Tuesday, 14 April 2015

'Supervision' by Alison Stine

First off I need to say a big thank you to HarperVoyager UK for accepting my request to view this book on NetGalley, and to NetGalley for the service that they provide.

*This review will contain spoilers!* 

If I had to choose one word to describe how I feel about 'Supervision', it would definitely be confused.
In 'Supervision' we follow Esmé, a teenage girl who has been kicked out of her private school in New York. Exasperated with her behaviour, her sister sends her off to Wellstone, a small town in the countryside, to live with her grandmother, but when Esmé gets to Wellstone her life goes from bad to worse. Why? Because she's now invisible. Oh, and she's surrounded by ghosts. 
I really liked the premise of this book, so I was hoping I was going to love it, but something vital was lost in translation leaving me with unanswered questions occurring constantly throughout my reading of this book. Written like a bad 'American Horror Story' fan-fiction, ghosts were popping up all over the place, written into and out of the story without much rhyme or reason despite the insistence from the ghosts that if there were more of them around they would know about it... They quite obviously didn't, even if they had been hanging around for over 100 years. 
Too much of this book relies on coincidences, meaning you constantly feel cheated at every twist and turn: children have been going missing regularly for years, but no-one notices until Esmé comes along and points out the pattern, a tin can accidentally gets knocked off of a table, landing on a hollow piece of flooring and causing the discovery of the trapdoor they'd been searching for, a ghost randomly appears and points you in the right direction. All of these things mean that the characters don't need to work for any of their discoveries, they just easily get pushed along to the right conclusions to keep the story moving, but it makes it a very one-dimensional novel. Even the big climax at the end is solved by someone else, with the answer to all of their problems being given to Esmé in a vision by the ghost of her mother, but it coincidentally happens to work out - Esmé isn't a hero, she's just a girl being told what to do by extraneous forces. 
As well as the plot being one-dimensional, all of the characters are too. Well, all apart from one: Clara, the ghost of a thirteen year old girl who died in a fire that she started. Clara's personality verges on bipolar at points, switching from being really nice to Esmé to being the mean girl spreading rumours about her, but this makes her all the more realistic. Thirteen year old girls often aren't the nicest, because they can be immature and childish, so being stuck at that age for a century would cause you to have a few mood swings. But other than Clara, the rest of the characters really don't have all that much going on for them. Mr Black is a drunk, Martha is a maid, Tom is the cute boy next door, Esmé is the main character searching for answers. Oh, and there's the Builder, who - you guessed it - builds. That's all you really need to know about any of the characters, because throughout the entire story they don't really develop or change too much. 
Everything just seems to convenient for this to be a good book. The Firecracker - Esmé's sister - can see Esmé when she places her on the train to Wellstone, but Esmé turns invisible at some point between leaving New York and arriving at her new home. This is explained away later on, apparently as a side effect of the family gift that allows them to interact with ghosts, but Esmé then has the revelation that she knew a ghost at her previous school. Seeing as everything revolves around Esmé hitting her head while exploring in an out of bounds subway tunnel at the beginning of the book, and they seem to assume that that was when her talent came into effect, how could she see the previous ghost? And why didn't she turn invisible straight away? None of these things are answered, meaning that, at least for the hows and whys, this book doesn't really answer any questions. 
As well as this, there are multiple points throughout the book where things start to get explained, but we're told that we will get the explanations later, just for it to never happen. An example of this is Martha, the ghost of the maid, and the question around how she died. We know that she killed herself from a very early point in the novel, and every time she starts to dive into the story she stops herself and pronounces that she will tell Esmé later, but that's something that never comes. I could understand it if it had been touched upon and she'd stated overtly that it was something that she could never go into, but the fact that she promises to relate the story, and then doesn't, definitely means that there's a chunk missing from this book.
The one thing I was actually pleased with was the ending. The majority of the individual character plots gets wrapped up extremely quickly, but it was good that it wasn't dragged out any further because I don't think I would have been able to cope. The fact that Esmé managed to appease Tom's spirit, despite the fact that she had burgeoning feelings for him, was also a relief - too many times in YA novels the spirit decides to hang around to spend time with their living and breathing girlfriend, which always leaves me feeling irritated at the conclusion.
I know I was reading an advanced copy of this book, but in all honesty this feels like a first draft. As well as having a ridiculously high amount of spelling and grammar mistakes throughout (which doesn't effect my rating of the novel directly)  the story just doesn't seem anywhere near as fleshed out or completed as it should be - there are too many unanswered questions left for it to be a satisfying read. Yes, it has a lot of promise - the idea of all of the family experiencing the ghosts in different ways, ranging from seeing colours and shapes to smelling their scents, is a brilliant one, as is the idea that ghosts can only feel pain if they return to the scene of their death. If this had been carried out well it would have been a roaring success, and it would have been one of the most intriguing and unique books I'd read all year. But that's not the way this story goes, and I'm left feeling extremely disappointed, unfulfilled, and beyond all - confused. 

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