Book Review: The Forever Girl by Rebecca Hamilton

With the abundance of paranormal plus supernatural plus ghosts plus goblins plus vampires plus romance plus shape-shifters plus witches (is there anything left?) that’s already out there on screen and in literature, it’s hard to create anything that deals with these elements that isn’t hackneyed and ‘been there, done that.’ Well, I’m happy to say that Rebecca Hamilton manages to pull it off. When I bought and downloaded (it’s only available as an ebook) The Forever Girl, I did so to support a fellow indie author and because I’d had some direct contact with Ms. Hamilton. We follow each other on Twitter (her handle is @InkMuse) and had a couple of direct message chats and, in a way, I guess I felt that I was helping out a new friend of sorts.

Actually, when I started reading Ms. Hamilton’s debut novel, I’d posted on Goodreads that The Forever Girl wasn’t really my cup of tea. Based on the cover art (a Goth dressed girl with her head tilted in a pining sort of way with an equally longing facial expression) and with a twenty-something female protagonist, I thought that I was heading down a path of whiny chick lit coated in fantasy. I think, too, at the time, I was overloaded with Twilight and Bella with the first part of the final movie having just come out and my wife reading and recounting the entire series of books for me. I’m sorry Twilight fans - and I haven’t been inspired to read the books - but Bella is not one of my favourite characters (although she has become more interesting since she was turned) and I’d spend time with Sophia Parsons over Bella any day.

The first in a series, The Forever Girl, jumps right into who Sophia is and getting us into the action but there are parts in the first third of the book that are a little redundant and dragged out with a decision she has to make regarding the new man in her life. However, beyond that, especially when the book’s title is given meaning, The Forever Girl really takes off. It becomes fast-paced with every page moving the story forward and setting up one nice subplot after another. With regard to the meaning of the book’s title - I’m obviously not going to give it away here so you’ll have to buy the book and read it yourself -  I do recall one other movie (or was it a book?) that has a similar element to it but I can’t remember its title so, really, for my money, Ms. Hamilton is presenting something new. The fact I can’t recall the other work’s title, it probably didn’t present it very well either. Ms. Hamilton also creates new names for her supernatural beings - Strigoi and Cruor, for instance - that remove us from the world of vampires and werewolves that have become part of our everyday cultural lexicon thus erasing any sense of ‘been there, done that’ the reader may bring to the book.

As I got deeper into the book, it dawned on me that my Goodreads comment was completely inaccurate. The Forever Girl is exactly my cup of tea. I’m a weekly watcher of HBO’s True Blood. I loved - not just because of the crush I had on Sarah Michelle Gellar - the Buffy, The Vampire Slayer television series and it’s spin-off Angel. Recently, I’ve discovered the ScyFy channel’s Lost Girl, which, just like The Forever Girl, presents interesting gender-bending relationships; although for 2012 they may not be so bending. The Forever Girl also opens its readers to the world of witches and Wiccans, something I was first exposed to culturally in the movie The Craft, when the Buffy character Willow delved into it, and when I dated a fellow martial arts student who practices Wicca. True Blood, last season, centered its conflicts around witchcraft as well but other than these examples, there aren’t that many mainstream pieces of literature dealing with Wicca. In this way, The Forever Girl not only entertains it also educates, albeit minimally and without being academic.

Writing today, speaking as a novelist myself, can be difficult when trying to create something new in fiction. There aren’t any new story lines to be had. Just think of all the stories of good versus evil that have to do with a young apprentice and an older mentor. Granted, some are hacks and not very well written but there are also the gems - Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings and the C. S. Lewis’ Narnia books to name a few. What makes the good ones worth the time and cost is that they offer a new twist to the story and that they balance well the elements they’ve taken from previous versions of similar stories. The Forever Girl has obvious similarities to Buffy, True Blood, Twilight, Angel and, even, Lost Girl. I’m sure that Ms. Hamilton was inspired by some of these other works but in no way intended to duplicate them. And she hasn’t. What she has done is create a new version of this world of demons and bloodsuckers with an identity-confused heroine. Written in first person POV, I couldn’t help from feeling that I was a part of Sophia’s entourage and I enjoyed getting to know her. I’m looking forward to getting to know more of her in the next book of the series.

In my non-writing life, I am, among other things, a Health teacher. This week, our fourth and final marking period of the school year began. I teach seventh and sixth grade Health and, in the first class of each marking period, I review (for the seventh grade) and introduce (for the sixth grade) the Wellness Triangle. In a nutshell, the triangle represents each one of us and the goal to achieve good health - aka 'wellness' - is to attain an equilateral triangle by balancing your physical health, your mental/emotional health and your social health.

In the lesson, I talk about how you can nurture each area independently but, really, it's better and more fun to develop and maintain all three at the same time. I explain how, through things like dance or being part of a sports team, you can do that. I also talk about how doing something like reading books can do that. When I get to the books part of the discussion, I usually begin it by asking the following question: "How many of you like to read?"

In past classes, the students either raise their hands or they don't. Seeing students shoot their hands up, speaking as a reader and writer myself, is very pleasing and encouraging. In a recent New York Times Book Review podcast, it was reported that more kids are reading print books and e-books. This rise has to do, in part, to the lowering cost of Nooks and Kindles that allow tweens and teens to carry and read more books at one time. In my own school, I see students reading all the time. In the weeks leading up to the release of The Hunger Games movie, the eighth grade lunch period I proctor had clusters of students eating together who were also reading The Hunger Games (some were on to Catching Fire or Mockingjay). Other clusters had students, the YA dystopian sitting on the table, discussing the book and/or planning when they were going to see the movie. When Breaking Dawn, the movie, was about to come out, the same thing was happening with the Twilight books. Again, as a reader, writer and advocate for the power of books, this is very pleasing.

My excitement, however, took a blow the other day. In my opening Health class, when I asked my stundents how many of them like to read, at first only one student, raised her hand. Well, she raised it only as far as her eyes and she did so coyly; hesitantly, apologetically even, like she was owning up to having done something wrong. It wasn't until two of her classmates' hands went up that hers stretched fully towards the ceiling.

Naturally, I'm very happy when I see kids read and I'm happy to meet them. With the abundance of good YA books out there - and there are more coming, like Marie Lu's Legend 2 - I honestly felt that the era of kids who read being viewed as 'nerds' or 'not cool' and having to find safe haven among other nerds just like them had long passed. My student's honest and brave answer to my question, however, told me that it hasn't. If she had just be hesitant, I would've felt that maybe she thought she was the only reader in class and didn't want to stand out and/or appear like she was saying she's better than the others. However, when the look in her eyes and her body language apologised for being a reader, it made me feel that children - and I'm sure some adults - still make fun of those who read and that being able to read, understand and
appreciate a good book isn't as admired as being able to score a goal, belt out a song, dance, dunk a basketball or run a record setting race.

What you're about to read is probably lost on your eyes because I'm likely preaching to the choir. Nonetheless, it has to be said, read and written.

Reading IS cool.

Reading develops language and creativity. It helps us experience emotions and teaches us how to deal with some of those feelings. It brings people together and gives birth to new friendships when the readers find a common bond like with the group reading and sharing of The Hunger Games as the movie was about to be released.

So, don't be shy. Don't be afraid. Be proud to be a reader and announce it to the world. And, pay it forward by sharing something you've read. Abbott Press, the publisher of my debut novel Back Kicks And Broken Promises, put up a post on Twitter today. It said something like, "If you can read, thank a teacher. If you read a book again, thank a writer." That may be true and, as a writer, if anyone reads my book - and future books - more than once I'll be very grateful. However, the last word in that tweet can also be "reader."

Read on and be proud.