BOOK REVIEW: Supernaturally by Kiersten White

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt
Kiersten White, a Carlsbad-based author, has done the seemingly impossible: She has created a young adult fantasy-romance series to rival Stephanie Meyer's Twilight — minus the dogma and with a little more appreciation for her female protagonist’s capabilities.

In White’s series, launched in 2010 with Paranormalcy and continued in July with Supernaturally, 16-year-old Evie works for a covert paranormal containment agency, subduing and tagging the multitude of supernatural beasties that walk the earth, unbeknownst to most vulnerable humans. Evie’s weapon of choice, a Taser, is, of course, sooo age appropriate: pink and bejeweled with rhinestones.

Paranormalcy jumped to the best-seller list and introduced a new generation of seventh grade-and-up readers into yet another fantasy mythology, with White’s particular twist. She redefines the rules for vampires, werewolves and faeries, along with gremlins, trolls, sylphs and sundry other creatures that range from disgusting to brutal to enthralling. Many readers will be grateful for White’s myth-busting of the Twilight vampires’ impeccable beauty and attraction: The lovely vampire faces in White’s novels are nothing but glamour — that bit of magic that looks good to everyone but Evie, who has a gift for seeing through their allure to their rotting inner corpses. Not unlike the groups of perfectly coiffed, clad and accoutered teens who, although envied by many, deep down inside are so totally superficial.

And, speaking of allure, part of the Paranormalcy series’ appeal to teen audiences might be the abundance of sexual references, particularly in the first book. There were more than a dozen such mentions in chapter 1, which is all of eight pages.

White tones it down a bit in Supernaturally — until the discussion of Evie’s boyfriend’s tongue and its prospects, which, if word of it gets around, might just put off parents from considering the series for their young daughter’s birthday gifts. But many parents and readers will find White’s approach provides a reasonable contrast to the Twilight series’ abstinence-only message.

Sex aside (perhaps a ridiculous suggestion for the series’ target audience), in the second book, Evie is ever more funny and flippant, while confronting a new and mysterious opponent, which makes for entertaining storytelling. She deftly and brashly narrates her efforts to be a normal teenager, experiencing the annoying realities of attending a normal human high school, while snagging and tagging absolutely abnormal critters. As Evie’s exploits reveal more of her past and threaten her relationship with her boyfriend, Lend, the book takes on both an increasingly complex mythology and an increasingly teen-romance tone. Evie’s persistence in defining herself in relation to her boyfriend, or even to the faery who threatens her, is disappointing. Still, Edie shows some quality inner turmoil as she struggles with White’s creation of a decidedly classist culture, however covert, in which supernatural folks are second class citizens, subjected to electronic leashes, a history of forced sterilization, and any number of other violations of their civil and not-so-human rights.

The counter-culture community in which Edie and Lend live in Supernaturally serves as a nice foil to the repressive covert agency’s attempt to contain all things non-human, rather than to allow them to self-regulate. And this certainly challenges Evie’s perception of her role as a tagger. But her position on the treatment of the creatures varies through the book as she battles aspects of her own special character, the teen angst of first love and the magical forces that would undo the normalcy she so desperately desires.

For readers hooked on Paranormalcy, the revelations and conclusion of Supernaturally will surely make them eager for book three, Endlessly, due out in 2012.

In the meantime, could the messages to young female readers be a bit healthier? Sure. Will teen fantasy fans love the series? OMG, totally.

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Crossposted at the North County Times.