Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Review: "Glimmer" by Stacey Benefiel

** spoiler alert ** When I saw that "Glimmer" had been released, I rushed to download it on my Kindle. I have been eagerly awaiting this sequel, and I was excited that I might be one of the first to read and review it. I rushed through the reading part- just like its title, "Glimmer" shines with wit, the return of beloved characters, unexpected twists, humor, romance, imagination, and that aching mixture of sexual attraction and innocent love most of us only experience around the magical age of sixteen or so. But then, when I got to the actual reviewing part, I stalled out a little, because I realized I had something worth thinking about on my hands. Something new, I think. Not just a good story, but an emerging talent in a vibrant new genre. Let me come back to this point. First, the book:

Did I mention humor? Stacey Benefiel outdoes herself here. I laughed out loud more times than I can count. I recounted parts of the book for friends, who laughed along with me. Just a taste: Zellie, wondering just what the heck you do with your dream boy once you have him panting in your arms, thinks: "I guess if you make a guy talk like Yoda, you're not completely messing up." I almost choked to death when I read that, I laughed so hard. Since then it's kind of gotten stuck in my head at the most awkward moments: "Mmm. Kiss you I will. Love you, I do." My husband thinks I'm crazy. Really disturbing, I know, and it's all your fault, Stacey Wallace Benefiel!

Many of the things left hanging in "Glimpse" get addressed here: we discover a lot more about the mysterious Benjamin; about the Society of Retroacts and their Lookouts; Zellie and Avery's impending little brother; and how family ties, so badly shaken in "Glimpse," wind up merely stirred but settled in "Glimmer." I loved reading about the Pacific Northwest. Without giving too much away, I have to say that setting is more important in this sequel. I loved the way Benefiel writes small towns. If you live in one, or come from one, you will recognize the authenticity with which she writes. My two wishes for this series: I would like to see a more thorough exploration of gay characters, and perhaps a deeper understanding of how they operate as Retroacts and/or Seers. Also, even the best of them come off a bit creepy. I wonder if Lookouts ever get jealous of their sister's powers? It seems to me they have a lot of grunt work and little glory.

A warning: Benefiel writes realistically, and humorously, about teen sex. She handles it in a responsible, straight-forward manner, and the actual writing is incredibly tender, highlighting the strengths and vulnerabilities of both characters. The "sex question" has got to be one of the hardest things for a YA writer to navigate, just as it is for real-life teens. I think Benefiel's handling of it is magnificent; it irritates me when people freak out about things like this, but some of them do, so consider yourself warned. What is even more curious is Benefiel's blending of Zellie's religious upbringing with her powers as a Retroact and her burgeoning sexuality. Raised to be in church every Sunday and then some, Zellie must suddenly navigate both the supernatural and the sexual, and she's not finding her answers in her father's bible. I love the way Benefiel portrays church life as not just "holier-than-thou". It's also wacky and irreverent, and the place to pick up boys. "Glimmer" is, in part, the story of a young woman who must carefully pick through the values her parents have so carefully instilled in her to find the ones that will work for her bizarrely unconventional life. She makes mistakes, of course, but Benefiel has lain enough of a small-town, family- and moral-centered universe that we can watch Zellie stumble and still hope not to see her fall.

On the whole, I think "Glimmer" is a better book than "Glimpse." Perhaps my favorite thing about reading it was seeing the ways in which her writing had become more sophisticated. "Glimmer" is a tighter, more focused book with a more cohesive magical system. I look forward to learning more about her world of Retroacts, Seers, Lookouts, of finding out more about Zellie and Avery, of finding out what happens to Benjamin, and, in general, just losing myself in her world. 

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