Thursday, 18 August 2016

'The Form of Things Unknown' by Robin Bridges

*This review will contain spoilers!*

First things first, I need to say a huge thank you to Kensington Books, for accepting my request to view this title on NetGalley, and to NetGalley for the service that they provide. 

'My grandmother is listening to the Beatles again. Loudly.' 
 ...There's not really much to say about this first sentence.

Natalie Roman's life has been flipped and turned upside down. Her ex-boyfriend Caleb convinced her to try ecstasy, and instead of being a fun night out she ended up having a mental breakdown. After a brief stay at Winter Oaks, an adolescent psychiatric facility, she's now having to adjust to living in a new town: her grandmother suffers from schizophrenia, so her family move in to care for her.
At least that means Caleb's out of the picture.
Natalie doesn't particularly have anything she wants to do with her summer, she's just grateful for the freedom. Her brother David has different ideas: the boy he has a crush on is participating in the local summer theatre project, and he drags Natalie along for moral support. She thinks she'll get a chance to work on her costume design, but ends up landing the role of fairy queen Titania in the production of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'.
Also taking part in the play is Lucas, a fellow patient of Winter Oaks. Natalie is terrified in case he mentions where they met, because she's making friends and she doesn't want them to know about the problems she's dealing with. But when she keeps taking risks with her medication and she becomes convinced there's a ghost in the theatre, is it her schizophrenia or are there darker forces at work?
And why exactly does she keep feeling sparks when she's with Lucas?

I wasn't too impressed with the companion novel, 'Dreaming of Antigone', which deals with Andria and Alex's story. It tried to deal with too many things at once and ended up feeling rushed and incomplete.
If anything, the opposite is the problem with 'The Form of Things Unknown'. It's very slow. It's only a short book, and judging by the length I should have read it very quickly... I just couldn't. It was like crawling through quicksand.
I couldn't connect with the story. It was flat. The bits of ghostly interference aren't scary, so all of the characters are freaking out and I didn't really understand why... There were just some creaking noises and giggles. It didn't make sense to me. It might have been better if Robin had taken the time to build up some more description, but because it dived straight in there was no chance for the adrenaline to build.
The other problem is that the romance is cliched. Mental health patients fall in love with each other despite everyone warning them away from the craziness. If I've read it once, I've read it a million times. I was impressed with Natalie and Lucas's no-fuss approach to sex - it's one of the first times I've read that in YA. He invites her to his house, they grab a condom and they're going for it: it's very realistic, because you don't always need to have been together for a long time to have a physical relationship, particularly if neither of you are virgins going in. (Not literally! ...well, literally).
However, I loved the fact that schizophrenia was being represented. Particularly schizophrenia as something genetic and inheritable. I've read a lot of books dealing with mental health, but the majority of them seem to have the sufferer as the only person in the family struggling with it. I didn't really appreciate Natalie's reaction to her grandmother: there are multiple moments when she bemoans the fact that her grandmother ruins everything, and you think she'd be a little more sympathetic, dealing with it herself! It shows the impact of mental health on a family, though: Natalie is struggling because of her genetic link to her grandma, but there's also the strain on her parent's relationship. Her dad hides himself in work while her mother stays at home as a full time carer.
I also really appreciated the fact that Natalie has to deal with side effects of her medication. She goes out in the sun with her friends for too long despite the photo-sensitivity warning on her medication, and she ends up passing out and almost getting heat stroke. Seeing side effects dealt with in a candid way is refreshing - it doesn't glamorize mental health issues, or make them seem like something to aspire towards.

I'm assuming there are going to be more companion novels to this series, particularly now more cast members have been introduced. The romance between Raine and Peter, Starla's search for fame - there's plenty of opportunity for more stories. It would be interesting to finish with a book focusing on Trista: both Andria and Natalie have had their stories told, so it would round off the tales of the original trio.
Either way, I think I'm going to follow Robin Bridges writing. She has a lot of potential, particularly because she's unafraid to deal with tougher subjects, it's just the stories she's choosing to tell at the moment that aren't the most absorbing.

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