Manifestation, by Jason Cantrell
How I found this book: I’ve been following Jason Cantrell’s blog and Twitter for a long time, so his debut novel finally being released was a big event for me. I’d followed him along his journey of creation, laughed at his jokes and snide comments, heard his heart-felt stories, and even helped him with a critique of some poems he’d written from the viewpoint of his protagonist. Teachers will be touched by this blog post of Jason’s about how his fifth grade teacher helped him through a rough patch in his life by encouraging his writing.
Emotional depth: Manifestation is an extremely emotional read. In fact, after the first two chapters I had to take a break and recover.
The teenage protagonist misbehaves by taking her parent’s car out without permission, and something terrible happens to her. She tries to tell her parents about the terrible thing, but they’re too busy yelling at her to listen. The book perfectly captured the tragic way parent-teen relationships sometimes break apart when both parties are under stress and the parents are too busy disciplining to exercise understanding. Although the book was primarily sympathetic to the teenage Gabby, the parents come across as fully human as well. Not monsters by any means, just flawed human beings. I almost wish these first two chapters could be a required reading assignment for parents and teens whose communication is breaking down.
Writing Quality: I would describe the writing as clear and vivid and luminous, everything I’d been expecting from my prior experience with this author’s poems and short stories. The plot is mainly focused on tracing the path of a magic-induced apocalypse, and overall the book has the feeling of a pilot episode for a TV series. What do I mean by pilot episode? Well, even though the book is good, it seems primarily focused on laying the groundwork for future storytelling. We definitely reach the end of the book exactly as things are beginning. So, I am looking forward to reading the four books in the series which have not yet been released.
Characterization: Besides Gabby, there is another really interesting female main character, an engineering student who nicknames herself Tock. She is very commitment-phobic and down-to-earth, qualities normally associated with males rather than females, so I really enjoyed the way she broke stereotypes! Her magical powers were particularly interesting, and she kept having dreams which foreshadowed her destiny. The destiny dreams were well-written and gripping, which is very rare in this genre (usually destiny dreams make me yawn, but these were fascinating.)
Towards the end of the story, Tock’s character takes a dark turn, which was very startling since prior to that I feel like she’d been very likeable. My major complaint about the story is that I wish Tock’s turn to the dark side had been foreshadowed more, or built up to more gradually. Her snap decision almost didn’t feel real, it felt like it came out of nowhere, and left me feeling rather disoriented.
A beautiful work! Aside from that though, this book was exactly what I wanted to be. I liked reading about the full spectrum of humanity’s response to a crisis, everything from heroic to despicable. I love Gabby and I am rooting for her. I can’t wait to read the next book about her.