Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Extras Creepy-Cool; Story Needs Work

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Everyone's afraid of something. Will Besting knows this, knows he's not the only person in the world with irrational phobias. But, sometimes - okay a lot of the time - he feels alone, like he's the only 15-year-old alive whose fear keeps him from living a normal life. More than two years of therapy sessions with Dr. Stevens haven't helped a bit. Nothing does. It's only when the psychiatrist suggests a radical solution that Will feels even a glimmer of hope. Dr. Stevens believes the program at Fort Eden, a facility for phobia-ridden kids like Will, might be able to cure him. The idea frightens Will, but if the treatment works, it's worth it, right?

Will heads out of Los Angeles with six other 15-year-olds, all of whom should be complete strangers to him. They would be, if he hadn't stolen all of their confidential therapy notes off Dr. Stevens' computer. Thanks to that little act of kleptomania, he already knows Marisa Sorrento, Alex Chow, Connor Bloom, Ben Dugan, Avery Varone and Kate Hollander way better than he should. He knows each of their fears, but that doesn't help Will connect with the other kids because his fear, the one that rules his every waking moment, is of people.

Seeing Fort Eden, an isolated concrete bunker hidden deep in the woods, sends a chill down Will's spine. There's something sinister about the place. Will hides in the forest, vowing to escape at first light. Then, he gets a taste of the "program" that's curing kids at Fort Eden. Will knows he wants no part of it. He also knows he has to find a way to convince the other kids to leave. But how? Fort Eden's far from any town, far from a police station, from from everything and Will's alone with only his fears to keep him company. He's the most unlikely hero in the history of the world. And yet, the fates of six teenagers lie in his trembling hands. Now, it's up to the boy who can't deal with people to save them all.

Dark Eden, the newest YA novel by Patrick Carman, is another one of those great-premise-disappointing-execution books for me. I love the idea of teens being lured to a secluded spot in order to serve as test subjects in sinister experiments (not for real, of course, but the setup makes for great stories) but this type of novel has to be done well in order to satisfy. And, well, Dark Eden just isn't. The characters are flat, the writing stale, the plot twists (mostly) predictable. Plus, Will spends the majority of the book watching the action instead of participating in it, which made me, as a reader, feel too detached to really care what was happening.

On the plus side, the book's got a cool website. Since YouTube is blocked on our computers (It's scary what a curious 12-year-old boy can find on that site!), I couldn't watch any of the videos, but I did take The Fear Test, which is kind of creepy-cool. The free Dark Eden App looks fun, too.

Overall, though, I found Dark Eden disappointing. No matter how dazzling the extras for a book are, the story itself needs to be topnotch in order to earn my recommendation. Unfortunately, I found this one quite lacking. Maybe the series will get better as it goes on, maybe it won't. I doubt I'll stick with it long enough to find out.

(Readalikes: Reminded me of Variant by Robison Wells and a little of The Maze Runner and The Scorch Trials by James Dashner)

Grade: C-

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for mild language (no F-bombs), sexual innuendo and intense situations

To the FTC, with love: I received an ARC of Dark Eden from the generous folks at Harper Collins. Thank you!

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