Arcadia's Gift by Jesi Lea Ryan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I received a review copy of the audiobook of Arcadia's Gift from the author. I was in no other way compensated for my review, though I have been following her on Twitter for years. I was glad for the chance to listen to this book, and relieved I liked it so well.
Arcadia's Gift is about half of a pair of twins, Arcadia (Cady) Day, and what happens to her when her sister Avalon (Lonnie) is taken from her in a terrible accident. She experiences Lonnie's death with her, which puts her into deep shock. Then, as she's getting her life back together, bonding with a boy who's helping her through her grief, she learns something has happened to her to complicate her recovery.
One might think a book about grief would drag, but this book isn't entirely about grief. It does handle the subject well. The book is about hope, and love, and what happens next.
Cady is drawn very believably. She's a teenage girl, flaws and all, and the text never excuses her mistakes. Everyone around her wants to go easy on her because of her grief, but she holds herself to a higher standard. She also experiences her grief in very real ways. She wants to stop hurting, but she fears leaving her sister behind. She wants to move on with her life, but then she feels guilty for feeling happy or carefree. She sympathizes with the classmates who miss her sister, but she grows infuriated by the stark reminder of her loss in the memorial left at her sister's locker. The push-and-pull of emotions is relatable to anyone who's ever lost someone close.
Her relationship with Bryan Sullivan, too, develops in a very real way. At first, he reaches out because he knows what she's going through, and he wants to give her the support he needed when he went through something similar. There was already some attraction there, but his kindness and compassion make him easy to like. He, meanwhile, sees her strength and caring firsthand. Their feelings develop realistically, over a period of time.
There is definitely a place for this book on YA shelves. I know a lot of people who bemoan the lack of heroines whose strength lies in their compassion, whose conflicts aren't resolved by beating someone up (or getting their boyfriends to do it). The story never lacks for tension, but the conflict depends on Cady's inner strength. I had expected the climax to kick off from someone trying to hurt her, but I was pleasantly surprised.
This book stands well on its own, though it leaves plenty of unanswered questions for a second book. I know I care about the characters enough to want to keep reading.
Arcadia's Gift is self-published, but it doesn't read like a self-published book. It's far more polished than I've come to expect from nontraditional publications. There are places where the wording seems a little clumsy or overdone, and Cady sometimes slips into a more adult voice. I would've liked to have seen more done with her two closest friends, who vanish for the last few chapters. Overall, though, it could've passed for any traditionally published YA, if I hadn't known ahead of time it was self-published.
The audio edition, too, is very professionally done. I couldn't have distinguished it from any other Audible production. The sound quality is clean, and Ashlyn Selich was an excellent choice of narrator. She captures Cady's vulnerability and confusion, and she sounds the part of a teenage girl. There wasn't a lot of variety of accents, but she was able to modulate her tone so that I could follow who was speaking without difficulty.
If all authors put this much work into presenting their finished products outside traditional publication, I would read a lot more self-published books.
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