Earthbound

This young adult novel is a complicated, addictive ride that ends with a doozy of a twist.

Earthbound, by Aprilynne Pike, Razorbill, 352 pp.

It’s usually a good sign when I read the first 30 pages of a book one day and devour the following 300 pages the next. Such was the case with Earthbound, Aprilynne Pike’s superb new young adult novel. It’s a complicated, intoxicating, and surprising ride that I literally couldn’t put down until I read it all.

The key word here is complicated. Summarizing the intricate plot without (a) revealing huge spoilers or (b) writing 4,000 words would be a challenge, as every detail is significant. No one likes the phrase “You’ll just have to read the book to see how it ends,” but now I know why it’s said.

As the sole survivor of a plane crash that killed her parents and 254 other passengers, Tavia Michaels is headline news around the country. To avoid the media, she decamps to Portsmouth, N.H., to live with distant relatives and undergo therapy for mental trauma and a shattered leg. Haunted by guilt and vivid nightmares, she’s just trying to keep her head above water.

After a few months, Tavia begins to see glowing triangles around town, people randomly vanishing, and a mysterious hunk named Quinn to whom she feels an intense, inexplicable attraction. She also discovers that she can create matter out of thin air. Worried that she’s hallucinating, she confides in her psychotherapist and her one friend, a library nerd named Benson who knows about the crash. Benson is a wonderful guy: smart, easygoing, and a great counterbalance for her (secret crush alert!).

The good news is that Tavia isn’t hallucinating. The bad news is that her admission sets off a chain of events with lethal consequences, putting her up against a millennia-old secret and unimaginable danger.

When she overhears her aunt and uncle saying that she might be killed within days – and fearing that they’re the killers – Tavia and Benson flee to Maine on a tip from Quinn to dig up as much information as they can. There they uncover ancient warring brotherhoods, the reason for Quinn and Tavia’s powerful connection, and a ticking time bomb of destiny, history, and forces beyond their control.

Given how much I enjoyed "Earthbound," it almost feels cheap to point out any weaknesses. Still, there were two eye-rollers that I couldn't ignore. First, let’s discuss Tavia’s initial introduction to Quinn:

“Leaf green eyes look up at me with a calm as deep as the waters of Lake Michigan. His jaw is angular, but the curve of his mouth softens the lines and his sooty lashes do the rest.... [G]olden hair.... well-defined abs.... his voice is deep, but soft. Dark chocolate.”

Pardon me, but did a Danielle Steel manuscript find its way into this young adult novel? The voice and style here are poles apart from Tavia’s terse monologue. Fortunately, no other passage in the book rivals this one for pure bodice-ripping cheesiness. In contrast, Benson’s first depiction is nearly nonexistent: khakis, plaid shirt, messy hair. Done and done.

Second, Pike shilly-shallies around love scenes. I do understand that Pike is writing for a young audience and appreciate her desire to keep things appropriate, but that doesn’t justify repetitive, unclear prose from a bestselling author. How many times must we hear that Tavia caresses someone’s stubble or that Benson grabs the back of her neck while they’re kissing?

On several occasions, Pike makes abrupt shifts in passion level with no transitions. It’s disorienting to leap from a couple’s frenzied kisses to them waking up together the next morning, without any explanation or bridge. I’m not asking for graphic details – readers just like to know what happened and what didn’t. Pike needs to tell us clearly and not to tiptoe around the issue.

Happily, these weaknesses fade once the final scenes unfold. And oh, what final scenes they are! I knew "Earthbound" couldn’t end without resolving the (seemingly) unresolvable Benson/Quinn dilemma, but I never once suspected what was coming. This was a rug-pulling, backstabbing, explosive doozy of a twist. Well played, Aprilynne Pike!

"Earthbound" fuses intricacy and intensity to create a captivating young adult drama. If you’re looking for a breezy, noncommittal beach read, consider yourself warned: You may find yourself camped on that beach for the rest of the day. Because once you start "Earthbound," you won't be going anywhere until you've turned the final pages.

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