Review: Bronze by B. B. Shepherd

Bronze Book Cover Bronze
B. B. Shepherd

Allison Anderson knows she's a little different, but it hadn't bothered her too much-until now. Moving away from everything she's ever known to a new house, new neighborhood, and new school is bad enough, but it's her first year of high school too, making it even more intimidating. She's more aware of her social and physical limitations than ever before. And then there are the new people she meets: the tough-looking girl in her home room; the cute but dangerous-looking boy she first saw before school even started; the quiet, older girl who keeps to herself; the sullen-looking, seemingly isolated junior that doesn't seem to trust or like her at all. Can she trust them? While the peaceful situation of her new home only amplifies the sound of her own doubts, she begins to learn that things are not always what they seem, and her world is turned upside-down by these new friends, two-legged and otherwise. Life soon becomes more complicated, and much more interesting!

Review:

(Actual rating: 2.5 stars)

Bronze has left me a little befuddled. It’s a peculiar book on many fronts, and for close to two years I’ve been putting off writing a review of it. It’s taken me all this time to try to get my thoughts together, and even now I find myself at something of a loss as to how to explain what I feel about this book.

Looking back, I realize that Bronze was probably not a good fit for me. Even though Young Adult fiction is my genre of choice, Bronze strikes me as being particularly young. If most of the fiction I enjoy is Splash Mountain, then Bronze is Lazy River, pleasant but not particularly exciting. Rather than encountering thrills and adventures, you merely drift calmly along, maybe bumping into someone interesting now and then but mostly just floating peacefully.

This wasn’t what I expected, and I think it has something to do with the way Bronze has been marketed. There’s a quote that almost always accompanies information about this novel: “We all make assumptions every day. Some more important than others. Some more damaging than others. And things, very often, are not at all what they seem.” This quote led me to believe that Bronze might be about the danger of making hasty judgments, or about how nasty rumors or false accusations can ruin one’s reputation. I couldn’t have been further off.

Bronze is a gentle, languidly paced story about a 14-year-old named Allison who makes new friends, develops her first crush, and discovers a love for horses. There is very little conflict, and what conflict there is tends to be pretty mild and based around questions such as, “Why is the guy I like too busy to hang out with me?” and “How can I convince my dad to let me have my own horse?” Despite the author’s statement that assumptions figure strongly in the story, I didn’t see any evidence of this. Try as I might, the only assumption from the book that I can think of is Allison’s dad’s belief that every single boy who spends time with his daughter has dishonorable intentions.

Another reason I feel the book’s marketing is off base is because of the frequent disclaimer I’ve seen about the age of Bronze’s intended audience. This disclaimer states that The Glister Journals series, of which Bronze is the first book, is most suitable for readers age 15 and up due to mature themes. This baffles me, as I can’t imagine what mature themes this disclaimer is referring to.

Allison lives a sheltered life with her overprotective parents, and as a result there is little in the book that could be considered inappropriate. With the exception of the very rare use of “hell” or “damn,” there’s no foul language. Nor is there any underage drinking, drug use, crazy parties, or hanky-panky of any kind – there isn’t even any hand holding. The most rebellious thing a character does is ride a motorcycle on country roads without a license, which hardly justifies a mature rating.

Despite being confused by the marketing and put off by Allison’s youngness, I was strangely incapable of putting Bronze down. This is surprising, as Shepherd’s novel isn’t a fast-paced book by any means. The action tends to be pretty low-key, focusing mostly on horseback rides and group hangouts, and much of the story is introspective. Regardless, I determinedly kept reading, and this was due entirely to the characters.

As mentioned in the synopsis, Allison meets some memorable people when she starts high school at her new home in southern California. Chief among them are Dave and Chris Caldera, the two most sought-after guys in school. They are popular, athletic, confident, and capable – basically, the complete opposite of Allison. Given this information, you might expect the Calderas to be arrogant and snobby, but this is far from the case. The brothers turn out to be extremely generous and caring, and Dave, at least, goes out of his way to make Allison feel included in his and Chris’ group of friends.

The Calderas are the type of people to whom others naturally gravitate. Their lunch table is always the center of activity, and hundreds of people congregate at their family’s sprawling horse and cattle ranch each year for rodeos and picnics. Allison is quickly enthralled by the family, particularly Dave, on whom she develops an enormous crush.

As Allison spends more time with the Calderas and their posse, she become more curious about what makes them tick. Why does everyone avoid mention of Dave and Chris’ mother? Are the guys’ daredevil tendencies – they’re crazy about dirt bikes, skateboards, horses, snowmobiles, and just about anything else you can ride – just boys being boys, or is there a deeper reason for their recklessness? Does Dave consider Allison just a friend, or could a different sort of relationship evolve? Why does Chris, who is usually so aloof and withdrawn, occasionally show flashes of great depth and inner turmoil?

There are other “mysteries” in Bronze as well, such as why Allison’s sweet friend Melanie is so secretive and why Allison’s father is so antagonistic toward the idea of Allison spending time around horses. You get the feeling that there is a lot more going on in Bronze than meets the eye, and by the end I was dying to figure out what was hiding beneath the surface.

Unfortunately, only a couple of the above questions are actually answered by the conclusion of the book. This left me feeling a little cheated; I was annoyed to find that after reading what seemed like a thousand pages of often slow-moving text, I still didn’t get to learn the answers to all of my questions.

I suppose that’s wise on Shepherd’s part, though. The fact that I don’t have the answers for which I was so desperate means that I’ll be reading the next book in the series, no matter how frustrated I occasionally was by Bronze. I’m too invested in the characters and their secrets to walk away from The Glister Journals series now, and I eagerly await the next book’s release. I just hope I don’t have to wade through too many more pages before Shepherd finally introduces something juicy.

Review: The Fairest Beauty by Melanie Dickerson

The Fairest Beauty Book Cover The Fairest Beauty
Melanie Dickerson

Sophie desperately wants to get away from her stepmother’s jealousy and believes escape is her only chance to be happy. Then a young man named Gabe arrives from Hagenheim Castle, claiming she is betrothed to his older brother, and everything twists upside down. This could be Sophie’s one chance at freedom – but can she trust another person to keep her safe?

Gabe defied his parents, Rose and Wilhelm, by going to find Sophie, and now he believes they had a right to worry: the girl’s inner and outer beauty has enchanted him. Though romance is impossible – she is his brother’s future wife, and Gabe himself is betrothed to someone else – he promises himself he will see the mission through, no matter what.

When the pair flee to the Cottage of the Seven, they find help – but also find their feelings for each other have grown. Now both must not only protect each other from the dangers around them – they must also protect their hearts.

Review:

I’m usually a huge fan of fairy tale retellings, but this version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves left me underwhelmed. The characters lack depth and realism, and the entire tale is a little too bland for my taste.

The most surprising thing about The Fairest Beauty is that although it’s certainly recognizable as a Snow White story, many of the elements of the original tale are conspicuously absent. Magic has no presence at all in Dickerson’s story, meaning there’s no magic mirror, no enchanted kiss, etc.

Instead, Dickerson seems to have replaced all fairy tale elements with a hearty helping of religion. There’s a lot of prayer, Scripture reading, and holy contemplation. The protagonist, Sophie, treasures a scrap of her family’s Bible as her most prized possession, and her idea of fun is reciting parables from the New Testament.

Sophie is the main reason I wasn’t wild about The Fairest Beauty. She’s a lovely girl, inside and out, but her constant sweetness gets to be kind of grating after a while. No matter what the situation, Sophie responds with kindness and aplomb. Even when her stepmother regularly throws her in the dungeon, withholds food, and heaps chores upon her, Sophie bears all of the humiliation and injustice heaped upon her with patience and grace. It’s just too much – a little sweetness is good, but a lot will give you a stomach ache. And cavities.

Sophie does have some redeeming qualities. She can occasionally be feisty, and she has no problem taking care of herself. It also helps that she’s just as susceptible to a cute and dashing hero as the rest of us, even if she does resist temptation better than I might.

Said cute and dashing hero, Gabe, didn’t completely wow me at first, but he eventually grew on me. He initially comes across as immature and dimwitted, but he does grow up over the course of the story.

I’m always happy to have another fairy tale retelling under my belt, but I don’t see myself rereading The Fairest Beauty. I need more entertaining, less squeaky-clean.