Book: “The Call” by Peadar Ó Guilín
Publishing Info: Scholastic Inc, August 2016
Where Did I Get This Book: The library!
Book Description: The Hunger Games meets horror in this unforgettable thriller where only one thing is certain . . . you will be Called.
Thousands of years ago, humans banished the Sidhe fairy race to another dimension. The beautiful, terrible Sidhe have stewed in a land of horrors ever since, plotting their revenge . . . and now their day has come.
Fourteen-year-old Nessa lives in a world where every teen will be “Called.” It could come in the middle of the day, it could come deep in the night. But one instant she will be here, and the next she will wake up naked and alone in the Sidhe land. She will be spotted, hunted down, and brutally murdered. And she will be sent back in pieces by the Sidhe to the human world . . . unless she joins the rare few who survive for twenty-four hours and escape unscathed.
Nessa trains with her friends at an academy designed to maximize her chances at survival. But as the days tick by and her classmates go one by one, the threat of her Call lurks ever closer . . . and with it the threat of an even more insidious danger closer to home.
Review: I think that a lot of people have started associating YA science fiction with the idea of the dystopian society, and that the plot is a group of teenagers who have decided to fight back against it. With books like “The Hunger Games”, “Divergent”, “The Testing”, and “Matched” all being hits in their own rights, I think that if a plot has any smatterings of their themes, it will automatically be lumped in with them. I know that I almost made the mistake of doing this with “The Call” by Peadar Ó Guilín. After all, it takes place at a school where teenagers are being trained for the fight of their life, a test that will in all likelihood leave them dead and mangled. “Oh how ‘Hunger Games'” I thought to myself. But man, was I wrong. And I’m ashamed that I was willing to be even slightly dismissive of it.
On paper, sure, it sounds like a familiar trope. But “The Call” is one of the most original YA novels I’ve read in a long time, for a number of reasons. The first is that our main character, Nessa, is a polio survivor, and has to walk with the aid of crutches as one of her legs has been permanently damaged by it. Diversity in YA literature is important, and that includes people with disabilities. From what I know about Polio (having read about it and knowing someone who is a Polio survivor), Ó Guilín did a really good job of portraying Nessa and her strengths and limitations, and while he never used her disability in a ‘let’s all feel sorry for her’ kind of way, he also was honest with how hard it would be, especially in a situation where you have to be able to run and fight. Nessa is a very well rounded character beyond that as well, as she is headstrong and stubborn, but has insecurities that could apply to not just her and her situation, but many teenage girls from lots of backgrounds. She has her problems with her friends, she has her problems with love and relationships, and she has her problems with her family (though they are pretty removed from this story in general). She is a seriously great female protagonist for a YA fantasy novel, always rooted in realism and never treading towards some superhuman and unrealistic ideal. I especially loved her friendship with her best friend Megan, a sarcastic and snide girl who is the perfect foil to her, but very clearly and fiercely has her back. And huzzah and hurray, there is no love triangle to be found here, as Nessa only has eyes for one guy, the pacifist and quiet Anto. Anto as a character isn’t as interesting as Nessa or even Megan, but the arc that he does go on is a pretty good one, and luckily he isn’t there just to be the ‘boy who sees her for what she’s worth isn’t it sweet’ kind of gig. Given that this is supposedly the start of a series, I would be very curious to see where Anto goes, both for himself and with Nessa.
The world itself is also very, very original. While I can understand that the militarized training for teens smacks of “Hunger Games” and “Divergent”, this world is far more creative than that. For one, this isn’t a totalitarian regime that is oppressing these kids by using violence and isolation to control them. This is another outside force, in this case the Sidhé, or fairies. And these fairies are not the kind of fairies we think of in sanitized fairy tales. These fairies were banished from Ireland to another world, and they are taking their revenge by sucking up Ireland’s teenagers and trying to kill them. And succeeding most of the time. These are the kinds of violent fairies that original folklore spoke of, the kind that would put a death curse on a baby just because they weren’t invited to said baby’s Christening.
I think that modern fantasy needs more evil and menacing fairies, and “The Call” really delivered on that. Not only are the Sidhé mysterious and vengeful, they are very, VERY violent. Like, to the point where I was getting pretty disturbed by the kind of stuff that they would inflict upon the teens who were taken by The Call. From skinning them, to mutilating them, to transforming them into hideous creatures out of Giger-esque nightmares, these Sidhé were not screwing around, and it made the stakes feel very, very high. Which in turn made me terrified to see what happened next, but also unable to put the book down whenever a poor, hapless teen was taken by The Call. I also appreciated how Ó Guilín has changed Ireland in subtle ways to reflect how this situation would affect society, with the people knowing English, Old Irish, and Sidhé out of tradition, pride, and necessity, just as I liked how he made it clear that the Sidhé are not the only villains in this story, and in some ways are understandably upset. The best example of this is that by far the scariest villain is not the evil fairies, but a human teenager named Conor. His misogyny and violent obsession with Nessa was just as off putting as the sadistic fairies that chase down teenagers, and the fact that Conor is a very realistic villain in his sociopathy and entitlement made him the most skin crawling of all the antagonists in this book.
I really, really enjoyed “The Call” and I am actually pretty pumped that it sounds like Ó Guilín is going to write more stories in it’s world. Definitely give this a try if you like books like “The Hunger Games”, but know that it stands quite well on it’s own.
Rating 9: A very intense and original fantasy, “The Call” is a refreshing new take on YA survival thrillers, with a fabulous protagonist and deliciously evil fairies.
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