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Random Reader Challenge: The Gathering & The Calling

Reviewed for the Random House Random Readers Young Adult Challenge (March – April). Yes, I know I’m cutting it close. Begone with you; I’m still within the time frame. Besides, this way you get TWO reviews for the price of one. See that? I made down to the wire look like a positive thing!!

Maya lives in a small medical-research town on Vancouver Island. How small? You can’t find it on the map. It has less than two hundred people, and her school has only sixty-eight students–for every grade from kindergarten to twelve.

Now, strange things are happening in this claustrophobic town, and Maya’s determined to get to the bottom of them. First, the captain of the swim team drowns mysteriously in the middle of a calm lake. A year later, mountain lions start appearing around Maya’s home, and they won’t go away. Her best friend, Daniel, starts experiencing “bad vibes” about certain people and things. It doesn’t help that the new bad boy in town, Rafe, has a dangerous secret…and he’s interested in one special part of Maya’s anatomy: Her paw-print birthmark. (summary from http://www.kelleyarmstrong.com)

Confession time: I love the way Kelley Armstrong writes her teens. They are snarky, vulnerable, funny and demonstrate that elusive belief that they will live forever, coupled with a frighteningly mature awareness of the world around them. Her teens are like the students I see every day; at times, you love every minute you spend with them, while at other times you could cheerfully take the out at the knees.

The Gathering is Maya’s story; while you may be familiar with some of the names and places mentioned in the story from her Darkest Powers trilogy, this is a whole new set of kids – and a whole new way of looking at things. I won’t summarize (the blurb above does the job just fine, thank you), but Maya is a completely different character from Chloe and her friends. She’s smart and funny, she has great friends who support her (especially when she loses her best friend under mysterious circumstances), and she gets along with her parents. Can I mention right now that it is pretty awesome to read about a positive relationship between a teen and her parents? Sigh.

There is an innate bond between Maya and her natural surroundings. She has a mysterious ability whereby she is able to connect with the animals around her – a pretty handy talent when your Dad is a park ranger and animal rescue/rehabilitation officer. Maya slowly begins to realize that she is (spoiler alert!) a skin walker, and, also begins to understand more about who she is meant to be after meeting new-guy-in-town Rafe, who is just like her. Maya’s gift is tied to the mystery surrounding her background, and it’s interesting to see how Armstrong connects the West Coast mythology to her own paranormal storytelling in order to develop Maya’s abilities into something a little unusual for the YA story structure.

Adventure looms, though, as all is not as it seems in this sleepy little Vancouver Island town. Readers familiar with Armstrong’s other works will enjoy the Easter egg references as the mystery slowly begins to unravel. Readers are warned, however: there isn’t a standard closure ending to the book as it leaves you on a cliffhanger set-up for book two.

Maya Delaney’s paw-print birthmark is the sign of what she truly is—a skin-walker. She can run faster, climb higher, and see better than nearly anyone else. Experiencing intense connections with the animals that roam the woods outside her home, Maya knows it’s only a matter of time before she’s able to Shift and become one of them. And she believes there may be others in her small town with surprising talents.

Now, Maya and her friends have been forced to flee from their homes during a forest fire they suspect was deliberately set. Then they’re kidnapped, and after a chilling helicopter crash, they find themselves in the Vancouver Island wilderness with nothing but their extraordinary abilities to help them get back home. Plentiful action and romance in this second installment in the Darkness Rising series will keep readers enthralled to the last page.

The Calling is primarily focused on the extremely unusual teens of the town. When we last left Maya, she and her friends were desperately trying to escape their burning town via helicopter. The action picks up immediately, and all does not go as planned.  The teenagers continue to behave like realistic teens – they bicker and disagree and challenge each other, while continuing to try to survive without leaving anyone behind. I made a note while reading that the injuries sustained by characters are real injuries, and that they truly hinder the characters from progressing; nothing pulls me out of a story more than a significantly hurt character who mysteriously heals within ten pages.

There is a distinct and deliberate absence of parents of any kind in this second book, and it is unsettling to the reader. These teens are truly out on their own, and the connections that were so evident in book one (especially between Maya and her parents) are severed in every way. As a result, Maya and her friends are forced to confront who and what they are, and to use their strengths in the best way possible in order to survive. They are left, in every sense, to grow up into the people who their parents have tried to guide them into becoming.

Again, the connection to the natural world – both with the forest and with animals – plays a huge role in this book, and it’s such a wonderful change from the standard high school/boarding school/generally urban setting. As with the first book, there is no pat ending for the reading, and you are left on the edge of your seat, wanting book three to be in your hands now.

The Gathering” was a gift from the author at the time of publication. The Calling” was received from Random House in exchange for an honest review.

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4 Responses »

  1. They both sound good. I need to get more focused on middle grade lit again, since I’m going back to teaching–6th grade this time. Although I’ll be teaching SS/Sci, I remember how it was teaching 8th grade. We were always trading books and recommending new ones to each other, and right now I’m out of the loop on which are the hot books.

    Your blog is going to help me out I think!! 🙂


  2. I love that Kelley’s work is accessible to adults. I have found that a lot of YA books tend to be either written condescendingly toward teens, or create characters that are totally unrelatable because they are so stuck in the mentality that teens are totally self-obsessed. Kelley does a great job of creating believable characters that engage the reader. I absolutely love your description of the teens she creates: “snarky, vulnerable, funny and demonstrate that elusive belief that they will live forever, coupled with a frighteningly mature awareness of the world around them.” Absolutely brilliant!


    • Thanks for your very kind comments! I think Kelley has some wonderful characters in her books, and especially in her YA as they are so relatable and (as in real life) not always likable. I’m really looking forward to seeing what she can do with the middle school paranormal genre.


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