Young adult juv. fic. ‘Nough said. There are other elements to this book – such as family relationships, sibling affection, paranormal visions, prophetic dreams, fantastical life-and-death struggles, romance – but in the end the teenage angst largely overshadows the more mature touches.
I’m not against serious stories. However, The Gifting got to a point of taking itself so seriously the tension suffered.
Tess Eckhart has always seen things other people can’t. In a culture of extreme materialism, she and her family assume she’s suffering a mental disorder and move across the country so she can get treatment without being exposed to the prying eyes of the government. An intriguing concept – if only Tess were more interested in it than why the local high school heartthrob keeps looking at her.
I’ll admit, some of my issues came from struggling to view occurrences through the worldview of the protagonist, rather than my own. Tess, raised in a home where the metaphysical is scoffed at – and in a country where all religion is tabooed, if not outright banned – naturally reacts to the things she sees very differently than, say, a noncessationist Christian. When Tess sees corpselike men or bright lights, or feels temperature drops no one else can, she questions her sanity – rather than jump to the conclusion that the supernatural does in fact exist (or that she’s the protagonist of a story so of course things are happening to her).
Then there’s Luka Williams: Mr. Every-girl-in-the-school-is-in-love-with-him-but-he’s-hanging-out-with-me. Tess falls for this teenage Clark Gable/Tom Cruise/heartthrob reference instantly, and their connection deepens when he reveals he shares her disturbing yet meaningful dreams. Yet instead of exploring – or even being curious about – the possibilities of this second sight they share, Tess spends chapters wondering why WonderLad is looking at her instead of the super hot rival and wishing he weren’t interested in her for the platonic reason that if they both see the same metaphysical things, maybe they aren’t crazy… Totally platonic – totally not fueled by the same adolescent hormones that surge through her every single page he appears.
Perhaps it’s this lack of understanding that leads them to do the same stupid things any other adolescent would. While it’s as clean as a simple teenage kiss can be, it does question their ability to battle the dark spiritual forces attacking the world.
That behind us, Mrs. Ganshert has created an intriguing near-future world where the humanistic pro-abortion, anti-gun wing has captured public opinion and political power, leading to increased crime, the killing of babies with “abnormal” prenatal tests, and the intense stigmatization of mental illnesses. Part of Tess’s social withdrawal and worry about who to trust comes from fears the government will find out about her abnormality, and take drastic measures to control her “condition”. I understand this, but when Tess even excuses away her symptoms to her parents (who, to be fair, might not be completely on her side), the emotional tenor grows a little dry.
Things do get better – if in a radical way. From being the high school freak convinced she needs to control her “medical condition”, Tess launches into full-on junior spy mode, risking her parents’ deep anger and breaking federal law with the boyfriend she keeps worrying isn’t a boyfriend. Way more exciting than moping around wondering if the best parts of her life are a mad delusion…but still prompting the question why the cosmic forces (whatever or whoever they are) chose a teenage girl to be the key to defeating the ugly evil lurking behind the scenes.
As for the style:
To paraphrase that master of wit and sarcasm G. K. Chesterton: “I’m getting rather tired” of first person present*. The first book I read in this tense was fresh and interesting, and lent an air of authenticity to the middle grade protagonist. Another book I read was focused on an adolescent maturing, and the character’s voice had enough personality to carry the unusual tense. I came to The Gifting expecting a new take on spiritual warfare — what I found was a teenage angst drama, emphasized by the use of present tense.
It also brought confusion in a few passages that I thought were summarizing the events of a few days, but were actually describing one night or one day.
In conclusion, I probably came to this book with skewed expectations (I can’t find where I read the thing about spiritual warfare – I guess I imagined that part). Nevertheless, while people in Tess’s country are facing life and death consequences and she seems somehow involved via her apparent supernatural affinity, she seems almost to be trying to convince herself it’s all a demented delusion and she’ll end up in an insane asylum. The end is much stronger than the middle, the stakes ratcheting up satisfyingly, but by the time Tess starts taking her role seriously and being an actor rather than a watcher, I was lost by the teen cat-fights and complete naïvety about the way teenage boys work.
As the first book in a series, The Gifting ends with a gently dangling lead into the next book, and a teaser chapter. I must admit, the world has enough disquieting edge of dystopia to be interesting, and there are unanswered questions about the parallel-reality abilities of Tess and the other “abnormals”.
However, there are plenty of other books and authors waiting to be read (say, That Hideous Strength!), and my confidence in the characters isn’t strong enough to pull me on.
*Chesterton, G. K. “Ballade of a Morbid Modern.” Collected Nonsense and Light Verse. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, Inc., 1987. Print. pp. 138-9
Disclaimer: I received a free ebook copy of The Gifting, I believe through a Goodreads giveaway (if memory serves). I was not required to write a review, positive, negative, lukewarm, or otherwise. Opinionated gripes are completely my own.
Like my reviews? Get them in your inbox!