Arcadia’s life is pretty much like everyone else’s: School, Mom and Dad (who are separating), a twin sister whose nothing like her, and a brother who hides out in his basement bedroom wanting nothing to do with any of them. Life’s not exactly boring if you can see the potential for excitement that a Friday night trip to the Library holds in store. Or you can get your kicks from a few stolen moments spying on the weird neighbor next door with a pair of binoculars.
But everything is about to change when Arcadia’s sister Avalon (who everyone calls Lony) asks Arcadia (Cady) to go out with her and her popular friends to the ‘Spanish Mines’. It’s the perfect place along the Railroad tracks for a bonfire and a keg, all darkness and cliffs overlooking the Mississippi River.
Disaster soon strikes though and the next thing Cady sees is the unfamiliar lights and colors of a hospital room. She’s sure when she awakes that she’s lost her legs; she experienced it, saw it, felt every bit of the accident that put her there. Except nothing happened to her. It all happened to her twin sister just the way Cady saw it.
Twins are said to have a special bond between them that’s unequaled in its intensity. Trying to put her life back together after losing her sister/best friend is hard enough. Add to her difficulties now the new and painful ability to feel everything that everyone else is feeling. History class with a room full of hormone raging teens is soul tearing. There seems to be no answer to her problem until a chance meeting with that odd neighbor she likes to spy on, shows her that her ‘problem’ is just the beginning of a great gift that is opening within her.
Jesi Lea Ryan’s character of Cady is a ‘live and let live’ kind of girl, taking us through her day to day life, introducing us to the foibles of her family and friends with an honesty that is quietly amusing. Like the character of Cady herself, Ms Ryan’s writing style manages its humor with out calling attention to itself, without mugging for the reader so to speak. Her ear for the English language is a refined one and her writing is confident and surefooted. Her skill with the written word has enabled her to get a 350 page story into a 179 page book; her use of adjectives is spare. This is no small feat for any writer, and it is a feat accomplished with a skill that reminds one of Suzanne Collin’s like accomplishment in the Hunger Games Series.
Cady’s mundane world in the beginning, a necessary set up for the change to come, is handled artfully. Here cell phones don’t ring, they enter the readers awareness as a song by Florence+The Machine playing from the depths of Cady’s backpack. And Cady’s awareness of her gift comes to us as dim pulses of light making their way to the dark surface of the character’s awareness, until pulse after pulse becomes a steadier light of comprehension for her. Nothing in this book is rushed and yet it remains engaging.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t a few trip-ups along the way however. Blemishing the otherwise clear complexion of Ms Ryan’s writing is the occasional pock of exposition, especially whenever a malady must be explained. Here, Ms Ryan’s soft caress of language is exchanged for the slap of scientific jargon as her characters explain away the problem at hand.
The potentially interesting character of Jinx, her telepathic neighbor to whom the job in the book it is to explain Cady’s new gifts to her, is handled clumsily, the descriptions of Cady’s troubles coming to us as if they were read directly from the sources of Ms Ryan’s research into paranormal phenomena. The result is the flame of a great character cut off at the wick.
Her characters are nicely drawn and the object of her evolving love named Bryan is enjoyable at first, until we come to discover that within his warm chest beats the heart of a middle aged Phil Donahue. He’s always solicitous of her well being, asking if she’s alright every time Cady wrinkles her brow.
His tendency to hover over this otherwise pretty self sufficient girl becomes a bit of a buzz kill. When he calls on the phone toward the end, one can find one’s self cringing at the caller ID and we wonder why she doesn’t cringe too.
And yet, given the power of Ms Ryan’s storytelling, everything said in the last three paragraphs are small blemishes at most. Her writing is lulling and delicious. The ending is a little odd and unexpected, perhaps the drop off point for the beginning of the next book. But you will recognize just how powerful her writing is when you find yourself hurled over the edge into the ‘Acknowledgements’ not even knowing the story has come to an end for now.
Yaroos gives Arcadia’s Gift by Jesi Lea Ryan 4 Stars out of 5. We recommend you get to know this writer now. One day it will be fun to look back and say “you knew her when”.