What initially attracted me to this novel was the fact that it described accounts of urban exploration. From an artistic and architectural point of view, I think urban exploration is a fascinating and intriguing albeit dangerous sport; and I was truly interested in seeing how its highly sensorial elements could be portrayed in written form.
Perhaps due to the fact that the novel was written for a young adult audience, the descriptions of the characters’ urban explorations are minimal. In truth, the characters’ meetings could easily have taken place in a park, an empty lot, or even under a highway underpass. McCarthy’s novel only provides the reader with the barest skeletal description of the abandoned places the characters visit. The author’s descriptions of the art and architecture of the various settings are blank and dull, and can easily dissuade young readers from attempting their own adventures to abandoned urban sites.
McCarthy’s focus is instead on character and relationships. All of the internal and external conflicts that affect the novel’s five main characters stem from a common cause: avoidance. The characters’ decisions to avoid topics of conflict add constant strain and tension that negatively impacts the level of trust that exists amongst them, including their own ability to trust themselves. The conflicts develop important questions concerning loyalty, friendship, self-knowledge and self-worth—qualities that are essential for one’s own sense of identity and for building and maintaining successful relationships with others.
The characters are portrayed in a realistic way, though their respective conflicts don’t make for a comfortable read. At times, the characters can be insufferably oppressive and their attempts at moving on from various ugly revelations aren’t entirely healthy…another form of avoidance. A reader might hope for a feeling of positive change at the novel’s conclusion, but I don’t necessarily feel that all of the characters are emotionally ready for that to happen by the novel’s closing pages. Their relationships are still in a tentative state; and futures are as yet undecided. Ultimately, I think the way McCarthy ends this story is an asset to her attempts at depicting a realistic portrayal of teenage conflict.
What doesn’t work is McCarthy’s use of the split narrative. McCarthy continues the growing trend in young adult literature of writing in different narrative styles, mixing first person and third person narratives with graphic novel scenes and photographs of poetic artwork. Rather than adding a personal element to each of the five characters’ stories, the split narrative creates distance and even arguably ranks the characters’ importance to the story, based upon the frequency and length of their chapter contributions. Given the fact that all of the characters share the same conflicts, each should have had an equal presence in telling their respective stories within the main tale.
Additionally, the use of split narrative does a disservice to the characters’ voices. At times, it can be difficult to distinguish between Natalie and Zach’s chapters, which are written in third person, especially after revisiting the story mid-chapter from a reading break.
Though McCarthy’s novel does provide some important and relevant insights for readers both young and old, it does have elements that might detract some readers from finding the novel a truly satisfying read.
Copy provided by NetGalley