrased, it sounds like Sarah has borrowed the car from someone else, even though I'm pretty sure that Kelsey borrowed it from Sarah.  Shouldn't it be written "the hybrid I borrowed from Sarah"?

It could be worse.  I could be flipping burgers tomorrow.  Circuses are fun.  I just hope there are no elephants.

Because it was so funny the first time!  Poop!  LAUGHT DAMMIT!

Kelsey arrives home in the form of an awkward tense shift in the narration: [Sarah and Mike] gave me a lot more freedom than most other kids' parents, and I think we have a healthy respect for each other--well, as least as much as adults can respect a seventeen-year-old anyway [sic].  Yeah, it's also missing a comma before the "anyway."  Editing, what's that?

We are introduced to Sarah in the form of Kelsey whining about the fact that Sarah bakes vegan cookies.  This is the extent of Sarah's character in the book--wants to eat healthy and doesn't bake as well as Kelsey's mom.  I don't think she appears outside of this chapter, but that's not really an excuse.  Kelsey lets Sarah know that she got a job at the circus, and Sarah responds.  I feel like I have to show you the exact dialogue just to give you an idea of how consistently bad the dialogue is in this book:

"Good for you!  That sounds like it will be a great experience," Sarah perked up.  "What kind of animals?"

1) Yeah, the punctuation is the same in the book.  That shouldn't be a comma before the closing quotation mark, because the verb isn't describing how Sarah is saying her dialogue.  It's showing Sarah's action while talking.  You can't "perk up" a sentence!  That should be a period!  It should be written ' "That sounds like it will be a great experience." Sarah perked up.  "What kind of animals?" '

2. I want you to read that dialogue out loud.  Try to make "Good for you!" sound like it isn't patronizing.  Then I want you to imagine under what circumstances a human being would utter the words "that sounds like it will be a great experience" in casual conversation.  She sounds like a robot trying to figure out how human conversations work.

Moving on.  Sarah is surprisingly very chill about Kelsey going to work and sleep at a circus that she knows nothing about.  No kidding, Kelsey hasn't even told her the name of the place yet. Spoilers: she never does.  Sarah is either completely clueless or she wants Kelsey gone as much as I do.  Alas, she is the viewpoint character, so we're stuck with her for the next two hundred or so pages.

Mike returns home, and gets in a few more jabs at Sarah's vegan cooking, because God forbid someone would want to eat healthy.  Mike starts necking on Sarah to get out of doing the dishes (no joke) and Kelsey leaves the room in embarrassment, thinking to herself, Someday, I'd like a guy to try and talk himself out of cleanup duty with me in the same way.  Because everything has to relate back to romance!  Not to mention that the only example we have of a loving relationship in the whole book is something really manipulative and lacking in communication!

After dinner, Kelsey goes to her bedroom, which has "just a simple bed, a mirrored dresser, a desk for my computer and homework, a closet, my clothes, my books, a basket of different colored hair ribbons, and my grandmother's quilt.  I get that the idea was to show that she doesn't have a ton of belongings, but the effect is ruined when you follow up the word "just" with a list of eight separate items. Sure, they might not add up to a ton, but that is a ridiculously long list. Coupled with the fact that Kelsey was just complaining about the food that her foster mother who graciously took her in after her parents died cooked for her, and Kelsey just seems like she's whining. A lot.

And, uh, Kelsey constantly braids her hair with ribbons and sleeps with a quilt every night.  She's seventeen.  I'm not saying that it's impossible for a teenage girl to do things that a five year old does (I mean, I still watch some cartoons and I'm in my twenties), it's a little odd that no one ever comments on it.  I'm torn between it being bad characterization or it being Houck not knowing how to write a teenage character.

Her stomach growls when she gets into bed even though she literally ate dinner on the last page.  It's possible that it's yet another dig at Sarah's cooking, which is honestly just bullying at this point.

And here's the scene that made me realize that I wasn't going to like this book when I first read it a few years ago.  Kelsey looks at a couple of pictures of her parents, who have already been established as (relatively) recently deceased and who had a close relationship with their daughter.  Here's the description of the first picture:

I glanced at my nightstand and the two pictures I kept out.  One picture was of the three of us: Mom, Dad, and me at a New Year's celebration. I had just turned twelve.  My long brown hair had been curled but in the picture it drooped because I'd thrown a fit about using hairspray.  I'd smiled in the shot, despite the fact that I had a gleaming row of silver braces.  I was grateful for my straight white teeth now, but I'd absolutely hated those braces back then.

So, while looking at a picture of her dead parents, Kelsey focuses only on herself.  This would have been a great place to add some characterization for Kelsey, or at least make her a sympathetic lead who has normal human emotions.  Instead of commenting on her parents or her memories of the day in any way, Kelsey spends the entire time looking at only herself.  It doesn't end there!

I touched the glass, placing my thumb briefly over the image of my pale face.  I'd always longed to be svelte, tan, blonde, and blue eyed but I had the same brown eyes as my father and the tendency toward chubbiness of my mother.

She is sitting there looking at a picture of her parents, who she supposedly misses very much, and critiques her own appearance while blaming it entirely on her parents. Nice.

The other was a candid shot of my parents at their wedding.  There was a beautiful water fountain in the background, and the were young, happy, and smiling at each other.  I wanted that for myself someday.  I wanted someone to look at me like that.

Only Kelsey would look at a picture of her dead parents and spend more time describing the fountain in the background than the actual subjects of the photo. Notice that the description they do get is related almost entirely to Kelsey herself and how much she wants a love interest.  Because EVERYTHING HAS TO RELATE BACK TO ROMANCE!

Kelsey goes to sleep thinking about her mom's cookies (okay, one point for you, Tiger's Curse, because that actually makes sense in context and gives some characterization).  She has a Prophetic Dream in which she runs through the jungle with a tiger, and "the sound of gentle, padded paws raced along after me, beating in time with my heart."

Gag.

While the prologue wasn't spectacularly written, it was sort of competent in terms of consistent characterization and making me at least somewhat interested in what was going to happen next.  Unfortunately, we get dumped straight into Kelsey's brain from that point onward, and it's not a very pleasant place to be.  In that first chapter, we form our first opinions of Kelsey: she constantly complains about slight inconveniences, insults her guardians' genuine attempts to be nice to her, and cares more about critiquing her not-conventionally-attractive physical attributes.  She can't even tell a decent joke.  This chapter is five pages long, but it feels like so much longer because it's a slog to get through Kelsey's negativity.

Kelsey as a viewpoint character is easily one of the biggest flaws of the book.  If we didn't have to read every thought that wanders into the cavernous expanse of her skull, I think it would be a lot easier to get through. As it is, get ready to hear inane chatter about everything that happens, whether it's more negativity or "witty" "banter."

Next time: Kelsey goes to the Stereotype Circus and meets the circus's tiger.  Who could it be??  Read more to find out!!!

(Get it? Because I repeated my bad joke from earlier on, even though it didn't get any funnier, which is the same thing Kelsey did but with poop!  That's not even the last time she makes that stupid joke!)

Also Mario's in the next chapter.  So that's something, I guess.

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