Some things keep me up at night. And they aren't pleasant--worries about finances, anxiety over whether I'll ever finish and sell a book, demands of helping a relative who suffers from a touch of the crazies.
But sometimes the late-night culprit is actually a pleasure--a story that captivates me, won't let me close the book covers and turn off the light. THE DEAD-TOSSED WAVES grabbed me by the throat from page one and glued itself to my eyeballs. Yep, the experience was that visceral, and it dragged me long into the wee hours.
I want to know why. So I'm shuffling through the pages looking for clues.
Zombies are not my usual paranormal crush. (Even though I did write zombie haiku here.) I had to nudge myself to read the first book in this series by Carrie Ryan--THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH. And although I enjoyed that one, the protagonist isn't someone you love at first sight. She's a loner, always colliding with other characters and dreaming of getting away. That said, I shed real tears at the end. Water fell from my eyes. Tissues were required. Ms. Ryan twisted the knife. Something she seems quite good at.
But here's what happened when I cracked open THE DEAD-TOSSED WAVES. First of all, there wasn't a lot of backstory telling us what already occurred in this world--that kind of writing bores me senseless when an author essentially gives pages of synopsis of the last book's storyline. Instead, the few paragraphs that set the scene in this book connected directly to the current world, and there was action and tension by the fifth paragraph. We're talking just a bit over 200 words in. That's tight.
Opening line: The story goes that even after the Return they tried to keep the roller coasters going.
I can't speak for anyone else, but that grabbed me and told me I was in a dystopian world where amusement rides are no longer possible. That's eerie and sad. Within the next couple of paragraphs we learn people, despite being hunted by flesh-eating Mudo, wanted the rides kept open so they could feel normal. But eventually it became too dangerous to step outside the walls surrounding safe zones.
Then comes the heart-in-your-throat moment. Our teenage protagonist is being prodded by her friends to sneak into the park. Typical teenage bravado. Do what's forbidden, because nothing can touch you.
Only the sixth paragraph in: Already a few of the older kids have skimmed over the top, their feet a flash against the night sky. I rub my palms against my legs, my heart a thrum in my chest.
Excellent example of showing us her fear. Ms. Ryan doesn't say Gabry's scared or even that her hands are sweating. She shows us Gabry rubbing her hands, and we know. We're right there, heart thrumming, with her.
Then before we're off page two, Ms. Ryan adds another element guaranteed to hook a fair number of readers. She throws in this: There are a thousand reasons why I don't want to go with them into the ruins, not the least of which is that it's forbidden. But there's one reason I do want to take the risk. I glance past Cira to her brother and his eyes catch mine.
Now, I don't want to ruin this book for anyone who hasn't read it, so I'm not going to give away the plot. But I think you can figure out that this little foray into the amusement park is not going to end well.
Gabry's life gets jerked around more than any ride for the rest of the book. Every time I thought we might be pulling back into the safety zone, there was another twist. Gabry's world is not safe. Perhaps, never will be. But she grows from a girl afraid of everything beyond the walls to one who's willing to push back and try to lay claim to a new life.
I learned a thing or two by looking back through this book. I love discovering what makes a story so good you can't turn out the light.
Have you read any such books lately?