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Cat Clarke – Torn

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No matter what, do what is right.

Publisher: Quercus
Pages: 372
Type: Fiction
Age: Young Adult
ISBN: 978-0-85738-205-4
First Published: 22nd December 2011
Date Reviewed: 18th May 2012
Rating: 4/5

Something happened on the school trip to rainy Scotland. Tara died. And although it was an accident, it could have been prevented. Alice knows all about it, she would do. But it’s difficult to tell people because of the repercussions – on her, on her friends. Yet not telling also leads to difficulties. When Tara appears as a ghost to Alice, asking her to do something about it, or rather, knowing Tara, jesting her about it all, Alice knows she has to do something. But can she, especially when there’s love in the air for her, a love that is now somewhat impossible?

Here. Now. Jack. Me. And a room full of dead lizards.

The first thing that strikes you about Clarke – it did in Entangled and does again in Torn – is just how blunt and straight to the point her writing is. Clarke doesn’t hold back, confining views and words to subtext, no, she lets it all out, hitting you smack in the face so that you are under no illusions. And it means that you become more invested in what’s going on than you might have otherwise, because if you are going to read the book, then you are damn well going know everything and accept it.

You would think that this would make for an offensive style, but Clarke is one of the best authors of young adult literature in getting to the real issues and not glossing over them. She doesn’t use lovely language in order to make her stories bittersweet, but she succeeds every single time in presenting the reader with exactly why they should do this or that or believe in something.

Because Clarke’s talent is most certainly in her storytelling, and it’s clear that she has something to say. And while she is blunt, there is no pressure, which mixed together makes a strong impact. You follow Alice’s story, her days when she wonders what she should do, and while the emphasis is on doing the right thing, Clarke does show you why it would be tempting to keep quiet, to think of how speaking out would affect your self, your life. The book is a very easy read with no slow moments, it looks like it will take no effort, but the power lies between the words, it’s woven around them and before you know it you’re knee deep in a multi-threaded story.

While the overall concept is basic, it allows the author to really analyse everything and to go into the small details. What is most interesting is that there are no sub-plots. Although at first it appears that some plot points are secondary stories, every part relates back to the main plot. You get the present, you get the future, you get the back story and the back back story, and you get it from various points of view while never straying from Alice’s first-person present tense monologue.

Alice proves an interesting choice of character because her strength takes a long time to develop, and for the most part she is very passive. Yet she represents the average teenager who wants to fit in while making sure others aren’t left out, and wanting a good life while acknowledging that doing so would cause issues. Ultimately it’s a case of everything happening at the wrong time, and the worst things that could happen colliding with the best things that could happen. And when things don’t happen as they should, there are repercussions.

The bluntness of Clarke’s writing, together with the passiveness and very much usual (in YA) personality of Alice means that the book can appeal to and catch the eye of the regular paranormal and dystopian teenage audiences, whilst giving them a few life lessons. Indeed while Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall is a great example of how to present issues to readers, there is a lot of emphasis on the romance that somehow blurs your thoughts to the other issues at times. Clarke, on the other hand, uses romance purely to aid what she wants to say, and to demonstrate just how bad things can get. Romance is a big draw in teenage stories, and she adheres to it, but she’ll use it to get the result she wants. Not surprisingly the romance in Torn is very believable and true to life. You can believe in it because you can relate to it in some way.

And when it comes to the romance, Clarke uses her influence as a writer to educate on safe sex, in fact she makes it so that it’s the boy who points out that there is no contraception and thus it would be an idea to wait. And again, it’s real, and Clarke doesn’t portray Alice in a bad light for having said that contraception didn’t matter. The author shows that forgetting things in a moment of lust is natural and okay, but be sure you realise what the consequences would be before you continue so that you don’t continue – in other words, lust is there and that’s fine, but don’t let it control you. And always put one on. It’s a short scene with a strong message, but because she has used the message as content for dialogue it does not sound like preaching, it sounds natural, the sort of conversation a person should have, and will thus surely make readers think.

Clarke isn’t one for finishing her books with a full ending, and her work is surely better for it because it leaves you wondering about all the possibilities and dissecting which one is most likely from what you have read. She does give you all the information you need to work it out, however.

Entangled was a very promising start. Torn has cemented Clarke’s importance and talent in the young adult market.

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May 21, 2012, 8:28 am

I’d wholeheartedly agree with you – though I did give it 5*. I’m wondering what Cat Calrke will come up with next..


May 31, 2012, 10:15 am

Maryom – Oo, good question. Whatever book she does write, however, it is bound to be very good and better I expect than before – I definitely think she’s an author who will go from strength to strength.



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