Author: Jeffrey Kinsey
Illustrators: Amelia Dregiewicz, Mia Bergeron
Genre: Fiction, fantasy, science fiction, metaphysical
Where I got the book: I received a free e-copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.
My rating: ★★★☆☆
Summary: The Purpose, an ancient but cruel religion, consider children with deformities to be reborn Gods and Goddesses. They are worshipped during ceremonies but in their normal day-to-day lives the children are ridiculed, often by the same people who bow before them. The lines between gods and freaks are blurred as we follow six friends in search of their own identity.
“Everything breaks. Everything falls apart. The grandest ways in which we’re put together, they fail. Everything falls apart. Areh grips her moon tighter, and holds on.”
– Areh, Jeffrey Kinsey
I must say that I’m a bit torn about this book. The concept in itself is really original and interesting, and I can’t think of having read anything similar before. A girl with a third arm, a boy with one eye, siamese twins – children like these are deified by The Purpose but not without its consequences. I like the different themes this brings up, such as bullying, how a religion can become so distorted and hypocritical, the pressure of carrying a large amount of responsibility you didn’t ask for, depression, loss, friendship and unity. A handful of illustrations are also included in “Areh” and these are gorgeous, I absolutely loved them. The art style is fantastic and unique and really fit the story so well. I just wish there had been more of them! Mostly they showed the character Areh but I would have loved to see the other main characters too, there were plenty of times where they could have been portrayed.
However, this book is actually a bit confusing overall. The first half is slow but jumps back and forth in time while focusing on different characters, and the second half dives into a rather complex, fast-paced, genre-bending journey. Although it admittedly didn’t grab my attention right away, I eventually got into the story and I actually enjoyed the first half. I liked reading about the flashbacks and the past more than the present, but I think the world-building and the establishment of the characters and their personalities were mostly solid. Many of the characters were intriguing, the interpersonal relationships were described thoroughly, and I could really sympathize with their struggles.
There’s a drastic turning point that comes in about midway before we enter the second half of the book, and sadly, this is where the story lost me. I feel like this is where the actual plot kicks in but after so many pages of mostly character-focused writing, I wasn’t able to follow this transition very well. The plot is kind of all over the place, there are many different emotions and point-of-views and events to keep track of, and there are rather big leaps between genres like fantasy and magical realism that ended up confusing and distracting me from the story itself.
As for the writing, it’s definitely very beautiful, which results in lovely imagery and descriptions. There are some actual poems included in some in-between sections, but I think the prose itself is generally poetic. I’m not sure how much I like the dialogue, however. Some of it seems a bit stilted and unnatural, and the character Sammy in particular uses a rather harsh language with many slurs that I found out of place, offensive, and very unnecessary. I’m not sure if this was supposed to add to his character or show a certain irony or contrast between him as a person, his identity/sexuality, and the God he represents, but either way I ended up not sympathizing with him or caring much for him at all.
All in all this is a unique book with an interesting concept, lovely writing, and beautiful illustrations, but sadly it lost me at the mix of genres, the dialogue, and the erratic plot in the second half.