Although I’ve never been an athlete, I’m a lifelong lover of Olympic sports. Every Olympic year, I seem to fall in love with some new sport in which I’ll never be able to actually participate, and follow it with rapt attention…until I get distracted by a book. Such was the case a couple of weeks back, when a new email pinged into my inbox just as I was starting to decide that I should abandon all other pursuits and take up slopestyle snowboarding.
But who needs a snowboard when you have a book? The email that distracted me contained news of our pal Cidney Swanson’s return to the world of the Ripple Series, and that news drove the Olympic dreams right out of my head! No sooner was the book safely on my Kindle than snowboarding was forgotten—no doubt saving me much humiliation and a hundred broken bones, not to mention a fortune in hospital bills—and today’s Book Spotlight was born.
Gwyn Li’s life has taken a few unexpected turns lately. First, she found out that her best friend Sam and Sam’s boyfriend Will are chameleons, born with a rare gene that allows them to turn invisible on command. Then, she was kidnapped by mad scientist determined to steal Sam’s chameleon DNA. Now, she’s trapped in France, on the run from the mad scientist, unable to return home to California because travelling invisibly and under duress didn’t leave time for her to pick up her passport. Still, life in hiding in the ancestral home of Sam’s mentor Sir Walter isn’t so bad, especially since Gwyn is under the constant protection of Sir Walter’s handsome son, Chrétien. Gwyn would dearly love to make a play for Chrétien, whose chameleon genes have granted him an unnaturally long life. But Chrétien has spent most of that life in mourning for the wife and child he lost centuries ago and understands little of Gwyn’s modern world. As the villains close in, Gwyn wonders if she can bring Chrétien out of his past and into her present, and whether either of them will survive to see happily ever after.
Gems for Writers:
Twice-Told Tales. I’ve been a lover of retold fairy tales ever since the first time a teacher read Jon Scieszka’s The True Story of the Three Little Pigs to my class back in elementary school. Retelling fairy tales is new territory for our Cidney, but she does it masterfully, casting Chrétien in the role of Prince Charming to the woman who inspired Charles Perrault to write the story of Cinderella. Chrétien is a fantastic storyteller, and his stories, woven seamlessly throughout the main narrative, give the reader a deeper understanding of him as a character; as well as helping Gwyn navigate a relationship complicated by three centuries of sorrow.
Characterization. Visible brings several characters to the forefront who played only bit parts earlier in the series. I wasn’t sure at first if I liked Gwyn; she seemed rather boy-crazy and shallow. Further into the story, though, I realized that she had a great deal of depth, genuinely caring for Chrétien and struggling to balance her Westernized morals with her Chinese mother’s more traditional views. Chrétien, too, is a fabulous character, behaving exactly as one would expect of a seventeenth-century French courtier suddenly dropped into the modern world. His sometimes-bungled attempts to survive in the twenty-first century are the perfect balance of humor and swoon-worthiness, especially one particular incident involving a judgmental shopkeeper—but you’ll have to read the book to find out the details!
Conflict. Conflict, of course, is central to any story, and by the fourth book in a series, the main one is well-established. In Visible, though, there is far more than just the main conflict, and conflict is actually used as a tool for characterization. The side conflicts, with Gwyn fighting her own flirtatious nature, Chrétien battling the demons of his own past, and Gwyn’s convoluted relationship with her mother, create an intricate web. Each plays off the others like ripples in a pond, adding layers of complexity to the fun, romantic fairy tale feel of the story. It takes a true master to write with that kind of balance, but the balance here never falters for an instant, and the result is breathtaking.
Romance Done Right. One of my biggest literary pet peeves is romance that’s forced into a story. I’ve read far too many young adult books where a love triangle is inserted or a relationship develops seemingly for no reason. Though romance does take center stage in this book, it develops naturally and is neither forced nor too saccharine. Each character is strong enough in their own right that a good friendship between the two could have been a likely and satisfying outcome. The romantic relationship begins to develop only after Gwyn decides not to pursue Chrétien, and it develops so naturally that even this most jaded of readers couldn’t help but cheer the happily-ever-after.
By the time I finished this book, the Olympic flame had gone out in Sochi and my athletic fantasies had been put to rest for another four years. Here in Metro Detroit, our winter continues to be the most brutal I can remember, but even though that means snowboarding will be in season for at least a few more weeks, I now realize that reading is warmer and safer than any winter sport. Thanks to Cidney for bringing me back to reality with this fantastic story!