I picked up Peadar O’Guilin’s The Call (2016) because its sequel, The Invasion, is a finalist for a Hugo Award this year (Best YA Fantasy Novel). Though I often enjoy Young Adult fiction, this book is probably not something I would have noticed had it not been for the Hugo nomination.
The Sidhe are finally taking revenge on the Irish for banishing them to The Grey Lands centuries ago. Ireland has been cut off from the rest of the world and every Irish teenager will, on some random day at some random time during their teenage years, receive “The Call.” At that moment, they disappear from earth and arrive naked in The Grey Lands where they will spend a day being chased, toyed with, and tortured by the Sidhe. Then they will be sent back to wherever they disappeared from, usually grossly deformed and dead. It will appear to the humans around them that they were gone for exactly 3 minutes and 4 seconds.
Only one out of ten teenagers survives the experience, though they usually return changed in some very unpleasant way. To increase the odds of each teen’s survival (and therefore the Irish race), teens are trained in one of several survival academies that attempt to prepare them for the ordeal.
Nessa, a 14-year-old, is one of the kids being trained. But nobody expects her to survive The Call because she has been crippled by polio and there’s no way she can outrun the Sidhe. As she and her classmates train, Nessa waits for her Call while trying not to get too attached to her friends, trying not to fall in love with a cute boy, and also trying to avoid the cruel attentions of the school’s bully.
The Call is a fairly short read that’s easy to get into due to its unusual and exciting premise and the sense, from page one, that disaster is imminent. Nessa makes a sympathetic heroine who’s impossible not to root for. Her legs are twisted but she rarely feels sorry for herself and is determined to survive. Her love interest, Anto, also doesn’t fit in because he’s a vegetarian and a pacifist. Nessa’s best friend Megan, who has dealt with their horrible situation by becoming angry and cynical, is unpleasant but also understandable and funny.
Nessa’s character is well developed but the others feel thin. This might be okay if we were getting all of the story from Nessa’s POV, in which case the lack of depth could be chalked up to Nessa’s reluctance to get attached, but it’s not. Consequently, when we witness these characters’ calls, it doesn’t have the impact on the reader that it should.
The Call is dark, especially the descriptions of what happens in the Grey Lands when someone is called. The Sidhe are sadistic and brutal. Though these encounters with the Sidhe are the most creative parts of the story, they start to get a little tiring by the end, especially because we don’t feel attached to any of the characters except Nessa.
While it’s lacking in some areas (weak characterization, uneven pace), The Call is likely to be enjoyed by older teens who love horror, survival stories (e.g. THE HUNGER GAMES), or stories about the Sidhe. The language and sexual content is probably not appropriate for younger teens.
The audio version by Scholastic Audio is nicely narrated by Irish actor Amy Shiels. Her Irish accent can be thick at times (especially in her portrayal of Megan) but I didn’t have trouble understanding her. Sticklers will notice that she pronounces the word “Sidhe” as “Shee-duh” instead of “Shee.”