Friday, 6 March 2015

Book Review: Fifteen

FIFTENN by Jen Estes 
5 Stars 
Verdict: Witty and imaginative time-travelling story for teens.

Legend has it if you die in your dreams, you die in real life. Fifteen-year-old Ashling Campbell knows that’s not true because when she closes her eyes each night, she doesn’t dream about public nudity or Prom dates. Instead, she’s catapulted to the front row of her future self’s execution - fifteen years from now - where monsters have taken control of her hometown and she, or rather, her 30-year-old counterpart, is their public enemy number one.

For three months and counting, it’s been the same dream… until an encounter with an antique dreamcatcher. Ash falls asleep to discover she’s no longer a mere spectator in these dreams - now she’s astral-projecting into the body of her future self. Each night, she goes on the run with a ragtag group of rebels - who have no idea she’s really a high school sophomore and not their noble warrior. She has to make it through each night so that she can wake up and find a way to change the future. For every action she does in the present day, she falls asleep to discover it had an equal impact fifteen years later. It’s up to her to manage her two worlds and make sure she’s still got a place in both.


I really loved this book. I’ve already recommended it onwards! The writing is clever and the pacing is fast. I felt the charm from chapter one and just knew I was in for something special.

Every time Ash falls asleep, she lives in her future self and must learn how to change the present in order to stop the future from being so messed up by a Lakota legend monster. It sounds a bit wordy when I explain it, but Estes does a fantastic job.

With two timelines interweaved, I’m glad the author manages to make both the present and future entertaining in their own right. The story is fairly complicated, but easy to follow and always on the move to the next twist with gentle steering so that it doesn’t hurt the brain.

Ash is a fantastic main character. She has the type of smarts that a protagonist needs, and her wittiness is never snide or contrived which makes her very likable. She’s still young and uncertain at times, but her experiences make her strong. We get to see her fail as well as adapt to her future life. This is particularly well planned because the reader starts off just as clueless as Ash, and so we share in her experience and learn with her.

As well as a Lakota monster, the future also holds Coop, who is amazingly hot, protective, and sees Ash as someone who she hasn’t quite evolved into yet. With some of the puzzle pieces missing, the romance is a bit odd to start with, and again I could relate to the way young Ash handled the situation.

Her best friend in the present is Tate, who is just as witty and a little more mischievous. Ash and Tate bounce off each other well as they try to fix the future. He was almost my favourite character, except he has a soft spot for a shallow and horrid girl named Nadette. If I had Ash’s ability (and I know it doesn’t quite work like this but) I would want to have a good chat with Tate about what the words ‘selfish’ and ‘user’ mean...

Here I go, talking about them if they are real. Usually I’ll go on about character consistency and development, but I couldn’t help but think of them as real people with choices. This story made me switch off my editor brain and instead enjoy the ride.

The sleep clinic material gets my approval too. From the word polysomnography, I perked up and expected the author to treat terminology like glittering generalities, if anyone knows what I mean... Instead I was impressed that Estes knows her stuff but perhaps made a few tweaks so that the plot works. I can live with that.

There were a few sneaky twists that I can smugly say I predicted, but even when you start to catch on, it doesn’t make the story any less interesting. The book certainly ended on an unexpected note. I’m still gushing over the narrative, too. I try to inject the same type of humour into my writing, but Estes is ten times better at it. I should have got a pen out and started making notes, but I was too enthralled by the whole thing I read it within a day.

I will definitely be sticking with this series. I don’t know how a sequel will compare or where Estes will lead us. All I know is that we can’t leave things like that, and I can’t wait to hear more from Ash!