The Seven Rays: In search of a target audience

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsYA fantasy book reviews Jessica Bendinger The Seven RaysThe Seven Rays by Jessica Bendinger

Beth Ray is beginning to realize she’s not just your average teenage girl. She’s seeing strange visions, and then there are the letters: shiny gold envelopes containing hints of a great destiny. Her mother tries to keep them from her, but the envelopes manage to find Beth wherever she goes.

And then a big hairy bloke shows up on a flying motorbike and takes her to a wizard school in Scotland… wait, wrong book.

What happens to Beth, instead, is that she undergoes laser eye surgery to try to correct her sight, and when that just makes the visions more intense, the next stop is psychiatric help. Meanwhile, she’s having a whirlwind romance with an older “bad boy,” Richie McAllister. And when I say whirlwind, I mean whirlwind. Beth and Richie go from mere acquaintances to making out in about 2.5 seconds, and for no discernible reason. This romance is simply not developed at all. There’s nothing, then BAM! they’re dating, and then BAM! they suddenly have a deep devotion to each other.

Anyway, kissing Richie leads Beth to yet another discovery: electricity passes between the two of them when they touch, and not the metaphorical kind. Is this yet another YA novel about two people who have some supernatural reason they can’t fool around? Yes. This “abstinence porn” thing is getting kind of tired, people. Have your characters stay chaste if you want, or put them to bed if you want (it can be done tastefully; see Maggie Stiefvater ‘s Shiver), but hundreds of pages of “but we caaaan’t” angst? It’s been done.

All of this is narrated in a slangy style that doesn’t sound like any actual teenagers I’ve met. It reads like an adult trying too hard; if you’ve read magazines like Seventeen, you get the idea. Beth gets into the “fetal posish,” and when she listens to something, she’s giving it her “ear-tention.” While spying on someone using her visionary power: “I eye-bandoned my eye-dropping and decided eavesdropping might be easier.” Richie is “loaded with flirt juice.” Then there’s the pseudo-mystical poetry Beth finds in the gold envelopes. It doesn’t scan smoothly, and contains an awkward mix of informal and elevated language.

Later, Beth meets the six other Rays who will be her companions. (All of these young women are more interesting than Beth, and if future books follow them instead, I would consider reading them.) There’s an initiation of sorts, and Beth learns more about her destiny and her powers. The ending implies that this is a “set-up” book, introducing the characters and putting them into position (posish?) for further adventures.

The Seven Raysis a book in search of a target audience. The “finding yourself” theme is a classic motif in young-adult literature, and the frequent sexual references place this firmly in the older-teen range. However, constant mentions of “pee,” “poo,” and “snot” will probably annoy everyone over 10. The cheesy “teen slang,” I suspect, will turn off teens and adults alike. I think there’s supposed to be a spiritual message, but the story and its putative moral get bogged down in illogical plot twists, bathroom humor, and the irritating writing style. I can’t really recommend it to anyone.

There are several scenes toward the middle of the book, though, that are actually quite moving. I really felt for Beth when she was committed to the mental hospital, trying to prove her sanity to a smarmy doctor and wondering why she’d been sold out by those who were supposed to love her. The scene in which she wanders New York alone and bereft is also affecting. These scenes give the reader a glimpse of what The Seven Rays could have been if it hadn’t been trying so hard to be trendy and/or “enlightening.” Jessica Bendinger has assembled all of the essential ingredients of a good coming-of-age fantasy; it just wasn’t realized very well.

The Seven Rays — (2009) Young adult. Publisher: Beth Michaels isn’t sure when it all began, but she’s pretty sure that the pink dots came first. Pink dots everywhere in her vision, clouding the people who stood before her. And then, little movie screens started to play, telling her more than she ever wanted know about their lives. Now, she can’t even eat a hamburger without seeing how the poor cow met his maker. As she approaches her eighteenth birthday, her visions just keep getting worse. And when a little gold envelope shows up proclaiming the words YOU ARE MORE THAN YOU THINK YOU ARE, she starts to do the super-freak. What does all of this mean? It means she’s in for a long senior year.

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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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