Monday, July 15, 2013

The Rules by Stacey Kade: a review (pretty much spoiler-free)

(also, this cover is damn cool)

1. Never trust anyone.

2. Remember they are always searching.

3. Don’t get involved.

4. Keep your head down.

5. Don’t fall in love.

Five simple rules. Ariane Tucker has followed them since the night she escaped from the genetics lab where she was created, the result of combining human and extraterrestrial DNA. Ariane’s survival—and that of her adoptive father—depends on her ability to blend in among the full-blooded humans in a small Wisconsin town, to hide in plain sight at her high school from those who seek to recover their lost (and expensive) “project.”

But when a cruel prank at school goes awry, it puts her in the path of Zane Bradshaw, the police chief’s son and someone who sees too much. Someone who really sees her. After years of trying to be invisible, Ariane finds the attention frightening—and utterly intoxicating. Suddenly, nothing is simple anymore, especially not the rules…

The Rules is a perfect example of a book that totally defies your expectations and still turns out to be quite enjoyable.

After reading the blurb, I thought I was in for a sci-fi thriller about an alien-human hybrid on the run from the evil corporation that created her—oh, and also, forbidden love. In other words, just my kind of thing. Thrilling, heart-pounding, full of action, even a little dark at times.

What I expected:

What I got:

What I liked:

To be honest, at first I felt… deceived. You make something sound like a sci-fi thriller, I expect a sci-fi thriller! But the fact is, I finished this book in a couple of days (would have finished it even faster but you know, real life intervened.) Because… sci-fi-thrillery-ness aside, all that high school drama was a lot of fun. Complete with the horrible popular girl going off the rails and getting her comeuppance. (Hey, there’s a reason I’ve seen Mean Girls *almost* as many times as I’ve seen Alien. I don’t care what that means about my geek cred.)

So if you like Carrie-style high school revenge escapism, this is definitely for you.

Also, Zane. It’s been a while since I’ve liked a YA love interest as much as I did Zane. The novel is told in two points of view, and I have to say I enjoyed Zane’s part of the story even more than Ariane’s. I loved how on the outside, he’s this perfect, popular jock, and behind the façade he’s so messed up. He has a really sucky home life and deep-seated issues about not living up to his older brother’s glory, not winning the approval of his dad, and his mom abandoning him—on his birthday to boot. Does this guy need a hug and a cookie or what? I did not like (or agree with) all his actions (especially in the beginning, he’s kind of a jerk) but when we learn his story, it all makes a lot more sense. Also, once the romance plot kicks in, he’s just so darn sweet to Ariane that I couldn’t help but go “d’aww”. No abusive a-hole love interest here.  

Finally, I was surprised with this book’s take on the “ditzy best friend” trope. I found that it was deconstructed in a thoughtful, interesting way. Jenna seems like a good friend at first, but her motivations are anything but—and she turns out to be not so great after all.

What I liked less:

My biggest problem with this book was…


No, really. The “aliens” served only one purpose: to provide an explanation for Ariane’s powers and her backstory. The implications of the “by the way, aliens are totally real and the government knows they’re real and they made a hybrid using their DNA” thing are not mentioned once, and not addressed at all. Maybe they’re being saved for the sequel, but I expected at least a little hint. One of my biggest pet peeves (not just in YA, although sadly, this turns up more often in YA than in adult SFF) are books that don’t address their own implications! You created this whole crazy-cool setup and you’re just going to brush it off? Come on!

Highlight for (very) minor spoiler:
(Also… you can’t imply that there’s going to be a fight to the death between alien-human hybrids… and then NOT have a fight to the death between alien-human hybrids! That’s not fair! That’s cheating! *pouts*)

As a result, the “alien human hybrid” thing felt more like a stand-in for the more traditional (and less trendy) paranormal element. Alien just as easily could have been vampire, werewolf, faerie, witch, faerievampirewitch in keeping the whole hybrid thematic... you get the idea. The story would still work the exact same way.

So, to conclude:

The Rules is full of really juicy, at times hilarious high school drama and revenge. It also has a super-sweet romance involving one of the more likable YA love interests I’ve read recently. The thing is, you have to know right away what you’re in for. If this is what you like, definitely give The Rules a go. But if you’re looking for a dark sci-fi-thriller, it might not be your thing.

Final rating: Three and a half stars. 

What about you guys? Ever read any books that were not what you expected at all and liked them anyway? Do share. :)

Nicole River is confused about writing her bio in third person. She's an aspiring author of edgy YA horror and an appreciator of all things dark and spooky. Her own blog is here. Or you can always follow her on Twitter

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