Friday, June 17, 2016

Places No One Knows » Book Review

Places No One Knows is a decent novel about fantasy and reality... but it's written in a jumble that neither raises pertinent questions nor provides answers. I disagree with Maggie Stiefvater's blurb. I slept on this book and did not "wake up satisfied." Instead, I woke conflicted.

What This Book Is About

The story of the book is built along a premise that we see quite often in YA — "you can find your soulmate as early as high school!" You'd think what would follow from that would be equally starry-eyed. Well, we get a surprise there. Unlike most books of similar premise, Yovanoff dares to present us with an unlikable heroine.

Waverly is flawed — cold, cunning and frankly, bitchy.  She's obsessed with strategy and likes to practice her manipulation skills by being the mastermind behind the most popular clique in school.  But, "uneasy lies the head that wears the crown." Waverly has critical insomnia and runs her body into the ground in order to scrape together a few hours of sleep each night.

The story takes off when Waverly tries a new relaxation method.  She lights a strange candle and falls asleep, only to appear materially by the side of the school stoner, Marshall Holt.

What I Thought Was Good

I loved how the normal rules of social interaction were severed by Waverly appearing magically wherever Marshall happened to be.  It allowed for some really electric situations and exchanges.  For example, Waverly smashes through Marshall's concept of "fantasy."

It's a dream of most teenage boys for their crush to appear in their bedrooms, right? Well for Marshall, this happens.  The the perfect, high school queen bee, Waverly, who he's infatuated with, appears to him, night after night. However, she comes to him at the most inopportune times — when he's having a bad acid trip, when he's touching himself, when he's drunk and throwing up, when his dad is yelling at his mom... She's there at his most exposed, a real person looking back at him.

This element of "fantasy meets reality" really drew my interest.  What I took away from Waverly's nighttime visits is that fantasy, if ever made real, has to be integrated with the other realities of your life.

What Did Not Work

Now, the magic "system" in this book is never really explained.  It's strongly suggested that Waverly's candle has magical power, but that angle is not explored.  It is the only element of magical realism in the book, too, which makes it stick out like a sore thumb. Actually, the more I think on it, the more the dream visitations seem poorly explained. Ironically though, the dream visits were also the most interesting parts of the book.

The rest of the novel was about ridiculous high school drama.  Waverly has wrapped herself up in teenage social politics, which I found to be very dull, pointless, and overall, cruel.  Weirdly, our author seemed to be aware of this.  One intelligent character, Autumn, says over and over again, "What is the point?" I KNOW, RIGHT? By the time that Waverly gets with the program, it's too late for the reader.  We've already been dragged through hundreds of pages of silly machinations.

Lastly, I felt like the book suffered from an almost intangible problem.  This is my third draft of this review, and I had to stop myself from starting all over with a fourth.  The problem seems to be that I can't explain my main issue with the book, even to myself.  I'm not sure if it was 1) too many underdeveloped themes and plotlines, 2) an insufficient character arc for Waverly, or 3) a lack of a clearly defined point to the story. Perhaps it's all three.

In any case, I felt like Places No One Knows piqued my interest partially, but largely had me stymied and uncertain. [rating stars="two-half-stars"]


  1. I've read and liked this author before and the concept sounds interesting, but the way you describe it doesn't make me want to try this one all that much.

  2. I hate to dissuade someone from reading a book... I know, I know! What a thing for a reviewer to hate to do! I don't know... maybe you should check it out yourself!

  3. This review tells me this book is going to leave a lot to be desired. I am not impressed and even without reading it. I'm disappointed.

  4. Oh man! This is the sad part about reviewing a book poorly. Other people get their hopes let down! But yes, I was disappointed somewhat by this book. It was kind of muddled and the MC was really out there. There was this one moment where she flays her high school spanish teacher for having a "pathetic" job and having "no self esteem". It was so nasty and cruel... I felt like Waverly didn't deserve my allegiance after that.

  5. The first part of the review had me HOOKED on reading this book because it sounded so different and didn't seem to have one cliche in it that I could find.. But then I reached the last part of your review and... I DETEST when things aren't expand to us to make things make sense to us! :( it just leaves us as the reader without the most important element of the bo ok... BUT, I did think it was funny when the main character kept popping at the most improper times. hehe

  6. I've bypassed this book from my many bookshop jaunts. Sometimes, it's an easy tell that a book isn't going to be my thing. And it couldn't be more true with this novel.

  7. It was not a bad call. I could have happily lived without reading this book.

  8. I'd be interested to hear what you thought! I always feel a little bad when I turn someone off a book, but that's part and parcel of honest reviewing. And yeah, the midnight visits were hands down the best parts of the book!

  9. I really enjoyed E. Lockhart's novels, especially those set in high school, so I am a little disappointed.
    I see what you mean about how confusing the book is. Unlike the others, I actually might pick this one up at some point just to compare our thoughts!

  10. Absolutely! I'm always keen to know what my friends think of the books I liked/disliked. I want to know what your intuition has to say about this one!

  11. Sounds like this was quite a mixed one for you. You seem to enjoy some aspects while others you had real issues with. I really like the sound of the premise, and that we are presented with an unlikable character. That isn't something that happens too often! But it seems like this one gets a little over-dramatic and juvenile sometimes too.