Author: Lenore Appelhans
Series: The Memory Chronicles, book #1
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: January 15, 2013
Source: ARC received from publisher
Purchase: Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Books about the afterlife simply fascinate me. We all have our own perceptions of what comes after this life, and it's terribly interesting to me to dwell on the possibilities. With Level 2, we're presented with a new possibility thanks to fellow blogger Lenore Appelhans. And it's a very different version of the afterlife, let me tell you.
Level 2 was not at all what I expected going into this book. (If possible, go into this one not knowing anything...it's more fun that way.) But I can honestly say, even having read the synopsis prior to reading this novel, I was still surprised at the turn the story took. I whole-heartedly expected a heavy-dose of science fiction, and well, I can't really tell you what I got instead without ruining the (potential) surprise. I say potential because I didn't see it coming, but I was so engrossed in the story and the characters that I wasn't looking for it to begin with. It is definitely an original take on the afterlife.
Aside from a unique premise, where this novel really shines is in the characterization. Through flashbacks and memories, we are shown the ins and outs of the characters. From too-perfect-to-be-true Neil to the self-deprecating narration of Felicia, these characters are made real by their thoughts and actions. I may not have the clearest picture of what each character looks like, but I know them inside and out by the time the novel ends. They are not without their faults, but their actions are always true to their characters.
As the details of Felicia's disastrous last few months on Earth come to light, we learn more about her than we ever could have from the narrator herself. She blames her current situation on herself...and on her first love, bad boy Julian who left her broken-hearted. All she wants now is to find Neil, the boy who picked up the pieces and put her back together, but she's stuck in her memories with no chance of escape.
Enter Julian, the bad boy harboring a secret that will unravel the small hold Felicia's regained on her afterlife. Julian wants to break her out of the hive in Level 2, but Felicia is unsure whether to trust the guy who broke her heart, came between her and her best friend, and caused her exile from her family. But as I learned more about Julian through Felicia's memories, something began to feel off. I don't think he ever intentionally meant to hurt Felicia or her best friend. Sometimes circumstances dictate that you hurt the ones you love in order to save them. But it wasn't one of those situations where he pushed Felicia away in order to protect her...he just flat out left, with no explanation. Still, the more I saw of Julian, the more I recognized the signs of true affection, even through his arrogant, self-aggrandizing.
The summary hints at a love triangle. I certainly hope there's room for one in the next book, because I just wasn't feeling the too-perfect Neil at all, but I can assure you that there isn't a love triangle in this novel. The only romance that occurs is in the form of flashbacks, and we get to see Felicia with both Neil and Julian, though at different periods of time. But Felicia goes on and on (and on) about finding Neil and finding out if he's already in Level 2. Her only concern is for Neil, but based on his reaction, Julian is still infatuated with Felicia. However, because of certain events, I wouldn't discount Julian as a possible love-interest at some point. *fingers crossed*
My only complaint, really, is the dialogue. Considering how developed the characters themselves were, I expected snarky banter and articulate exchanges, but a lot of the dialogue felt stilted and just overall unappealing to me, mostly because it was so juvenile. Some examples:
"You're not the only hacker in the universe, you know. You've been viewing lots of memories of Neil. And not so many memories of me." He clicks his tongue with disapproval. "Should I be jealous?"
"Ugh, why would I want to revisit the worst parts of my whole life?" I scowl at him. Jerk.
He grins wickedly. "If you say so..." He shimmers again and is left in nothing but a Speedo, smooth chest and washboard abs glistening with water droplets as if he's just stepped from a pool.But the writing in general was lush and evocative, so I'm not sure where the disconnect was. All in all, this was a fantastic debut, one that I enjoyed even more than I expected to. It was engaging and full of surprises, and although the science fiction elements weren't as numerous as I'd expected, the fact that the book is sci-fi light might actually encourage more to read it, especially those who like a more contemporary read, since this book deals with grief and loss and love, in addition to what's next for us after this life.
"Julian!" I gag. "Stop fooling around."
"Fine," he says, his tone now serious. He shimmers again and materializes back into his normal outfit. "I see you're still uptight."