If you’ve noticed a pattern with my reviews, it’s that I mainly read translated YA (Young Adult Novels) from overseas in Japan. There’s a simple reason for this. To be blunt, I usually find myself disappointed by American authors. Whether it’s by the fact that they all seem to want to copy someone else’s work instead of attempting something new, that they fail to create realistic romantic relationships or that they can’t write a story gripping enough to glue me to my seat, I am just generally left unsatisfied by the YA market in the US. Over the years I have come to find security with the Japanese YA industry, which more than not has proven to have an excellent track record at delivering fiction that leaves me in awe.
However, once in a blue moon, a book comes around in the US market that captures my attention. The Body Finder by debut author Kimberly Derting was just such a book.
I originally came across it through a Google search for newly released debut novels. Out of a large collected list of works, it stood out to me as the most promising. That was the last time I saw it for a long time, that was until over a month ago when I was browsing the aisles of Barnes and Noble and spotted it once again. Picking up the hardcover, I sat myself down and began to read. Needless to say, I hadn’t gone more than a chapter into the book before I had stood up to pay for it. It was clear to me that this book had serious potential. I could only pray that it would live up to it.
The story begins by introducing us to our main protagonist Violet Ambrose, a teenage girl battling the pressures of school and her recently growing feelings for her best friend Jay. However, Violet has one other thing weighing in her life, a secret, a secret that has shaped her life in more ways than she would like to reflect on. What is it? She can sense the dead. Apparently, every time something is killed, an imprint is left on the murdered as well as the murderer. Violet is able to sense these distinct traceable marks and has been able to since she was a small child, discovering the dead bodies of animals in the woods outside of her home. Only a handful of people know about her ability and the only one outside of her family aware of it is Jay. Up until now of course, it’s just proven to be a nuisance, introducing new static into her life.
However, when a number of girls in her area begin to go missing and an unknown serial killer is believed to be on the prowl, Violet’s world is suddenly thrown upside down. With no leads from the police and the threat mounting, the young teenage girl comes to the realization that her special ability may be the only hope they have at stopping the collective death toll. As the risks rise higher, she enlists the aid of her friend and begins a search for the murderer, hoping to find a clue that can lead them closer to discovering the killer – if he doesn’t find them first.
The Body Finder is pure potential. Combining suspense, romance and mystery, it promises the moon in a market that is so very hungry for new material and ideas. Unfortunately, much like a teenage girl who pretends to be pregnant, Kimberly Derting’s debut novel does not deliver.
Though the book offers an intriguing plot hook, the ability to sense where the dead lay and who has the mark of their murder on them, the novel fails to make use of it as effectively as it could. Instead, like so many of the novels that are becoming despised by countless YA fans these days, it chooses to mostly concentrate on the relationship between Jay and Violet, making this more of a romance novel with some dashes of suspense than a YA Thriller/Mystery.
However, as a few might know, I love romance. So why couldn’t I enjoy this novel? Two words: character development. There was none. Though Violet and Jay have to face dangerous circumstances and supposedly grow into their new relationship, they ultimately learn nothing and grow in no noticeable way as characters. Another flaw with the romance was the quite honestly terrible dialogue. Usually dialogue is the saving grace for me in a book, but in this case, Derting’s writing falls terribly flat. Not only is their discourse cheesy, cliché, predictable and lovesick, but the descriptions of their romantic encounters are sad to say it, laughable at best in many scenes.
Heed my words, this novel was written for the female audience, and specifically, for the section of that audience that loves unrealistic depictions of steamy kissing and unanswered throbbing in unspoken places. Think Twilight minus the sparkles. I’d say fangs, but well, we all know where that conversation would go.
Another deterrent of this novel is its lackluster pacing. Though the beginning seems to glide along quite nicely, readers are soon met with a stretch of some sixty or more pages that are both uninteresting and boring. I was tempted more than once during these pages to stop reading. These problems persist in other ways throughout the rest of the story as well.
When the ending of the novel was finally at hand and the mystery was revealed, there was another dilemma I faced. I wasn’t surprised. It wasn’t that I had figured out who had done it already, it was just that it wasn’t shocking. It ceased to be a mystery and began to feel solely like a thriller. However, even that aspect was short-lived with a cliffhanger ending that was sped through and felt anything but suspenseful leading to the Epilogue.
Pushing aside these issues, however, there is one thing I’d like to mention. Derting’s writing style. For being her first published novel, and I’m guessing possibly her first written novel period, it was an excellent piece of work. Her narrative was the only thing that kept me reading during the slow intervals of the story, a testament to the natural flow of words she can weave. Though her romantic dialogue came off as quite terrible, the rest was quite good. In my opinion, she shows strong promise as an author. She’s definitely someone YA readers will want to keep an eye out for in the future as she fine-tunes her craft.
The Body Finder is a book that will leave readers in reflection, not on the book’s message, for which it has none, nor on the story, for which there is little of, but rather on its composition and how it could have been handled differently. It is a novel that has once again left me disappointed and unfulfilled with the American YA industry. If there is anything truly positive to take from this, it is that this book highlights the potential talent one author has for the future. If she can fix her unbalanced pacing, misguided focus, unrealistic dialogue and predictable scenarios, then I think the American YA industry can expect to see some great books from Kimberly Derting in the future. With a sequel titled Desires of the Dead coming this February, I suppose only time will tell how well she improves.
Matthew Reeves is an aspiring novelist living in California. You can usually find him lost in thought on a walk or writing on Twitter as @MattReeves17.