Sunday, April 5, 2015
Whaaaaaat? A book review! I know, crazy, calm down, there'll be a comic review tomorrow to revert back to the status quo. This is just a result of me learning Power Rangers: Dino Charge is going on break FOR MONTHS. I go a little nuts.
Cracked is written by Jake Burton, a young author. It's also his debut novel. So yay. It was (is?) published by Page Publishing, a company you've more than likely not heard of, because they go by a different name now and are relatively small, dealing more with smaller books or more technical books.
The former is the case here. Cracked caps off at 90 pages split into fifteen different chapters, so as expected the chapters don't run too long. Thus, it's a quick read. In this regard, it also falls nicely into the genre that it belongs to: Christian Fiction. Yup, it's a Jesus book. But not really, like, at all.
While there is religious symbolism veining throughout the novel, it isn't done in a way that it beats you over the head and shouts "JESUS HEARTS YOU" like many other novels may fall prey to. Heck, the word "God" is hardly even mentioned in the book, something that bugged me at first but not so much as I moved on. I mean, He is in the story, but not the way someone would imagine.
The story is about a young man named Joshua, who has recently lost his father to cancer and his life detioriated for a little following that. One day in French class--personally I think Math or Physics would have been more fitting but that's just me--he mentally slips into a void where he meets an unnamed old man. Who is he?
Well, you'll know it if you can complete this sentence, "In the beginning, ___"
Thus, he begins a journey with this elderly chap as they look into Joshua's life, both past and present, and see how greatly he has been influenced by his faith, how those around him have been influenced, and how he now has been bestowed a mission in order to spread his faith. While at first it seems there would be balance between real life and the "void," as it is called, it morphs more into a story where Joshua and the old man are sort of hanging on in the peripheral of real life, watching events unfold.
What you might be thinking, as such, is that this is something like It's a Wonderful Life, a story where a man and an angel walk around to see just how life would be without him. Or perhaps even A Christmas Carol, where Scrooge and the various Ghosts of time meander around for a couple hours in various places of time. You would, in fact, be somewhat wrong.
While it is true that Joshua and the old man do meander around time and space, what's different about it is the fact that they are, sometimes, actually there. For example, there's a scene in the cemetery where they actually interact with the objects and a person there. Then there are other moments where they step away from the 3-D world and watch on, unable to interact with anyone and completely invisible to their environment.
Then there is also the fact that they can see what others cannot, such as hordes of demons or some of God's armies (not led by Archangel Michael I think but whatever, not really important). That much is very interesting to see, and puts many things into perspective for Joshua. It shows not only his strength, resonated by his unyielding faith, but also the strength provided to him and through him by either his friends or his family.
Given who the old man really is in the story, and some of the things we learn, one might ask themselves, "Hey, what the heck, if he's there then is he listening to someone else, too?" While not particularly important to the story, because it's never addressed, I just liked to think that the old man was omnipotent. I mean, think about it. In the same way that he can really be there alongside Joshua in disguise, he can also be outside of the physical realm, but never really there. It hearkened back to the anime "Madoka Magica," in which case one of the characters does gain omnipotence (not a spoiler since I didn't say who) and is in two different places talking with people yet at the same time is withstanding their struggle against evil. They can be in multiple places without a literal being standing there. Again, not important, but worth bringing up.
Another thing that the novel does well is opening itself up to the common reader by making this a story about one relatable young man and how he is going to overcome his struggles. Sure, some of the situations he finds himself in might not be that relatable--several of these struggles center around the pressure of crafting the school's yearbook, something not everyone has done in their lives--you can still simply think of it as someone struggling with a massive project on their hands. While not a coming-of-age story, since it seems some of that happened before he went into the void, it is a realization-of-age story, in which Joshua fully realizes what the plan has been all along and why he needs to keep on keeping on in regards to helping his friends, who are also seemingly in their own struggles. Sure, we never learn anything about them and how their struggles were resolved, but hey, we're practically promised a sequel in the "About the Author" section anyway, so we'll learn about it there. Plus, we can assume they make it out okay. It's just high school.
(EDIT: not a sequel, just another book...but I may have implanted the idea of a sequel into the author's brain much like an inception...mwahahaha)
Now, I'm not "big" into Christian Fiction as a genre. From time to time I'll read it and watch it, but, it doesn't really do anything for me. It's just not my thing. One of the movies that I absolutely deplore in the genre, and just in genre, is God's Not Dead, a recently made film about the overworked premise of a guy trying to convince someone that God exists (which isn't what the title says). It shields itself from the general viewing public and instead is a Christian-based film, as many non-Christians have either taken offense or just are generally bored by what happens. Fair enough. Speaking as a Catholic I do find the movie horrendously boring, but I'm getting off topic.
Cracked conquers the story of God's Not Dead because it has focus, it has a linear story. Where as God's Not Dead meanders around for a bit hoping to strike an emotional chord every twenty minutes or so, Cracked leads Joshua, and the reader, down an investment. There is a gradual build-up of Joshua realizing what has been happening since the death of his father behind the scenes. And not just for him, but it all ties itself back to him in an interesting way. At some moments it does feel like if not for Joshua certain things would/ wouldn't have happened, which did feel heavy-handed because, again, these are high-schoolers. Hyperbole is to be expected. While never painted as "the guy" there are certain moments where that could have been pulled back on. It makes the character slightly less relatable in that regard. That being said, there are some things revealed that leave an emotional pang on the reader as they follow Joshua in his story.
However, there are many minor things to bog this down, and to take the reader out of the story. For example, a few formatting and grammatical errors can take the reader out of the story and pull them off the page, making them restart from where they were and lose their connection to the moment. Nothing too cringe-worthy, just a letter capitalized on accident or moments where words are in all-caps LIKE THIS EVEN THOUGH it's not really necessary. Yeah, it's hypocritical of me to say that but this is a blog and i WrITe As i PlEaSe.
As far as the narrative goes, it is pretty well-flowing as I said, but there are some hiccups that, again, take the reader out once they stop to think about it. There are four three things:
1. The prologue is in first-person whereas the rest of the story is in third, an limited view with us inside the mind of Joshua. Where'd the first person view go? Why was it even in place? As we see, the narrator is perfectly effective as a third-person, and it may even have benefited the story to have the prologue in third person. It could give us some scope to the great big battle that goes down.
-An aside: the prologue was a well-written metaphor for what was really going on, and the book carries that well through the first half before it drops (because it wasn't necessary, not because it got worse).
2. There are many mentions of Joshua's brother, and it's implied that some not good things happened to him (he died, spoiler but not really since it's in the first chapter). Then...he just sorta goes away. There's a mention or two later on, but, the focus then becomes Joshua's father and the struggle Joshua faces with accepting his death. But, what about his brother? We know he also has a sister, not given much character either, but again the story didn't call for it at all. It could be that either he was forgotten along the lines of the story, or that was just serving as a way for us to get to know Joshua and be up to speed with where he is. Later on there's just a bit of a throwaway line that does lead to a tender moment, yet the fact that Joshua is missing his brother isn't directly expanded upon.
3. Time gets confusing. We're given an explanation of how time works in and out of the void, which is all well and good. But, the story starts with Joshua and the twins, two friends that appear somewhat frequently throughout the story, in their junior year of high school. Then, by the time the story ends, there is mention that they may be in their senior year. Again, just a throwaway line, but still, it was something that snagged me right out of the story and made me wonder if Joshua's just been hiding, or if he was referring to the fact that he has senior-high school friends and not that he was a senior. The way it was worded implied it could go either way.
Besides that, the story falls prey occasionally the omnipresent sin in any form of creative writing: telling instead of showing. This may be because of the heavy amount of dialogue carried within the story, thus we are told a lot, but it is only, as I said, sprinkled throughout the story. Most of the images we are indeed show are very effective at getting their point across, though, which is why the telling over showing isn't too bad in this instance.
I also wish that some other characters would have been characterized a little more, in that we could have gotten more drawn out scenes with them and Joshua. He spends more of his time inside the void in the novel than out and doesn't really talk with anyone. Given how welcoming some of his friends seem, it would be nice to see him talk with them, and maybe a mentor figure to compare with the old man. A little more time outside of the void wouldn't hurt and would help us learn more about the other characters that are simply name dropped throughout the novel.
The dialogue here is also a bit head-scratching. Joshua, and some of his friends, don't really talk like high schoolers. I wish most high-schoolers talked like these people, only because it's very proper. Many times, Joshua and his friends don't use contractions (instead of I'll it's often I will), so the dialogue comes off as very slow and unnatural. It's excusable with the old man, given his true identity, but even he talks rather casually from time to time. Many random sentences are also exaggerated or give tags that don't really fit what they are trying to say. Okay, that's a nitpick.
Overall, Cracked is an enjoyable read. It's a very introspective story, but in a good way. I always like it when stories deal with as few people as possible as long as there is a point to all of it in the end. It's why I like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Angel's Egg so much. Just a few characters doing their thing but also learning either more and more about themselves or what makes them/ their circumstance so special. The characters of Joshua and the old man are fleshed out well, perhaps at the expense of other potential characters but they aren't around long enough for us to really remember them, and you'll find yourself possibly relating to Joshua and enjoying the presence of the old man.
Yes, it is Christian Fiction but it's also very possible to read this story without knowing that genre. It's a Wonderful Life isn't Christian Fiction yet it has Angels and Saints within its story. General audience can come into this story and find a fun, quick read to share with others. For many, this experience Joshua goes through is one they have shared and perhaps this read can either help them get through it, or just remind them of how they got through it and how it made them stronger. For others, it's an interesting look into someone who walked into the fire and came out ever stronger for it, not burnt down by it.
So, yes, I do recommend checking it out!
Don't forget to follow to me on Twitter @seanovan13 to stay up to date on when I post. Thanks for reading!
If interested, you can buy the book here: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/cracked-jake-burton/1121535371?ean=9781681392141