January 08, 2009


Persistence of Memory. By Amelia Atwater-Rhodes. Delacorte Press. $15.99.

The Secret Circle: The Captive Part II and The Power. By L.J. Smith. HarperTeen. $8.99.

     A genuinely harrowing story that could easily have become just another two-people-in-one-body tale, Persistence of Memory is raised to a higher-than-usual level among teen-oriented “getting to know yourself” books not by its strong supernatural elements (which are fairly common in books for this age group) but by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes’ close attention to mundane details. This means that discussions among psychiatric patients ring true – for example, Tina, a friend of Erin, the book’s protagonist, “knew the difference between ‘I don’t want to talk about it but I need to’ and ‘I don’t want to talk about it because I think it will trigger a panic attack and an episode.’” The underlying unbelievability of the two-people-in-one-body premise (something that does occur in real life, but very rarely and not the way it is portrayed here) is actually downplayed as readers focus on how genuine, and genuinely troubled, Erin seems to be. This is Atwater-Rhodes’ 10th book, and the first in which multiple subsidiary characters seem to have considerable depth – notably Sassy, a fellow former mental-hospital patient with whom Erin had her first kiss and who reemerges just as Erin’s internal relationship with Shevaun is coming to a crisis point. And there is Shevaun herself, the violent alter ego who emerges when Erin is stressed and whose destructiveness may be only a part of the deeper evil of vampirism. The vampire angle pushes this story further into unreality, but Atwater-Rhodes manages to control it nevertheless, partly by giving each protagonist (or each part of the protagonist) a helper: Sassy for Erin and a handsome male witch named Davila for Shevaun. Inevitably, complexities of love and loyalty emerge and become confused, and the central question – whether Erin and Shevaun are really separate people and, if so, whether they can or should be separated – looms larger as readers learn more about who the characters are, where they come from and what motivates them. Atwater-Rhodes is not a particularly elegant stylist (“The full moon outside the window began to darken as it was devoured by an eclipse”), but her sense of pacing is strong, and the revelation of a significant connection between Shevaun and Erin’s family – a key to the book’s eventual resolution – is handled with considerable skill. This is a dual-genre novel – teen self-discovery and supernaturalism – that succeeds in both its areas of focus.

     The second volume of The Secret Circle is far more ordinary, and although it is well enough written to get a (+++) rating, it contains few surprises for fans of vampiric good-vs.-evil stories. The first book, oddly titled The Initiation and The Captive Part I, introduced Cassie Blake, unwilling transplant from California to the New England town of New Salem, who faced the sorts of woes common in books of this type: misery because of the climate, worry about her mother and sick grandmother, and the fact that the school-ruling girls proved to be more than mean – they turned out to be real witches, who initiated Cassie into their coven for potentially deadly reasons. In The Captive Part II and The Power – the splitting of the section called The Captive between the two books is decidedly strange – Cassie’s growing awareness of her own abilities is matched by the strengthening of her relationship with Adam, the boy who gave her a chalcedony rose as a good-luck charm in the first volume and may thus have saved her life, her soul or both. Actually, that rose is just the first stone that proves important to Cassie. Next comes “the quartz necklace Melanie had put around her neck at the Homecoming dance, and [then] the piece of hematite she’d found at Number Thirteen.” And then comes a large piece of amethyst, “hanging from the claws of a silver owl with outspread wings,” all these stones being focuses of one sort or another; and the story becomes more intricate as genuine evil in the form of someone called Black John threatens the Coven and the entire school. Cassie’s dreams may hold the key to finding a set of Master Tools that can ensure the victory of good over evil – but at what cost, especially to Cassie’s relationship with Adam? L.J. Smith, author of The Vampire Diaries, keeps Cassie’s story moving smartly along, but little in it is really new, including the final confrontation and the eventual happy ending. It fulfills the expectations that young adults will bring to books of this genre, but makes no attempt to go beyond them.

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