Sunday, March 16, 2014

Review: Lost Voices by Sarah Porter

What happens to the girls nobody sees—the ones who are ignored, mistreated, hidden away? The girls nobody hears when they cry for help?

Fourteen-year-old Luce is one of those lost girls. After her father vanishes in a storm at sea, she is stuck in a grim, gray Alaskan fishing village with her alcoholic uncle. When her uncle crosses an unspeakable line, Luce reaches the depths of despair. Abandoned on the cliffs near her home, she expects to die when she tumbles to the icy, churning waves below. Instead, she undergoes an astonishing transformation and becomes a mermaid.

A tribe of mermaids finds Luce and welcomes her in—all of them, like her, lost girls who surrendered their humanity in the darkest moments of their lives. The mermaids are beautiful, free, and ageless, and Luce is thrilled with her new life until she discovers the catch: they feel an uncontrollable desire to drown seafarers, using their enchanted voices to lure ships into the rocks.

Luce’s own talent at singing captures the attention of the tribe’s queen, the fierce and elegant Catarina, and Luce soon finds herself pressured to join in committing mass murder. Luce’s struggle to retain her inner humanity puts her at odds with her friends; even worse, Catarina seems to regard Luce as a potential rival. But the appearance of a devious new mermaid brings a real threat to Catarina’s leadership and endangers the very existence of the tribe. Can Luce find the courage to challenge the newcomer, even at the risk of becoming rejected and alone once again?
Lost Voices is a captivating and wildly original tale about finding a voice, the healing power of friendship, and the strength it takes to forgive.

Hardcover, 291 pages
Published July 4th 2011 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
(info grabbed from GoodReads)

Note: this is the most positive negative review I've ever written.  When I started writing it, it was filled with a bit more snark.  However, as I continued and really thought about it, this is a really thought provoking tale.  Bear with me and keep an open mind.

This book could be summed up as LORD OF THE FLIES, but with mermaids.  Some may read that and think, "Oh that sounds kind of interesting."

Well.  It's not.

But I hated LORD OF THE FLIES.  Anyway, I'm actually rather torn about how I feel about this book.  It's bad and great at the same time.  It's kind of good, but not solidly okay; it is a wavering on a balance beam kind of good.  Anyway, LOST VOICES is the story of Luce, a fourteen year old girl caught in a pretty rough situation.  Her parents have both passed on and now she is stuck in her parents home town living with her abusive uncle.  In the world of LOST VOICES though, there is a secret: unwanted and unloved girls become mermaids.  Such is the fate of Luce, and she joins the local mermaid tribe.

The mermaid tribe is where I draw parallels with LORD OF THE FLIES.  You stick a group of boys on an island and what happens?  Mayhem and murder.  You stick a bunch of girls in the ocean with fins and what happens?  Mayhem and murder, but more high strung and catty.  Instead of imploding inwardly as the boys did since they were stranded with nothing but each other, the girls in LOST VOICES turn there destructionn outward, destroying passing boats and drowning all aboard.  Catarina (the Queen mermaid) is a slightly off-kilter version of Ralph, leading the tribe under the laws of the timakh, which are undisputable mermaid rules.   While Anais is almost a perfect caricature of Jack from LOTF with her antagonizing the group and leading a revolution against Catarina.  Luce, our MC, would fit as Simon, the only "good" character, as she has morals and doesn't want to kill people.  And because she hides in a cave for a large portion of the book.  I don't agree with such a bleak outlook of humanity, which is I didn't particularly like LORD OF THE FLIES or LOST VOICES.

My biggest writing issue was that it was really hard to put my finger on what the plot was in this book.  For over half the book, we are observing Luce getting into the swing of being a mermaid: Luce has become a mermaid, Luce has met a tribe of mermaids, Luce has met more mermaids, Luce has swam like a mermaid, and Luce has sunk a few boats. That's about it.  Nothing really resembling an issue here other than she doesn't really want to sink boats and the queen is a little crazy.  It's good to keep an audience guessing, but you have to be going somewhere.  No real conflict arises, making it feels as if the story is standing still -- and standing still doesn't make for a very exciting read.

The other writing issue is that it was hard to read at times due to the prose.  The writing is somewhat poetic -- like the author is trying to be poetic, but it came off as haphazard purple prose at times.  Sometimes it was very pleasant to read, and sometimes I was utterly confused.  Not a good trait in a book.  I don't know why, but I was determined to read this book and got past the prose issues.  There are some parts that jump around and there isn't a clear picture as to what's going on, but that is mostly in the beginning.  Once Luce became a mermaid (which is real early), the imagery was a lot more clear.

LOST VOICES has a completely different tone than most YA because it does try to approach real life issues through a fantastical story.  It deals with tough issues (child abuse, neglect, group think, and the anger of children betrayed).  However, I think a lot of the message got lost in the catty drivel that went on for a lot of the book, but furthermore, I think the message that was there is incredibly negative.  Luce fails to have a meaningful and non-abusive relationship for the entire book.  There is the overt abuse by her uncle, the petty hate between some of the mermaids, but then there is the manipulative queen.  It is a very covert abuse that Luce doesn't even understand and the book ends with her still believing she is friends with this girl.  There is very little hope within the binding of this book, and that gave me a real sour taste for it.

LOST VOICES projects a very bleak outlook.  Especially when the story is YA and the target demographic includes girls potentially dealing with these issues.  I do appreciate that an author had the guts to try and approach a story openly involving child abuse and it's affect on the psyche of its victims, but I don't know that I can recommend this book to someone that's not an adult.  But while I didn't like LORD OF THE FLIES, it didn't have a sequel whereas LOST VOICES does.  I'm still very intrigued by this book and it may still prove to be the more uplifting tale I'm hoping it could be.  But I know there is a place in this world for unhappy endings, and that may prove to be the case with the trilogy.  I'm hoping for the best.

Final Thought: 25 out of 50 toadstools

This review is also posted on GoodReads

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