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Book Review: The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong
The Summoning is the first installment of the Darkest Powers trilogy by paranormal author Kelley Armstrong. Armstrong has written seven Young Adult novels including The Summoning, each of which made the New York Times Bestselling List shortly after publication.
While I normally don't recommend purchasing a book simply because its author has acquired the title of "New York Times Bestseller," in Armstrong’s case I have to say that I believe the recognition is well-deserved. I’ll put it plainly: When it comes to paranormal fiction, Armstrong is without question one of the best. I say this as a girl who read almost nothing but paranormal fiction during her high school years. So take it from me when I say that a lot of what’s out there isn’t that great. In fact, some of it’s just plain awful. Every once in a while, though, I’ll come across a book within the paranormal genre that keeps me up until five in the morning, not because it’s a thriller, but because I just can’t put it down.
If you clicked on this hub then I assume that you enjoy reading. I will, therefore, also assume that you know what I mean when I say that this book felt almost magical. It was one of those stories that had me hooked from the very first page. It was one of those stories that made me (temporarily) forget who I was and what was going on around me. It was one of those stories that made real life seem boring (almost meaningless) at times. It was one of those stories whose characters were so real that I felt like I knew them personally. It was one of those stories that made me pity people who don't enjoy reading. It was, in all honesty, one of the books that most influenced me as a young adult. And that's saying a lot.
Now what exactly, you're probably asking, makes this book worthy of such high praise? Well to start, Armstrong's writing is nearly flawless. In The Summoning most chapters open with a brief scene setter. Armstrong is excellent at providing just enough name-brand details to give readers a clear picture, but (thankfully) does not drone on and on in her descriptions. While the dialogue does seem to outweigh the narration in some chapters, for the most part I think that Armstrong seems to have found a good balance between the two.
Speaking of dialogue—WOW. As a lifelong reader I think I can safely say that Armstrong is truly gifted at dialogue. The interactions between her characters are so lifelike and believable. While reading The Summoning I would often begin to feel as though the characters were all right there in front of me—like I could have reached out and touched them if I wanted. Chloe, Derek, Simon and Rae—the primary characters in the novel—are four people that I know I will never forget. This review is a testimony to that fact. I am writing this piece more than five years after reading The Summoning, and yet I can still picture each of Armstrong's beloved characters clearly in my mind, and when I do I smile as though fondly remembering good times spent with a childhood friend. If that isn’t the definition of "a well-told story with three dimensional characters" then I don’t know what is.
But, I digress. On the most basic of levels, The Summoning is a story about supernatural folks—or, well, kids—who are on the run from an organization that knows what they are and wishes to control them. The concept reminds me of X-MEN, while at the same time is somewhat reminiscent of Dark Visions, for those of you who may be L.J. Smith fans.
Please continue reading for a brief summary of The Summoning. Don’t worry—it’s spoiler free!
Darkest Powers Poll
If you've already read the Darkest Powers series, which book was your favorite?
Chloe Saunders, the protagonist of The Summoning, is a freshman at A.R. Gurney High School. Her mother died when she was a young girl, leaving her alone with her father, who is almost always away on business. Unfortunately, in addition to her lack of home life, Chloe does not have many friends at school. She explains early on that she moved around a lot over the years because of her father’s necessary travel. Needless to say, it’s rather difficult to keep friends when you move to a new town every couple of years. I immediately sympathized with Chloe, and as readers it's sad to see not only how she struggles to fit in, but also how she seems to fail to have any real connection with anyone around her. We see again and again through her thoughts and actions how unsure she is of herself. She has very little confidence and is constantly making self-deprecating remarks about how strange she is and how no one likes her. Hmm. I don't know about you, but I think I sense some character growth coming on later in the book...
One day at school, Chloe is feeling so miserable that she decides to skip one of her classes. On the way back she meets a strange man in the hallway and begins talking with him. He tells her that he needs her help. Chloe is compassionate, but she doesn’t understand what exactly he wants her to do. So she walks away. He follows her and terrorizes her until she becomes hysterical. This alerts some of the school staff, and they immediately have Chloe taken to the hospital. There she explains what happened. Oddly enough, no one seems to believe that the man she saw in the hallway at her school was actually there. Much to Chloe’s dismay, her father and aunt, Lauren both seem to agree that Chloe ought to spend some time away from school—in a group home for mentally disturbed teens. Chloe protests, of course, but in the end her aunt convinces her that it’s the best thing. So Chloe is sent off to a group home in Buffalo, New York called Lyle House.
In her first therapy session at Lyle House Chloe discusses the incident at school. The doctors repeatedly insist that the man she saw in the hallway wasn’t there—that she made him up in her mind. Her psychologist then proceeds to diagnose her with Schizophrenia. Chloe nearly has a heart attack when she hears this, but she accepts it, and makes a silent vow to herself to take her meds and to get better as soon as possible so that she can return to her normal life.
While Chloe might buy the whole Schizophrenia diagnosis, one of her fellow housemates most certainly does not. His name is Derek Souza. Fortunately for us lovers of wit and sarcasm, Derek is a complete smart-ass. He is also exceptionally intelligent, as well tall, dark-haired and green-eyed. Sounds like a dream come true, right? If you're anything like me you're probably already rolling your eyes going, "Oh boy, I can't possibly guess where this will lead." Well...actually, here's the surprising part: In his first appearance, Chloe describes Derek as being rather ugly, mostly due to the fact that he has about the worst case of acne she's ever seen. He is also huge--freakishly huge--to the point where she doesn't know whether or not she ought to be afraid of him. This, to me, automatically made him an interesting character. Because honestly, how often do you come across a Young Adult novel that features a character who is not conventionally attractive? I’ll tell you how often: not very.
While we readers naturally take an immediate interest in Derek, Derek also takes an immediate interest in Chloe, particularly after hearing of her diagnosis. At first it isn’t clear why. Then one day he more or less corners Chloe and challenges her to think beyond what the doctors at Lyle House have told her. What if her brain is just fine? What if she really did see that guy at her school? What if he was a ghost? What if she has a special ability that allows her to speak to the dead? Chloe is horrified at this suggestion. She accuses Derek of trying to scare her and he immediately becomes agitated. He mocks her for her blind obedience and for her apparent inability to trust herself and her own instincts. Naturally, Chloe goes out of her way to avoid him after that incident, but she does consider his words. Time passes, and as she gets to know her housemates better she quickly realizes that they all have things in common--strange things--and it is then that she finally begins to entertain the idea that maybe she really does see ghosts. Maybe Derek is right. Maybe she isn’t crazy after all.
And maybe--just maybe--Lyle House isn't your typical group home...
So there you have it. An engaging, suspenseful story following a group of supernatural teens that is jam-packed with adventure, intrigue, danger, humor and with just enough romance to keep all you sappy people (like me) in good spirits. I would recommend it to teens who love the paranormal and to any supernatural fanatic who is looking for a good, relatively quick read. So what are you waiting for?! Pick up or download a copy of The Summoning right now and get sucked into this amazing story! And if I make a Kelley Armstrong fan out of you in the process…well, let’s just say I’ll have done my part. You are welcome, my friends. You. Are. Welcome.