Places No One Knows » Book Review

Posted June 17, 2016 by Ellen in Book Review / 11 Comments

Places No One Knows » Book ReviewPlaces No One Knows by Brenna Yovanoff
Published by Delacorte Press on May 17th 2016
Pages: 384

For fans of Lauren Oliver and E. Lockhart, here is a dreamy love story set in the dark halls of contemporary high school, from New York Times bestselling author Brenna Yovanoff.
Waverly Camdenmar spends her nights running until she can’t even think. Then the sun comes up, life goes on, and Waverly goes back to her perfectly hateful best friend, her perfectly dull classes, and the tiny, nagging suspicion that there’s more to life than student council and GPAs.
Marshall Holt is a loser. He drinks on school nights and gets stoned in the park. He is at risk of not graduating, he does not care, he is no one. He is not even close to being in Waverly’s world.
But then one night Waverly falls asleep and dreams herself into Marshall’s bedroom—and when the sun comes up, nothing in her life can ever be the same. In Waverly’s dreams, the rules have changed. But in her days, she’ll have to decide if it’s worth losing everything for a boy who barely exists.

Places No One Knows is a decent novel about fantasy and reality… but it’s written in a jumble that neither raises pertinent questions nor provides answers. I disagree with Maggie Stiefvater’s blurb. I slept on this book and did not “wake up satisfied.” Instead, I woke conflicted.

What This Book Is About

The story of the book is built along a premise that we see quite often in YA — “you can find your soulmate as early as high school!” You’d think what would follow from that would be equally starry-eyed. Well, we get a surprise there. Unlike most books of similar premise, Yovanoff dares to present us with an unlikable heroine.

Waverly is flawed — cold, cunning and frankly, bitchy.  She’s obsessed with strategy and likes to practice her manipulation skills by being the mastermind behind the most popular clique in school.  But, “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.” Waverly has critical insomnia and runs her body into the ground in order to scrape together a few hours of sleep each night.

The story takes off when Waverly tries a new relaxation method.  She lights a strange candle and falls asleep, only to appear materially by the side of the school stoner, Marshall Holt.

What I Thought Was Good

I loved how the normal rules of social interaction were severed by Waverly appearing magically wherever Marshall happened to be.  It allowed for some really electric situations and exchanges.  For example, Waverly smashes through Marshall’s concept of “fantasy.”

It’s a dream of most teenage boys for their crush to appear in their bedrooms, right? Well for Marshall, this happens.  The the perfect, high school queen bee, Waverly, who he’s infatuated with, appears to him, night after night. However, she comes to him at the most inopportune times — when he’s having a bad acid trip, when he’s touching himself, when he’s drunk and throwing up, when his dad is yelling at his mom… She’s there at his most exposed, a real person looking back at him.

This element of “fantasy meets reality” really drew my interest.  What I took away from Waverly’s nighttime visits is that fantasy, if ever made real, has to be integrated with the other realities of your life.

What Did Not Work

Now, the magic “system” in this book is never really explained.  It’s strongly suggested that Waverly’s candle has magical power, but that angle is not explored.  It is the only element of magical realism in the book, too, which makes it stick out like a sore thumb. Actually, the more I think on it, the more the dream visitations seem poorly explained. Ironically though, the dream visits were also the most interesting parts of the book.

The rest of the novel was about ridiculous high school drama.  Waverly has wrapped herself up in teenage social politics, which I found to be very dull, pointless, and overall, cruel.  Weirdly, our author seemed to be aware of this.  One intelligent character, Autumn, says over and over again, “What is the point?” I KNOW, RIGHT? By the time that Waverly gets with the program, it’s too late for the reader.  We’ve already been dragged through hundreds of pages of silly machinations.

Lastly, I felt like the book suffered from an almost intangible problem.  This is my third draft of this review, and I had to stop myself from starting all over with a fourth.  The problem seems to be that I can’t explain my main issue with the book, even to myself.  I’m not sure if it was 1) too many underdeveloped themes and plotlines, 2) an insufficient character arc for Waverly, or 3) a lack of a clearly defined point to the story. Perhaps it’s all three.

In any case, I felt like Places No One Knows piqued my interest partially, but largely had me stymied and uncertain. two-half-stars

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