The idea of ‘dark romance’ does make me cringe a little. Despite the beautiful covers, there are very few yet to hold the promise of something gothic inside. This is partly my own fault as I have expectations built on classic gothic horror stories of the nineteenth century when romance, terror and the supernatural intertwined so perfectly. The idea of extreme emotion should work well with teen fiction (after all who know better about feeling the weight of the world) but in my own experience, too many books in this genre fail to hit the mark. There is a dwelling on the teen or the romance instead of the dark, often coming across shallow.
When I begun Finding Sky I thought that I would be casting this book in the same disinterested mould as others; I am, after all, no longer a teen and what sparks for them is not often so for someone in their late twenties. My mouth twisted into an unmistakable grimace as the ‘kooky’ American teen began outlining to our delicate English rose the stereotypical high school groupings and their place in the social order. This didn’t seem to match with the rather harrowing opening and I felt that we were not going to get along. Flashes of Clueless and 10 Things I Hate About You came cashing into my head, and although enjoyable films, not the setting I usually require from great reads.
However, Joss Stirling is an incredibly clever woman. Before I realised, I was a good two thirds through the book, completely hooked and unable to put it down. At least 250 of the book’s 300 or so pages were read in one sitting. I didn’t even notice the slow shift from the almost chick-flick atmosphere into something altogether more sinister.
The plot is fairly straight forward, nothing ground breaking, but told in such a way that I believe readers beyond the teenage market will appreciate. Sky’s adoptive parents move her across the world to live in a tiny mountain community in Colorado. Wrickenridge is not only home to all those intriguing characters you come to expect from such a place, but also to the dreamy Benedict Boys. Zed, the youngest and typical ‘bad boy’, instantly catches Sky’s attention. There’s the usual tussle of emotions while Sky works out that the reason she hates him and can’t stop thinking about him, is because she actually likes him. And it is also fairly typical to suggest that it is this unconventional young man that ultimately causes Sky to face her demons and a terrible future foe.
However, despite the common or garden girl-meets-boy, boy-introduces-girl-to-dark-evil-and-impending-doom, girl-discovers-savant-world, boy-helps-girl-uncover-dark-past, girl-gains-supernatural-powers scenario, there is something very different about this book. Reality. Believability. Sky, Zed and their accompanying ensemble are clear and vivid and a joy to read. The emotions these teenagers go through are not coated in saccharin sentimentality, but are true to their characters, understandable and delicately placed. There is a maturity to them which fits and a heavy dose of likability. They light up the story and for me set it apart from others of the genre. They are not weighed down by vampiric suggestions or werewolf antics, but a supernatural power that is rooted in the real world making for an altogether more terrifying experience.
It is safe to say that Finding Sky completely took me by surprise. So subtle is the writing that there are moments when you feel slight panic and dread for our heroes but you are not entirely sure why. The fear sneaks up on you and transforms their tranquil little town into somewhere quite unsettling. It almost becomes reassuring that a specific formula has been followed, so you believe there must be a happy ending somewhere, but doubt can’t help but take hold. I believe it is this intelligent writing which provides a wide appeal. Everything every teenage girl could want is already included, but Joss Stirling does not neglect her older readers.
It is a book I shall undoubtedly read again and have already suggested to friends, even if it is just for those lovely Benedict Boys. See, still a 16 year old girl at heart.