Way back in January 2010, I started Carrie Jones's Need. I even wrote a great "Where Are You?" post and shared a teaser. But I never got past the first chapter or two. I must have gotten swamped with editing assignments and forgot to go back to it.
I took a different approach last week and decided to listen to Need, and I'm so glad I revisited this YA urban (rural?) fantasy.
Ever since her stepfather died--young and unexpectedly--from heart failure, Zara has felt disconnected from life. Her worried mother hopes a change of scenery and new start will help Zara move forward, so she sends her teenager to Maine to live with her (step)grandmother.
Zara, naturally, has mixed feelings: about why her mother sent her away, about enrolling in a new school in October, about making friends, about living in a rural community. The good news is that at least a few kids seem friendly and the running coach is impressed with her speed. Oh, and her grandmother, Betty, even bought her a car.
What's the down side? Snow, cold, constant reminders of her dad . . . howls in the night, voices in the woods, and gold glitter near her car. Zara senses the town has secrets, and she's just about to learn that the north woods can be more dangerous than Southern city streets.
Need is the first in an urban fantasy quartet by Carrie Jones geared to young adult readers (the final book was published this year). Let me say right off, thank goodness Jones has a unique approach to the genre--and I don't mean by writing four books instead of three! First, there are no vampires. Second Zara is not under the control of the cute guy she has her eye on. She is independent, smart, and has a strong will, which sometimes gets her in trouble but also helps her get out of scrapes.
The paranormal creatures in Need are several different kinds of weres and a couple of groups of pixies. These aren't the cute winged pixies who live under toadstools in the garden. Instead, they are strong, pointy-toothed humanlike creatures who are known to kidnap teenage boys when "the need" comes over them. Scary stuff for Zara, who had no idea that the beings of fairy tales could be real.
Although the plot isn't all that difficult to figure out, Need is a great weekend read or listen. I can understand why the novel was an Indie Next pick, appearing on the Winter 2009 Kids' List. In particular, Jones's characters are memorable, well conceived, and multidimensional. There is a little teen romance, but Zara is not defined by her budding relationship with Nick. Neither the teens nor the adults are stereotypical (except for one mean girl), and each has a distinct personality.
In addition, the paranormal elements are internally consistent and believable within the context of the story. Urban fantasy fans will appreciate not only that Jones follows the general rules and concepts of urban fantasy (weaknesses and strengths of pixies, for example) but that she freshens the genre by introducing new (at least to me) concepts as well.
Finally, I'm recommending Need as a book club pick. I couldn't find a reading guide for the novel, but young readers, teachers, and parents will find a lot to talk about. Some of the topics that stood out to me are loss of a parent, family structure (step-parents), friendship, loyalty, moving, bravery, pacifism, phobias, Amnesty International, and teen romance.
As I mentioned, I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Brilliance Audio; 7 hr, 28 min) read by Julian Whelan. Need is told through Zara's perspective, and Whelan did a brilliant job channeling her inner teenager. Her voice is young but not childish, emotional but not over-the-top dramatic. If you're an audiobook fan, I recommend reading this title with your ears.
This review will be linked to Kid Konnection, hosted every Saturday by Julie at Booking Mama.
Published by Bloomsbury USA / Bloomsbury USA Childrens, paperback December 2009
Source: Review (print), bought (audio) (see review policy)
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