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Friday, October 30, 2009

The Hollow by Jessica Verday

Title: The Hollow (First in a trilogy)
Author: Jessica Verday
Reviewed Format: paperback
Release Date: October 1, 2009
Pages: 528

Sixteen-year old Abigail Browning’s best friend, Kristen, has just drowned in the river at Sleepy Hollow cemetery. Her death is understandably sudden and unexpected; Abbey is devastated. With her last years of high school looming large and lonely before her, she plunges into a solitary routine of cemetery visits and perfume-making that distracts her from the pitying stares and weak offerings of her classmates. In the back of her mind is Kristen, always Kristen, but Abbey meets a strange boy at her funeral with green eyes, light blonde hair, and a wickedly charming smile. Now he’s warring for Abbey’s attention and it’s all she can do not to think of him.

First off, the UK cover isn’t as flashy as the US cover (which has a girl--presumably Abbey--wearing the necklace featured solely on the former), but neither one makes direct sense. Of the two necklaces featured in the book, neither one is magenta (or any shade of purple). This particular necklace may have greater significance to the last 2 books in the trilogy, but if it does, why not feature it prominently on one of the other covers where it’s more likely to come up, if at all? It’s a pretty cover--both are--but misleading.

The setting was wonderful. Verday put a lot of obvious effort into researching Sleepy Hollow as a town and the rich history having a legend attached would develop. Each chapter has an excerpt of a line from Washington Irving’s story that, while not necessarily directly related the the proceeding events, kept the story in a dark Halloween mood. This isn’t necessarily a good thing since the plot spans October through January, but served as a reminder that for a town like Sleepy Hollow, some legends aren’t just for Halloween.

The Hollow promises to be more of a romance mystery than a contemporary re-telling of the Sleepy Hollow Legend. I’ll confess: I was disappointed. It wasn’t that I wanted a re-telling, but that I wanted something significantly more than what was given. As such a rich depository of haunting creepiness, the legend has the potential to do more than sit in the background until the last few chapters. As the novel stands now, I was confused how the legend was anything other than atmospheric--only influential in the vaguest, perfunctory way. Abbey lives in Sleepy Hollow. There is a legend about Sleepy Hollow. I get it. That’s it for a huge portion of the plot. The Headless Horseman and Ichabod Crane are as historical as they are legendary for as much as the town reveres the figures in shopfront, bridges, and other names. What made this even more confusing for me was my inability to find a solid plot.

There are several threads Verday teases out for us to follow: Jessica mourning the loss of Kristen, Jessica dealing with Caspian, Jessica making friends with a couple of former Sleepy Hollow Cemetery caretakers, Jessica navigating her home life and high school (the normal teenage stuff) while the former three things are happening. Not one of these takes the reigns and pulls the others in one direction. While I can tell that The Hollow was largely set up for the last two books and that Kristen’s death is probably important to the overall consequences that await Abbey in the near future, I wasn’t too sure if the threads couldn’t be tied a bit more tightly together. I can see how Caspian, the caretakers, and Kristen all probably have something to do with each other, but after finding her friend’s journals, Abbey is angry for a few chapters and then forgets about it until she makes her peace at the end. The suspense of a few vague journal entries and what they really mean is done away with as soon as Abbey loses interest in anger and later, in forgiveness. If Kristen’s death is related to the revelations at the end of the novel, shouldn’t Abbey be more interested? Or is that structural set-up for Abbey to be shocked when the journals prove critical in understanding her death?

Abbey bothered me a lot. She was rude and not in the way that someone who’s just experienced a huge loss is rude. At times absent-minded and distracted (understandable), Abbey was also particularly (intentionally) nasty to people she just didn’t want to get along with. She was also inconsiderate to her parents, her mother in particular, but found solace in the strangers she met at the cemetery. It could be her general bad attitude is excusable when I take into consideration the connection her home life has to Kristen; talking or putting up with the regular Sleepy Hollow inhabitants can be draining if everyone wants to offer some kind of token of sympathy to ease her loss; it’s easier to be polite to someone you’re physically and (inexplicably) emotionally attracted to.

If that’s the case, then I’m even more baffled by how quick Abbey is to swoon over Caspian’s polite comments. Her romantic interest came across as desperate and unbelievable. I couldn’t believe how easy she was to “fall in love” and inflate their “relationship” with more than it was worth. The way of the very young and inexperienced is, of course, something along the lines of what happens to Abbey. Everything is saturated with meaning, every moment is analyzed and considered from a thousand different angles, motives are questioned, and nothing is ever taken at face value. I think, though, if Abbey’s inner dialogue wasn’t as extremely conversational and dismissive as it was, then I might unclench and buy into the sweetness of her first crush (it seems like a first to me). Instead, she shoots herself to the moon over a boy wanting her to be safe (parents do this, too) when I would take this to be the consideration of a stranger doing another human being the common courtesy of expressing concern over inadvisable travel plans. Suffice to say, her romantic fantasies aren’t too imaginative, nor is she hard to please; Caspian’s suave dialogue reads rather scripted and contrived. Clearly, it has been proved that I am not the intended audience for this book.

I was interested, if I couldn’t get into the burgeoning romance of the book, to explore what some of the other characters had to offer. Ben, for one, is interesting enough that I looked forward to scenes with him. Kristen proved different. We are supposed to get an idea of who Kristen is through Abbey’s flashbacks as related memories rise to the surface throughout the book. I was let down again: Kristen turned out to be a generic best friend, someone who’s only really special to Abbey without me really understanding why. I never got a solid feel for who she was, but I’m not sure if that was the point. Kristen’s fate seems more important than Kristen since Abbey becomes entangled in some strange circumstances that perhaps Kristen has something to do with as well.

The big reveal at the end was wrapped up too quickly. With the focus on the legend being so loose and at most, tangential, to the rest of the plot, I had a hard time accepting its sudden importance. The inclusion of it, unfortunately, seemed tacked on to me and disingenuous as a result. I really wanted to like this book more than I did. I’ve made my peace with the fact that I am not sixteen anymore and am probably not whom this book was meant to woo. I won’t be picking up the sequels, but would recommend this to people whom I think would enjoy it. Thank you to Simon & Schuster UK for the review copy! I just wish I’d enjoyed this one more.


Lily Child said...

I am sorry The Hollow was such a disappointment. I have heard several negative reviews for it, including this one. I prolly wont pick it up for now. I do like the cover of the UK book better than the cover of the US book, despite it's lack of meaning. I guess I am not one to favor the picture of people on covers. Weird, but true. Thanks for your review Erika! Happy Halloween! :D

Anonymous said...

So...why did you read it if you didn't like it?

I kid, I kid!

Seriously, though, sorry it was a disappointment--I hope the next book is better!

Erika said...

@Lily Child I definitly like the UK cover better. It's not that I was disappointed in a lack of meaning, but was confused why they put that on the cover when it's not in the book. It's kind of like putting an elephant on the cover of Pride & Prejudice, if you get what I mean, albeit on an exaggerated scale.

Thank you! I hope you had a Happy Halloween, too. :)

@TJ HAHA! I'm a little surprised I haven't gotten any of those...

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