I'm reviewing this pair of books together, because they belong together, and because I was lucky enough to be given ARCs of both by the author at the same time.
When I applied to get read & review copies, I saw that the first book, Castles on the Sand, is classed as Young Adult, while Love in Darkness is New Adult. At the time, this confused me. Why would someone write a YA book and follow it up with a NA book? Doesn't that alienate a whole host of readers who like YA but feel they aren't yet ready for NA? After reading both, I'm still not sure that I totally agree with doing this, but I can completely see why it turned out like that. Hopefully after reading my reviews you'll see it too.
Castles on the Sand, when taken by itself, is a very interesting book. It deals with a lot of different topics, and I think it deals with them well. When looked at in conjunction with follow-up Love in Darkness, it could be seen as a prelude. An exercise in really getting to know the characters who matter so much in the second book.
There's a lot going on in Madison Lukas' tiny town. Not on the surface - there it's just like any other small town. But then you see that three of the main characters in the book have major family problems, of varying types, and that's a lot to take on. It's probably not unusual in any town, but to read about them all at once takes a bit of commitment. Castles on the Sand isn't an easy read, but it's a really good read.
There are aspects of Madison that annoyed/confused me. She takes that whole 'she's gorgeous but she doesn't know it' thing a bit too far. You can accept her kind of low self-esteem up to a point, particularly when taken in conjunction with her home life, but can she really not know how popular she apparently is at school? You'd think she'd notice something like that. Then the way she reacts to her long-lost brother turning up baffled me a little. She goes from deeply suspicious to 'I love you' remarkably quickly. But with a mother who literally doesn't care and a best friend who has a very odd way of showing it if she does care, Madison is clearly starved of affection. The unconditional love that her religious brother offers must just about bowl her over.
I have to mention the religion, as it features pretty heavily. A lot of the characters in the book are Mormon, although Madison herself isn't. Speaking as an agnostic, the religious aspect intrigued me actually. Mormonism isn't a religion I know much about, and I really liked how both the blind belief, and the skeptic outsider viewpoints are both explored.
Despite the aspects that annoyed or baffled me, I do like Madison. After all, what real person is completely likeable? We acknowledge and accept the faults of our friends, and the same goes for our favourite characters. There is another character who I liked even more, but I'm not going to reveal who... yet.
And from here on I guess you could say this review gets a little spoilery - in that by
discussing book two, you get a feel for how book one goes. I won't
reveal anything major that isn't in the Goodreads summaries, but if you'd
rather not know anything then you probably need to go away and read
Castles on the Sand before reading the rest of the review.
Castles on the Sand is Madison's
story, and Love in Darkness is Alex's story. I'm so happy about that. I was hooked on Alex from the moment we met him in CitS, and to hear his story told his way is a gift. Not that it's an easy story to read. I thought CitS was a tough read, but LiD is another thing altogether. I really wasn't expecting a tale of mental disability, but that's what I got and it blew me away.
There's a chunk of time, two years,
missing from between the two books, but it's not important to either
story. It's time when Alex and Madison are apart, each working on their missions. We come across Alex at the end of his mission, and an attack of psychosis.
Because of his schizophrenic mother, Alex thinks he has an advantage. He knows what to expect, knows the signs to look out for. Really though, it puts him at a disadvantage, because it means he expects the worst and won't accept that he might not ever be that bad. Advances in science and treatment techniques mean that his story will be different from his mother's, but for various reasons Alex finds that hard to accept.
I thought Madison had low self-esteem, but Alex is like the poster-boy for it. He's hot, but he doesn't know it. He's been dealt a bad hand in life, but he doesn't see it that way. He won't see himself as a victim of circumstance - instead the people around him are victims of his problems and the ways in which he's dealt with them. His main problem is his complete and utter belief that he doesn't deserve Madison. We know otherwise, though. Despite, or maybe because of his problems, Alex is sort-of wonderful.
Tippetts' writing hits the perfect blend of telling us what we need to know, and making us feel what she wants us to feel. Her characters are brilliantly, heart-wrenchingly real, and both Madison's and Alex's tales each comes across with a very different persona. She's got their personalities spot on, and she makes us want to know them intimately. Tippetts must either have first hand experience of a schizophrenic, or she's really done her homework. Her portrayal of the condition is sympathetic yet realistic, and the voices which Alex hears make for weird but moving reading. I will definitely be looking up her other work now, hoping that her other stories will be just as beautiful and touching as this one.
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