013 – Manifest by Artist Arthur

Manifest cover Krystal Bentley is an outsider at her new high school, having just moved to a small Connecticut town. Lately she’s been hearing the voice of a teenage boy in her head, and he has become her friend and confidant. The only problem is, he’s dead…

Ricky Watson was killed a year ago in the alley behind Krystal’s new school. The rumor mill is filled with stories of Ricky and his untimely death. Unfortunately, as a ghost, Ricky is unable to investigate his own murder, so Ricky needs Krystal to find the truth and she needs someone to listen. When Krystal befriends Sasha and Jake, both outcasts at her high school, the threesome soon discover that they have more in common than their outsider status. Each has a unique paranormal ability and an unusual birthmark in the shape of an “M.” Jake announces that the M must stand for misfits, and so the three form an unusual clique. They soon realize that solving Ricky’s murder can help them understand the mystery behind their powers and may reveal whether there are others like them.
Let’s get down to it, shall we? Right of the bat, Manifest reminded me a lot of House of Night. Not because of its premise or characters, but because of its writing style. And I’m sorry, but if there’s ONE AREA in which you don’t want to resemble House of Night, it’s the writing style. It’s just awful. Like HoN, Manifest‘s narrative is in the first-person present tense, is extremely informal and conversational in tone, and is narrated by a teenager who talks an awful lot like an adult trying way too hard to sound like authentically teen.

Books like these are the reason I endlessly praise authors who have grasped the concept of ‘show not tell’, because either this author hasn’t, or doesn’t think her target audience could grasp the subtlety that that involves. Here, it seems like every other sentence, our heroine Krystal is loudly proclaiming how she feels, or how someone else feels, or both, in the same sentence.

She hasn’t really mastered the art of acting anything but self-involved, so I suppose it’s helpful to have these tidbits, otherwise we’d never know. Likewise, the supporting characters aren’t great at emoting outside their designated characteristic (i.e. bitchy or laid-back), so Krystal’s insight into their feelings is often quite necessary there as well. I’m being sarcastic.

The author also has a nasty habit of ending chapters in the middle of a scene and then never finishing it. What happened when Ricky pinned Krystal against the door and got close enough to kiss her? IDK NEXT SCENE. What happened in the rest of Krystal’s therapy session? NOT IMPORTANT, MOVING ON.

And oh god, the pop culture references. Two of my biggest YA pet peeves are pop culture references and slang. It should be obvious why slang is a bad idea: done wrong – as it often is – it can be unintentionally hilarious, or awkward, or offensive, or all of the above. Pop culture references, on the other hand, are a bad idea for three reasons: a) they are almost always absolutely irrelevant to the plot; b) they rarely produce a funny punchline; and c) they date your book incredibly quickly. To me, it seems like a really cheap way for an author to make their book/character appealing or relatable to a younger audience. There are exceptions to the rule, of course, but when we have a new pop culture reference ever few chapters and several lines devoted to the heroine’s thoughts about how much she relates to Taylor Swift’s song “You Belong to Me”, you’ve gone overboard.

To further illustrate my point:

I smiled sweetly and as phony as Clay Aiken when he first denied being gay.
Hahahaha, WHAT? If that was supposed to be witty, you FAIL, Krystal. Do kids these days even remember Clay Aiken anymore? Cause I doubt they will in ten, hell, even five years. And is it just me, or was that vaguely homophobic?

Btw, all the attempts at humor or witty commentary fall into the same level of unfunny as that quip. HAHAHA, she’s calling her shrink the Whack Quack, that is SO CLEVER. Oh, his name is Dr. Small, but his nose is big? HOW IRONIC LOL.

It’s almost condescending, the way the book is written, like the author didn’t think teenagers would be interested in a novel written with the traditional style or structure, so she had to dumb it down. There are likely people out there who don’t mind that, but it’s an instant turn-off for me. You better have some seriously interesting characters, witty dialog, or good ideas to keep me around after the second or third time the heroine has gone off on a tangent and has to use the word ‘anyway’ to get back on track with her story.

So anyway.

Manifest‘s heroine is Krystal, a fifteen-year-old girl who can speak to ghosts. I’ll give Arthur credit, she painted a fairly realistic portrait of an angsty, spoiled, selfish fifteen-year-old girl. Unfortunately this makes Krystal an extremely unlikable heroine to anyone who does not fit that description. I was glad to hear her ghost and human friends sort of call her out on her self-centeredness, but it didn’t really get through to Krystal til the end, so for the vast majority of the book, I wanted to slap her upside the head. She did, however, undergo some character development by the end of the book, and it went along with a nice message to the poor-me teenage set about seeing things from other people’s perspectives, so I appreciated that. I especially liked the way her relationship with her mother and father changed, and the resolving conversation she had with her mother, as well. It was very realistically written, and you can see why each character did and behaved the way they did. I was glad to see them both share the blame for the failings in their relationships; it didn’tfeel like preaching from an adult to a stubborn child, or like justifying said stubborn child’s behavior.

Unfortunately not many of the secondary characters got the kind of development Krystal and her mother did. Her friends and fellow “Mystyx”, Sasha and Jake, were given very little in terms of characterization – all we really know is that Sasha is moody and Jake is quiet (and mostly because Krystal tells us so). Her secondary love interest, Franklin, gets even less development, if that’s possible. All we know about him is that he is handsome, apparently popular, and his father is a weatherman. Also, he is either remarkably patient or extremely superficial, to chase after Krystal so relentlessly when she does little more than blow him off the first half of the book. Then it takes all of one date for him to ask her to be ‘his girl’, which leaves me predicting a face-heel turn for him. Otherwise, his persistence makes even less sense.

The ghostly love interest (if you can call him that?), Ricky, gets slightly more development, but Krystal is so self-involved that it takes her forever to sit him down to talk about himself, and that’s only after he promises to listen to her problems. Nice.

The book’s cover advertises two major plot points: Krystal’s discovery of Sasha and Jake, who also have powers, and the mystery of Ricky’s death. Really, there are three – Krystal’s home life and issues with her parents’ split get just as much page time. They aren’t very well woven together – as I mentioned before, Krystal’s focus wanders from one issue to another, so often one plot will be put on the back burner while Krystal focuses on another one. For the first quarter or so of the book, Krystal thinks about little else but her depression over the demise of her family and her ANGST at moving to Connecticut, though she talks to Ricky enough to develop a half-assed love triangle with him and Franklin (maybe a love square if you count Jake, and I’m tempted to). Then Ricky’s subplot takes a backseat while Krystal and the ‘Mystyx’ get to know each other and world-build as they discover the origins of their powers.

Which, by the way, is kind of cheesy. I mean, I’m down with the idea of a storm being the cause, at least that’s kind of different, but…’Mystyx’ = my styx = the river Styx? LOL WHAT? It’s never made specifically clear how the river Styx is related to their powers, except that Jake thinks it might be the source (what, did the water in the storm that they were conceived in come from the river Styx?), and Krystal chips in with the epically bad tagline: “My Styx. My river. My power.”

Oookay, I’m calling bullshit. I don’t remember the river Styx being said to have any ‘miraculous powers’ except turning people invincible (Achilles), and the only other thing Wikipedia can come up with is that the Gods lost their voices if they drank from it. It was not made of radioactive spiders or gamma rays, it did not give people the ability to teleport or see ghosts or move things with their mind.

I mean, okay, I know authors often pick and choose what they like from various mythologies and then twist them to fit their own, but this is really a stretch. I’m pretty sure the author just thought ‘mystyx’ looked/sounded cool, and shoehorned the river in there to try and give it credibility. AWESOME job!

By the way, the river Styx doesn’t come up much AT ALL when you Google ‘mystyx’ – not even 22 pages in. Saying that the internet made that connection in-book is kinda a cheap way to excuse the necessary leap in logic.

Speaking of cheesy things that the author thought sounded cool but aren’t, let’s talk glowing color-coordinate birthmarks! The Mystyx’s birthmarks glow green, pink, or blue when they’re activated! That’s…really lame. And the badly-photoshopped glowy effect on the cover doesn’t help.

There aren’t any wildly unique powers on display here either, although they are something of a mismatched bunch, aren’t they? Jake is super fast, super strong and can move things with his mind. Krystal can see and speak to ghosts and has visions of the past/future, when it is needed to move the plot along. All poor Sasha can do is teleport. It’s like they condensed the entire X-Men team (or all the Cullens!) into three people, isn’t it? I’m not sure what this is. I mean, overkill, definitely, but why do they have all these powers that are barely even related to one another? Jake especially. Could Arthur just not choose between the three and ended up giving them all to him? Did she write herself into a corner and giving him a new superpower was the only way out of it? I didn’t really see a need for his super strength in this one, so I don’t think so. Maybe in a future book? Obviously that’s what happened with Krystal; there’s no other explanation for her visions. I R CONFUSED.

Powers aside, the murder-mystery plot here doesn’t break any new ground, either. One of the characters jokes in-book that it’s like the plot of a Lifetime movie, and he’s not wrong. You get a good idea of what’s going on early in the story and have to wait for the characters to catch up. You know the bad guy the first time you meet him, and when all is said and done, there are still gaping plot holes. Like exactly how the bad guy got Krystal’s number, and could call her on her cell without revealing his number, or why a supposedly cooperative ghost knew absolutely everything about the murders all along, but didn’t say anything. Or how Krystal and Franklin had a date in the “W” section of the non-fiction part of the library. WHEN DID WE STOP USING THE DEWEY DECIBEL SYSTEM AND WHY DID NO ONE TELL ME?

The protagonists did hardly any research to find the killer (and really, any competent police force should have had this case closed, anyway), and it took forever for Krystal to get over herself enough to start asking Ricky the questions she should have asked him all along.

All in all, I can’t say I was terribly fond of this book. While there were one or two things I liked – well, one: Krystal’s resolution of her relationship with her mother – there were a billion other things that annoyed the crap out of me, as evidenced by the length of this review. I can’t say I recommend it, nor will I be picking up any more books in the series when they are released.

one star

Also, thanks to netGalley for providing this digital review copy.


10 Responses

  1. Shiori @ Panic in the Lingerie

    October 23, 2010 1:30 pm, Reply

    “…narrated by a teenager who talks an awful lot like an adult trying way too hard to sound like authentically teen.”

    UGH THIS IS SUCH A PET PEEVE OF MINE. That Clay Aiken line was pretty damn dickish too. Sorry you had to read (what appears to be) a terrible book 🙁

  2. Kayla + Cyna

    October 23, 2010 7:01 pm, Reply

    Me too. I can see why they might try but it doesn’t make it any more tolerable. Or painful x.x Right? And it wasn’t even funny. SIGH.

    Haha, that’s okay! At least I didn’t waste time on the whole series!

  3. Kayla + Cyna

    October 24, 2010 7:30 pm, Reply

    I’m obviously a normal teen bacause I have a TWILIGHT POSTER ON MY WALL I’m not even shitting you, she did 🙁

    True! But hey, for every Manifest there’s a Wildthorn! NetGalley’s produced more more hits than misses so far 🙂

  4. LupLun

    October 24, 2010 8:07 pm, Reply

    Actually, if the library was using Library of Congress Classification, the call numbers would start with a letter. This doesn’t really matter, though, because there’s no “W” class in LCC. It goes from A to V, then skips over to Z. So, yeah, double research fail. ^_^

    Pop-culture references do have a way of dating a work overtly, don’t they? I find that personally, it’s better to go with time-tested ones- if you reference The Twilight Zone or Star Trek, noone so much as bats an eyelid.

    Or you could quote Rilke in the original German and everyone has to go to the ‘net to figure out what the frak you’re talking about…

  5. Kayla + Cyna

    October 25, 2010 3:15 am, Reply

    Ok, I was wondering if there was some odd classification I missed, but there’s no excuse there either, huh? I mean, I know the sections within the nonfiction section are ordered alphabetically, but a straight-up W section? That blew my mind, I was like “This woman is an author – shouldn’t she be familiar with a library?”

    This is true. But like you said, those are classics, and when they get referenced, it’s usually not because an author is trying to sound young. But Twilight? NO EXCUSE.

    Including me, lol! But hell, at least then you and your characters look smart 🙂 lol, well, or pretentious. But even that’s better than vapid!

  6. Carmel

    October 25, 2010 11:22 pm, Reply

    Haha! Great review! It made me laugh! Very entertaining. I loved the quote that further illustrates your point. That one phrase makes me not want to read this book.

    There’s an award waiting for you here. Congrats!

  7. Kayla + Cyna

    October 25, 2010 11:41 pm, Reply

    Haha, well I’m glad we could help, it’s definitely not one that should be pushed to the top of the TBR pile.

    Omg thanks so much! Our first award, we’re really flattered!

  8. atypical.oracle

    June 18, 2012 3:24 am, Reply

    “Mystyx”… “my Styx?” Sill author, you tried to change the spelling of “mystics” to a Because Poor Literacy Is Kewl version and then realized you had to justify this nonsense in-universe. “My river, my power” indeed. Blech.

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