Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Wherever Nina Lies, by Lynn Weingarten

Two years ago, Ellie's older sister disappeared. And while Ellie has tried to follow her friends' advice and move on, it simply hasn't been possible. Instead, she wonders where her sister has gone. Then one day, while sorting through some old junk at a thrift shop, she finds a drawing that was obviously drawn by her sister in an old book. This leads her to other clues and also to a hot guy named Sean. And at a speed that takes her breath away, Ellie is off on a cross-country road trip with Sean following a trail of clues that she hopes will lead her to her sister. A romance sizzles and things get interesting....

I'll start by talking about the first two hundred pages of this book, which unfold in a fairly traditional YA sort of way: with a few small exceptions, Weingarten has spun a beautiful and lyrical story of loss and rebirth. It's really quite breathtaking how well she writes. The party scenes got a bit jumbled for my tastes, but I really got under Ellie's skin and could see how her obsession both drove her and humanized her. The romance with Sean (and her friend Amanda's seeming jealousy about it) is also really nicely done and I totally got into the characters. If the story had ended on that note, I would be easily claiming that this life-affirming story was one of the best of the year.

*SPOILER ALERT* But unfortunately the story does not end there. Starting around page 224 (about where a good book like this ought to end), Weingarten decided to kick the story up a notch and take it from angst into creepy. Now, if you like suspense and psychos and icky stuff like that, then this is probably where the book starts to redeem itself. But from my perspective, this is where the story goes downhill. Sean, who admittedly had some bad vibes around him, suddenly becomes ultra psycho and pulls out a gun and the whole thing falls into melodrama. I'm left wondering why? Why take a carefully crafted tale with some really interesting characters on an interesting quest and plunge the story into a third act of silliness (and it isn't just the violence, but the terrible implausibilitty that the story falls back on)? It seems like Weingarten, having written a wonderful story, had run out of ideas and didn't know where to go with it. So, she took it over the edge. But it's more than a bizarre twist in the story, it's also a total decline in the quality of the writing. The ending (starting on page 294) should be skipped altogether as it adds nothing to the story. Rather than conclude the story, we are treated to a slow motion replay of the story with all of the gaps filled in (written at the level of a TV sitcom). This is especially jarring when contrasted with the smart writing at the beginning.

So, I'll have to issue a split verdict on this book (and probably upset the book's fans): I really loved the first 2/3 of it and was looking forward to praising it. However, the switch of genre from YA family interrelationship novel to psycho thriller was too abrupt for me (and unwelcome). If you like thrillers than you'll probably like the ending too, but I not only didn't like the switch, I felt that the actual quality of the writing declined in that last section.

That said, the first part holds out so much promise that I will be interested in Weingarten's next book and hope for better luck with it. She does good angsty stuff and I'd like to see more of it.

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