Neulan - The Beginning

An international airplane has vanished mid-flight. While the world continues to search for the plane, Alexcy is on a hunt of her own – her forgotten past. She was found unconscious in the middle of the forest, unable to remember how she got there. She knows she was onto something. But what was it? How did she lose her memory? And how is she connected to a missing airplane? What does the most desirable boy in college have to do with all this? Her questions find no answers. All she has are a few clues to go by, using which she must put together the puzzle that her life has now become.

 

As she unravels her past, she realizes that she had been on a quest to find her dad - the brilliant scientist who disappeared years ago. Her quest had led her to one particular website, where, apparently, all her answers lie. However, she realizes that it was where her troubles had begun too. Where she was deceived by the one person who she had trusted the most.

 

Critic Evaluation

Cover Design Score: 9

I think the cover reflects the novel's genre well: young adult sci-fi / fantasy. I could see it attracting readers of the genre. The typography is clear and looks a little futuristic, which matches the novel's theme. The colors on the cover are dark, reflecting the mood of the story and a bit of its mystery. I like that we see the back of a typical girl walking through a forest. The image is a good match for the first half of the novel. 

Book Blurb Score: 7

The blurb enticed me to read the novel, so it did its job. The author presents the story's main conflict in very few words.

I do have a few notes, however:

  • The blurb refers to the protagonist as Alexcy, while in the body of the novel she is introduced as Lexi. I would suggest consistency with her name, and perhaps a bit more about her in the blurb, so readers know who they can expect to root for.
  • I found the line "What does the most desirable boy in college have to do with all this?" a bit hyperbolic, but if the audience is teen girls, it might be perfect.
  • I found this line awkwardly/passively structured: "All she has are a few clues to go by, [using which] she must put together [the puzzle that her life has now become]." Definitely a potential turn-off for readers.
  • In addition, the author may say too much in the final paragraph: "As she unravels her past, she realizes that she had been on a quest to find her dad - the brilliant scientist who disappeared years ago. Her quest had led her to one particular website, where, apparently, all her answers lie. However, she realizes that it was where her troubles had begun too. Where she was deceived by the one person who she had trusted the most." I feel that the blurb would be stronger without revealing so much of the plot.
  • There also isn't really a call to action within the blurb, but the fact that a plane is missing and a girl has no idea what happened to her still intrigued me. I was interested enough to find out more.
Formatting Score: 7

I read the whole novel and didn't find any formatting issues that would have turned me away. (The story is especially strong in the first half of the novel.)

However, there were a few formatting issues that took my score down a little:

  • The author uses block paragraphs as well as indenting. This isn't a big deal for me, but I thought I'd point it out since simply going for indents might make for a cleaner read.
  • The chapter breaks within the body of the novel feel a little unstructured in the first half of the book. They don't seem to be planned to maximize tension. The author simply breaks in the middle of a scene and takes up where she left off at the start of the next chapter. This wasn't a big deal for me (I was interested enough in the story to read on), but the story might be stronger with a more intentional structure -- breaking at the natural end of a scene, and starting a new chapter where a new story question begins. I do like the division between parts one and two. The tension was high at that point, and there is a distinct change in the story's structure between the first and second parts.
  • Occasionally the author slips into all-caps to emphasize the protagonist's thoughts. Italics might have been a better formatting choice: the all-caps suggests the protagonist is yelling her thoughts, and this risks reading as melodramatic. There are also ellipses scattered throughout the novel's dialogue. I feel that this clutters up the read. Pauses in the dialogue can be suggested through beats and an occasional dash. When it becomes too cluttered with ellipses, the read becomes a little draggy.
  • The author speaks parenthetically throughout the novel. At one point, when revealing a bit of astronomical research, she tells the reader (parenthetically) to feel free to skip. I love that hint of meta-fiction within this work. She differentiates between flashbacks and the present by simply writing "flashback" or "present" within parentheses at the top of a chapter. The protagonist's occasional parenthetical asides work very well within the body of the novel, and I want to point that out as a positive. However, she sometimes veers a little too far into what can only be called "text speak." For example, she writes, "A (hold-yourbreath) smilodon?!?!"{The missing hyphen is the author's typo.} While I don't mind the parentheses, the multiple punctuation marks here tread too far into text speak. They become distracting. I would advise the author to keep the relaxed style (it works), but rein in the cluttered punctuation in places. (I am not referring to the passages where characters interact via Whatsapp, which work well.)

The book contains a few too many typos to be overlooked, but not so many they became personally distracting.  I've gathered just a few from the first several chapters as an example:

Typos:

  • “Um.. .any progress on the memory front?” - ellipses split
  • "But I persevere, because, paradoxically speaking, lists help [ ] remember things." - missing a word
  • “Where is everyone else, today?”I ask. - missing a space
  • “Thankyou, Heathcliff,” I say and bite my tongue. - missing a space
  • "So.." - missing a dot in the ellipsis (page 54)
  • "Both Dad and the plane seemed to [have had] vanished off the face of the Earth, one fine day"
  • "I dialled her first thing in the morning." - dialed
  • she keeps getting into spats with our Aishu here - Aisha. This typo is repeated lines later.
  • "I knew it was too soon to trust Jay’s words. I mean how many times have [me] met?" - we
  • “Yes,” I say. She turns to Sid, “She remembers that. Now quit the pathetic stare.” She pokes him on his side playfully. He forces a smile. - should be two paragraphs

All that said, the font size is decent. There was nothing so distracting about the formatting that I was pulled out of the story.

Grammar & Spelling Score: 3

The author makes several spelling and punctuation mistakes throughout the novel. I found these fairly distracting. I captured a few from the first part of the novel and stopped copying them when I realized many are simply the same mistake repeated throughout, such as an incorrect placement of apostrophe on the possessive its.

Spelling issues:

  • it is a privilege to be pampered by one’s Mom and not everyone is that lucky - "mom" is not capitalized in this instance
  • What happened in the last 4 months? - spell out four
  • On second thought[s] - remove the s
  • I am hit by a mind numbing ringing in my ears that is irritating - requires a hyphen
  • with a few advices on one of those crazy discussion forums - the plural of advice is advice
  • I could still [here] the friendly banter going on behind me - hear
  • Jay asked in a strained voice deprived of [it’s] previous amusement - its
  • According to her friends, her house could be reached in less than 2 hours by bus - spell out "two"
  • I had taken not more than 5 steps - spell out "five" (goes for further numerals going forward)
  • Uh-Oh. What about the test? - Don't capitalize "oh"
  • I wrote a letter that I was going over to a relative[']s place - forgot apostrophe
  • thinking along the lines of Scarlett O[']Hara in Gone with the Wind
  • twisting it’s huge neck and looking at me with menacing eyes. - its

Punctuation:

  • But not once does she say, ‘Lexi, go change that.’ Or ‘Lexi, what the hell are you wearing?’ Which suits me fine. - should be double quotes to remain consistent with the rest of the manuscript
  • Same here: Jay’s words of the day before hit me then. ‘Which leaves us with a problem as massive as the airplane itself.’

Tense inconsistencies:

  • Aisha [looks] at the two of us as though we [were] crazy.
  •  “Aisha,” Rhea [says], pulling her, just as we [crossed] the main gate.
  • Sid [shakes] his head, glancing around like he [was] an undercover cop.
  • After that he [turns] casual, inquiring mostly about the feature on the airplane that [was] still running on TV
  • However my phone at present [is] devoid of any apps. It [was] as if my phone [has been] carefully stripped of all its data
  • I waited for her to say something, but she [was] just staring into space. I prodded further, “I seem to have changed a lot since I joined, like you said, so I was wondering if …” Aisha [is] shaking her head even before I am done talking.

Other inconsistencies:

  • My [windows are] open again, I curse in my sleep. I get up [to close it], glancing over at the computer screen that I had left on. - the windows are plural, so the following line should read "to close them" not "it"
  • Then Jay’s familiar [fingers] found mine and I clasped [on to] [it]. - onto them
Plot & Structure Score: 6

I'd say that the story's main question is this: what happened to Lexi, and where is her father? This question is a strong enticement to read on. However, the question is answered about 3/4 into the book, when Lexi meets her father and learns why he stayed in Neulan. The last fourth of the book is a love story between Jay and Lexi not strongly related to the story's main question (beyond the fact that Jay caused Lexi's father to leave), so the final 3/4 of the novel lost its edge for me.

I sense that the novel is intended to be part of a series, so we haven't seen the last of Jay and Neulan, but the story's conclusion doesn't provide readers with any hope that more is to come. We are left thinking that after the entire novel, the protagonist hasn't actually changed any of her circumstances. For me, there isn't a strong pull to read on: no story question lingers at the end of the novel, beyond will Jay come back? I sense that within the novel's conclusion is also an implicit question: is humanity's fate in the hands of Queen Soul? But this isn't explicitly asked. I will say that I still, as a reader, have a strong desire to see Lexi's father freed from Neulan. However, I don't feel that the author emphasizes his role in the story in the final fourth of the book.

I like the foreshadowing early on -- the mention of the Bermuda Triangle and the enormity of space. I LOVE the tension throughout the first 3/4 of the novel: her search for her father. VERY nice. The mystery was very well done. I love the flashback structure as Part Two begins. I completely forgot I was in a flashback, and then the parentheses said "(present)" and I had to reorient myself. I LOVE that sort of structure in a book. That shows the disorientation the protagonist was feeling in the first half of the book. Of course, I had to go back to find out what happened before the flashback, because I'd forgotten. But in the first half of the book, it worked. The flashbacks and present become really jolting by Chapter 29. I could no longer make sense of what "present" meant for setting. For example, on page 296, we're in a flashback and appear to be on earth? But Soul and Ryan are there. On page 298 (same scene) they suggest they are on Neulan. I found this very jolting because Lexi says lines earlier she is in "her room" which I assumed to be her room at the hostel.

A few plot holes & notes:

  • In the early part of the novel, I found myself wondering whether people would really continue thinking of a fallen airplane a year later. I wish people would, but in our fast-paced world, I found it a little unbelievable they'd all pause to discuss the airplane crash (in one scene even embracing and crying) when (very sadly) these things flash across headlines daily. It seems more likely they'd become cynical about it -- numb to it.
  • Varun turned to Rhea. “I am telling you, take this girl’s autograph. Now! She’s the one who’s going to find that missing plane, the IH330.” - For example, here. They would actually remember all the letters of the fallen plane? And then Rhea and the whole gang "go glum" thinking about it? I find that unlikely...
  • "WHERE DID YOU DISAPPEAR MYSTERIOUSLY TO, JUST LIKE THE IH330?" - This is Lexi thinking. Why would she immediately link her father being missing and the exact letters of the plane?
  • Why does the school outlaw going into the forest? Do they know there are prehistoric creatures there? It seems like the authorities would be more involved. Jay seems to be the only one who ever guards the place.
  • The alternative personality of [Michael Schumacher] that usually takes Sid over behind the wheel, one that, undeterred by the Indian roads - I had to look this person up because I don't recognize the name. It completely pulled me out of the story. The allusion might work for people familiar with him, but not every reader would have heard of him, so you risk alienating readers.
  • Sky laughed, as the engine revved to life. “This is very much the present. Year 2017.” - naming the year may date the book pretty quickly.
  • Page 213: Lexi outruns a saber-tooth tiger? A reader may see this as a plot cop-out. Later on page 217, the tiger comes back. She says there's no way she and Sid can outrun it, even though she just outran one. Seems like a plot hole.
  • Why are Sid and Lexi trapped in an end-of-the-earth simulation? Queen Soul tells them that they became safe when they recognized that they were on a dying Earth humanity destroyed. But humans aren't on Neulan and the people of Neulan want to keep it that way. So why would the people of Neulan have created a simulation of a dying Earth that rewarded people for seeing humans were killing Earth? That's a game made for humans, and there are no humans on Neulan.
  • “Your thought signals are decoded, by particles in the air,” Dad explained. - in a sci-fi novel, readers would likely expect a more scientific explanation.
  • "I have developed the device that would only clean their memory [of the past few days]. That would safeguard the anonymity of Neulan. And get these poor people across to where they belong.” - Haven't the passengers been missing for over a year at this point in the novel?
  • At the end, the people of Neulan let Sid go back without punishment or erasing his memory? Why? Their motivation for freeing him is never explained. And only lines after we are told Sid goes free with his memory intact, we are told Sid remembers nothing about Neulan. I have a feeling I'm confused about what is present and what is flashback. Differentiating the two more clearly would smooth out some plot questions.
  • The people on Neulan (like Queen Soul) claim that the person they test the memory eraser on should be young, but aren't all people on Neulan young because of the youth serum? To that point, why has Lexi's father aged? Wouldn't it be to the nebefit of the people of Neulan to keep him young?
  • At the end of the story, Sky seems to be setting up Lexi as a moral heroine: “No Lexi,” Sky replied, “Not with people like you around.” She gave my hand a squeeze before leaving the room. - I don't think the novel really supports this portrait of Lexi. To me Lexi seems a little limp and wishy-washy (I will do the mission, I will not do the mission, I love Jay, I hate Jay). So the melodrama here ("not with people like you around") seems unwarranted.
  • The final scene about Rhea lost me. We last saw Rhea about 150 pages earlier in the first part of the novel. All I remembered about her was that she is Ryan's twin and she got mad at Lexi for some reason earlier in the book: "I slumped on the ground near her, my hands around my knees. Aisha told me later that what Rhea felt terrible about was that even when he knew she was hurt he never said anything in defense, not even an apologetic smile was offered. He had just left, without so much as a word. Behind Soul." - Who is "he" in this passage? Ryan? There's no clarity here to remind the reader what happened nearly half the novel ago to a fairly minor character.
  • As the novel ends: "As for me, I was released with my memory intact. It was her way of getting back at me." - The previous scene shows Lexi's memory being erased? Is that another flashback? Extremely confusing.
  • Why does the dad have Lexi at his house on Neulan? What would be his motivation for inviting her over? This is never explained.
  • Why is Lexi able to regain her memories when her dad can't? - Jay calls it the "exotic matter of the wormhole." A reader expecting sci-fi might hope for a more scientific explanation.
  • Why is the dad, who is apparently a scientist working on memory experimentation, unable to come up with the idea to implant new memories into the airline passengers? It seems contrived that the protagonist comes up with what a whole team on Neulan couldn't.
  • I was thinking, ‘How long has she been watching over us?’ - This passage made me pause. Aren't Lexi's thoughts readable to everyone while she wears the lenses? It seems like everything she thinks on Neulan would appear in blue writing over her head for the world to see.
  • The dream on page 307 felt tricky. I thought that was a real scene (the climax of the novel, actually) and kind of liked it, so when it turned out to be "just a dream," it was a let-down. In contrast to the dream, the real climax ended up feeling anticlimactic. I'm not sure it would have if I hadn't been teased by a stronger climax.

All of the above said, the first 3/4 of the book were REALLY good. The tension was strong and I kept reading, despite typos and some convoluted language construction, to find out the answer to the main story question (which I propose above.) I love the way the author skips around at first, but I missed some of the linear storyline as the novel progressed. By the end, I was frankly confused by all the leaping about. I think that my confusion would have been alleviated by a little more input from the author, to orient the reader within time and place in each scene. Also, if the author had kept the secret longer, the tension would have remained taut. Once I found out where the dad was, I lost a little of my interest. Then when I found out why he'd stayed on Neulan (memory loss) I lost more interest, because my story question was basically answered. When Jay started confessing to erasing the dad's memory in the story's final chapters, I'd already guessed he was the one who destroyed the dad's memory, so I wasn't nearly as hooked. The ending fell a little flat for me. It felt anticlimactic. I think the main issue is the story climaxed too soon. But also, there is no real cliffhanger to inspire readers to read on. The story just stops, with nothing really resolved beyond the initial story tension.

Character Development Score: 5

The author has a great mix of characters here. She does really well with the friends. Their banter was realistic and fun to read. I didn't personally find the protagonist all that interesting (she's a bit limp and passive for my taste, even when she's being active within the text), but I thought the cast of characters carried the story decently, and I didn't dislike Lexi. My favorite was probably Sid. He's nice and genuine throughout, so I trusted him throughout.

I love that the author reveals Lexi's backstory through notes. Especially at the beginning of the story, the mystery as she sorts through clues trying to figure out where she is kept me reading. I'm not sure I really bought her reaction to her loss of memory as the novel opens: she and her friends almost seem to shrug it off as one of life's oddities. I would be extremely stunned to wake up one day with no memories. However, I was interested enough in the mystery as the book began that I didn't mind much that the protagonist seemed a tad passive.

I didn't really have an impression of what Lexi looked like (where she was from, even) until page 75, when a physical description of her is finally offered. Since she is the protagonist, this could be a little too much of a delay. However, I didn't really mind in this case, because the novel opens with her not really remembering anything. As the novel goes forward, though, and she recovers her memories, a little more insight on the protagonist would strengthen the novel. We see everything through her perspective, so we never really see her, beyond the fact that she thinks she is unattractive, and everyone around her seems to think she's attractive. I never get a visual of her face, beyond a misty impression of no make-up and curly hair.

As for her character arc, I didn't see much change in Lexi at all. She begins the novel "morose" (her own word), quiet, a little rebellious, and by her own assessment, detached. At the end of the novel, she "tells" us that she now knows how to cry. That seems to be the only thing that actually changes about her, and we don't get to see it. I feel that this is a miss: the author doesn't show us Lexi's growth. She is more like the novel's filter: we experience the mystery through her (and that's a good thing) but don't see it really affect her beyond the fact that she misses her dad (which I thought was written well) and she likes Jay (which felt a little contrived to me, like insta-love).

I feel that the lack of growth in the protagonist is palpable in the second half of the book. By the end of the novel, I felt fairly frustrated by her, because she was constantly giving up on her mission, or her love for Jay, or her father, or her mother (determining to forget it all and go forward in life alone) -- only to decide within a matter of seconds (over and over) to go fight and win after all. Her teeter-totter approach felt contrived to me. For example, near the end of the novel she has lost all hope and tells herself she is completely done with the mission (about saving the people on the airplane who are lost in Neulan), and then she sees a headline that the search for the plane has ended on Earth, and she puts herself back in the mission without really thinking through her motivation. I didn't see anything (beyond a single headline she glimpsed confirming the search for the plane had ended) that would explain her sudden change of heart.

I want to quickly point out an inconsistency in Lexi's character as well. Throughout the novel, she reacts in a feminist way to her circumstances. Though she relies on Jay and Sid, she prefers to work alone. When someone makes a misogynistic remark, she is quick to either think or speak a feminist retort. But at one point, she is talking to Jay about a Nicholas Sparks novel and says, “I thought so. It's not a guy book at all, being a bit on the cheesy side.” I let out a chuckle. “The storyline, though, is beautiful. It’s a love story, love-that-crosses-all-barriers-kind.” Here she suggests that "cheesy" books are the domain of females, while men would prefer something more substantial. This is inconsistent with the feminist theme throughout. I'd say this is true of Lexi's propensity for fainting from hunger and being "fed" by Jay as well. It turns her into a bit of a helpless daisy. This is where I find it difficult to see her as a strong, active character. She goes through the motions for the plot, but at her core she seems passive throughout.

Despite all this, Lexi can carry the novel, because she loves her father, and her main story motivation is to get back to her father. Any reader can identify with that sort of love. The issue, I think, is that the author becomes distracted by the connection between Lexi and her father to focus on the Jay/Lexi love story. Once the quest for her father takes second string, Lexi's emotional journey falls out of line with the original story question (that question being, where is Lexi's father?) Her quest for her father becomes a sort of side story in a tale more about Jay than anyone.

Other characters:

I found the side characters a little faceless. Ryan and Sid are blank faces for me and a little interchangeable. Neither is really given a distinct description. Likewise Rhea and Aisha. Varun is funny but also blank physically. Out of all of them, I'd say Sid seemed the most real, but I never got a physical description of him. Jay has a stubbly beard, curls, and is supposed to be attractive. I didn't see much of anything when I tried to picture him because he's never really described. Why he falls for Lexi is never really explained. I do like his backstory. I found myself doubting his devotion to Lexi, especially when she dreams he is evil, and Ryan/Carbon are the good guys. I'll also note that all of the friends talk the same. This adds to the feeling that they are a little interchangeable.

I could picture Queen Soul: I think she was very well written. I like her strange agenda in the novel: she is both evil and interested in saving humanity. I would have liked to know why she is this way: the author leaves this thread unaddressed.

All of the above said, I did like the characters. I especially liked the banter between the friends throughout the first half of the book. Their humor lightens the tension. I just think their stories would be a lot stronger if they had a little more dimension, and the author took a little time to make them all more distinct from one another, in speech and looks.

Originality Score: 7

Neulan: The Beginning has a really unique premise. I will say that the presence of a dangerous forest beside the school, and the nosy teenagers exploring the forbidden woods, reminded me of Harry Potter. And when they arrive for the first time in Neulan, I was reminded a bit of the kids' first arrival in Narnia in the C.S. Lewis books. The plotline about inducing memories in the airline passengers reminded me of an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where memories are implanted into the crew to throw them off-track of an alien society. None of this was really a big deal though.

The idea of a parallel "twin" universe is pretty original. I can't say I found the love triangle or the love story with Jay particularly original, but there were enough other new elements in the story to keep me guessing.

Pacing Score: 8

The pacing in the first half of the book was PERFECT. The tension was palpable, and the author never lingered on blocks of exposition or flashbacks. As Lexi tries to piece together her life, she banters with her friends and goes to school like any normal girl. I was hooked throughout the first half because I could FEEL the tension in the background. I wanted to see it all come together and was happy to hang out with her friends as she tried to make sense of things. I found her friends pretty funny in the first half of the book. The mystery of Jay also pulled me into the story. What worked was what wasn't said in the first half of the book: I read on to find out what the author wasn't telling me. I really like the way she unfolded the story in the first half: notes, bits of half-written letters. It felt like sleuthing. The passages about global warming (while I personally agreed with them) got a little preachy.

When Part Two begins, the tension is less about the mystery, and more about the pathos of finding Lexi's father. I cared about that a lot, so I was still hooked. I didn't personally care that much about the love story with Jay, but I was interested in his back story and how it affected Lexi.

At about the 3/4 mark, the pacing went a little wild. The long flashback at the beginning of the second part works REALLY well. I was startled when the flashback ended, and we were back in the present. But after that, the author starts weaving so quickly between flashbacks and the present that I completely lost where I was in the story. This became really frustrating. Sometimes I'd think we were on Earth, when in fact we were in Neulan. The author also references a story with Rhea from the first half of the novel that was so quickly mentioned I long since forgot about it by the time it was referenced again (Rhea becomes angry at Lexi, but I have no memory of why, and the author doesn't offer readers a reminder to reorient them within the scene when it's mentioned again nearly half the book later.)

So I'd say the pacing in the first half of the book was PERFECT. By the second half it's all happening so fast it risks disorienting readers so much they give up on the book.

The setting isn't clear until well into the novel. The author begins the book quoting a letter written to a "Mr. President." As a typical American, I naturally assumed this meant we were in America. :) American readers would likely do the same. There is no real description of anything physical within the novel for several chapters. A forest is mentioned. A college. River's End Hospital. In Chapter Five, a character is described as wearing clothing familiar to India -- which is the first time it occurred to me to wonder if we were in America. Then we find out Lexi is from Dublin. Finally on page 53 we learn her home country is India, her mother lives in Dublin, and she is attending school in India.

I would normally advise making the setting more clear from the start, but in this case I liked the slow unveil. It added to the mystery.

Use of Language Score: 3

I had to take off several points on use of language because of the way the author has the characters speak. These are supposed to be kids in a college; she has them speak very formally sometimes. Then at other times, she has them use slang that was impenetrable to me when I read.

A few examples:

  • “That may be an insult, but I shall take it as a compliment,” I say  (That's Lexi.) “Your question is well put. Unfortunately, it is pointless because I cannot tell you anything. It is against our policy.” (That's Jay speaking.)
  • At other times, the dialogue is extremely casual. Such as "Inside me I go Whew!" (Lexi.)
  • This is Sid talking -- a freshman in college: "Let’s hope that they do find it, for the sake of the passengers’ families, at least. Imagine their condition of uncertainty!” - This is extremely stiff.
  • "Let us not overwhelm Lexi." - Sid again. Doesn't sound like an authentic teenager.
  • “By the way, what were you doing there?” Jay [asked in a strained voice deprived of it’s previous amusement] - stiffly phrased - doesn't match the tempo of the novel.
  • Aisha said quietly, “This is my first experience of a dangerous situation." - Again, very stiffly said for a college kid.
  • “That has the possibility of at least one of them tagging along, in which case we would be forced to postpone.” - Sid speaking here. Very stiff.
  • I will beg of him till he agrees to come home with me, by melting his steel resolve that had kept him away all these years. - a little stiff and melodramatic.
  • PJ! I smiled in spite of myself. Maybe I was wrong, but I had a feeling that it was his way of apologizing to me too, without sounding too obvious. - I don't understand what the PJ! means?
  • “Wait a minute,” Sid said, an infectious smile slowly spreading across his face, “Are you J?” - I saw "J" sprinkled off and on throughout the text. I never had a clue what it meant and found myself annoyed when it was used because I would misunderstand whole conversations. Finally on page 256, based on the context of the conversation, I figured out "J" means "jealous." I would strongly recommend actually saying "jealous" instead of "J." I found the abbreviation odd, and it alienated me completely from whatever was happening in the scenes where it was used.

In addition, the way the author constructs sentences sometimes pulled me out of the story:

  • "Two of the [prominent questions] that I keep [querying myself,] again and again, are" - oddly phrased.
  • "I lie still, my ears perked up." - like an animal?
  • Jay slowed down, looking like he was cocking his ears up. - Again, very odd image. Makes me think of a dog, not a human.
  • [Bored much], I jump to the first page - oddly phrased
  • I write because [I admire the sound advices you give] on matters of the heart. - oddly phrased
  •  “You know Rhea. She [reaches] only after the first hour. - reaches? Possibly "she never shows until after the first hour"
  • Ryan looked as if he was content being dominated over - cut "over"
  • [Famished much], we ordered quite a lot and ended up with plenty of leftovers. - oddly phrased
  • Perhaps my brain was busy trying to deal with the weird tingling sensation in my body [and a wild pounding heart, due to which it forgot to send signals to struggle against my captivity]. - This is so oddly phrased I had to read over it a couple times. That definitely broke the tension in the scene.
  • He [detailed out to me] what we were going to do. - he laid out what we were going to do?
  • He turned around to leave and said, with his back to me, in a voice that made [you] sit up and take notice, as if each word he uttered mattered... - "you" pulls the reader out of the story. We're in Lexi's viewpoint. She'd be thinking about it making her sit up and take notice.
  • On page 110 Jay and Lexi are discussing surnames. Lexi says her name is Lexi J -- the J is her surname. Jay says he thought her dad's name was Sam. I found this passage confusing. Her dad's surname is Oze (I thought?), so what are they talking about? Sam is her dad's given name? Later (p. 150), the professor notes that she signs her paper Alexcy Sam, so possibly Sam is the surname in India? This will likely confuse American readers without some explanation.
  • A moment later, he leaves my hands, exposing his red eyes, smiling in a crazy way. - The story has become so convoluted by this scene, I thought Jay had morphed into a monster here. It took me a second to realize the red eyes were just more evidence he was crying. Red eyes and a crazy smile threw me for a loop. :)

Occasionally she states the obvious within the prose:

  • “Why not?” I countered, folding my hands, actually [in an attempt to avoid answering]. - This would be stronger without the explanation that she's attempting to avoid answering (show don't tell).
  • Another example: Haven’t you heard - All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players.” Aisha spread out her hands, as she quoted Shakespeare’s famous line. - Why explain that she's quoting Shakespeare's "famous line"? Either it is famous, or it isn't...
  • Another example: “No, I do not,” I replied playfully, “I actually like guys with shades of grey.” It was an attempt at light hearted comedy in order to steer the conversation away from any serious talk. - The explanatory line is unneeded.

The above was enough to pull me out of the story several times.

Overall Readability Score: 6

I really enjoyed the first 3/4 of this book. The tension was extremely high, and I liked the mystery. Based on the typos, misspellings, convoluted phrases, and confusing passages near the end, I would not recommend this book to a friend. I can't say I consider the story exceptional having read it in full, but I thought the first 3/4 was extremely imaginative and that the pace in the first half was extremely well done.

Based on the several grammar inconsistencies and misspellings throughout, as well as the extremely stiff speech of the young adult characters, I do not believe this book would enhance the brand on Storyteller Alley. If the book went through revisions to repair much of what I outline above, I feel that it could stand a very good chance. The story is certainly imaginative. I think with some revision, this could turn into a strong tale.

This book received a critic's score of 61 out of 100 possible points.

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