Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Living with the dead and learning something

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?


Jemi Fraser said...

I just blogged about being a total coward when reading. The first and last horror book I read was The Shining by Stephen King. Totally creeped me out - but I couldnl't put it down. I kept thinking 'it has to get better for these people - it has to!' Apparently not! :)

Catherine Denton said...

That is an awesome opening line. You've got me hooked. I'm not one for zombies but this is going on my book list.
Winged Writer

Anonymous said...

I am so glad to hear you loved it too, Tricia ;) I was so into this book, I didn't notice an intruder in my house -- how's that for involved? LOL. I agree about the first book, I adored the writing but really wanted to slap the heroine silly. Gabry is easier to like. She's still not my favorite protag in history, but likable. And this story is a total roller coaster ride from line one. Maybe that's what the first line was warning us of!

I agree with you. Carrie Ryan knows how to grab you and never let go. I read both books in one sitting. I've read them over several times in hopes of working out just how she does it!

Sherrie Petersen said...

I did not like the MC in Forest of Hands and Teeth although the story kept me reading through to the end. But I love the examples you pulled out in this review. I may give this sequel a gander :)

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Jemi: You've been blogging a lot about spooky stuff lately! I'm not a big fan of horror but I do like dystopian, which can be quite horrifying. I just love "other" worlds.

Catherine: I had fun scanning back through the book to see why it hooked me. There is some fine writing.

Wen: I still can't believe that intruder story!!!
Gabry is easier to like than her mother. But I really do want to dissect this book more to see what other elements make it so compelling.

Sherrie: Everyone seems to say the same--don't like the protag but couldn't stop reading. I think there's some serious writing skill to hook us like that.

Liza said...

I'm not much into fear and horror...but you are making me think about it...

VR Barkowski said...

Horror rarely scares me, while true life crime (which I seldom read) chills me to the bone. I find dystopian much more frightening than horror. Horror is fantasy pure and simple. Good dystopian feels like prophecy.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Liza: I think of this as more dystopian than horror, but there's no doubt it's a scary world.

Viva: Yes! You said it beautifully. Dystopian is prophecy, the what-if that could come of our own mistakes--government gone awry, environmental disaster, biological warfare, war or terrorists destroying the infrastructure.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Okay - it's time I bump both of these books to the top of my reading list. You have left me wanting to start reading them RIGHT NOW, this minute!! Great review. I'm sold. :-)

PJ Hoover said...

Funny as I loved FOREST more than WAVES. But they both were awesome, and I do find myself thinking of the characters and scenes in WAVES much more often.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Shannon: Hang on to your hat!

PJ: I do think the characters are drawn better in WAVES but I may reread them both--purely for academics, you understand. ;)

Davin Malasarn said...

I love it when I find a book that's this addictive. It's an entertaining read, but then it's also a great tool to help us improve our own writing!

Melissa Hurst said...

I loved The Dead-Tossed Waves! Read it in three days (that's quick for me now). You're right, every time you thought the MC had things figured out, the author threw her back into danger.

I just finished Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins this weekend and it was wonderful.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Hi Davin! Yes, that's what I'm hopin--that I learn a thing or two about why this was so hard to put down. I already figured out a few things,yay!

Melissa: It was a wild ride, wasn't it? I'll have to check out Hex Hall. Thanks for the rec.

Anonymous said...

ooh I didnt realise there was a second book. I have the Forest of Hands and Teeth but havent read it yet. Will have to save up and get this one too :o)

Jackee said...

Wonderful! I admit I've been afraid of these books because I'm such a chicken. But you can't pass up a book that keeps you in awe of the writing without actually noticing the writing (until you go back).

Thanks for the rec!

cleemckenzie said...

I read DTW and really enjoyed the story. This is kind of unusual because I'm not one who usually picks up books about dystrophic worlds. I met Carrie at a book signing, loved what she had say about the science behind her book and bought it.

I'd give it a lot of stars because it engaged me.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Niki: Happy suspense to you!

Jackee: I read dystopian but not horror and I was able to handle these. If you read them, I hope they don't freak you too much!

Lee: I'd love to hear what she said about the science.That would be fascinating!

Carolina M. Valdez Schneider said...

I could not put down The Forest of Hands and Teeth!! It was gripping. In fact, so intense at one point I had to skim a page to get to the end of the chapter. I can't wait to read the companion novel.

Suzanne Casamento said...

I love that the book "grabbed you by the throat from page one."

Thanks for the review. I'll have to read it!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Carolina: Intense. That is it. I'm not writing dystopian but I'm learning a lot from this.

Suzanne: As Carolina above says, it's an intense read. Hang on tight.

storyqueen said...

I love when people analyze books like this! Figuring out why things work and what the author did that made me go....hmmmmmmm.

Well done.

Rereading Laini Taylor's Blackbringer right now to see how she plays with POV. It is very well done, I think.

Great post!


Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Hi Shelley: Thanks--I enjoyed doing it!
I loved reading Blackbringer. It's such a bright, creative fairy story. And Jim's illustrations made it even richer. Let me know if you discover any gems on POV. I'm always curious how others approach it.

Missed Periods said...

You make a good point about the rubbing her palms on her legs bit. It was a great way to show her fear.

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

just got this. I dont like zombies either but loved the first one. :) Cant wait!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Hi MP, welcome. ;) Thanks!

Shelli: It's such a rush. I'm sure you're going to love it.

Unknown said...

Great analysis! It's not easy to examine what makes a good book work, but you seemed to have nailed it. And often the first chapter of a book can really work, but it slides as the story unfolds, so good to know this one keep the craft up until the end.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Elle: It's interesting that several times lately I've read one good book, followed by a not-so-good one. It has given me the chance to really think about why one worked and the other didn't. I can feel my skills grow as I study others.