The setup for this book was spot on. It begins with a segment simply titled, "Midnight: Mirage Beach," and proceeds into a beautiful prologue.. There's a sense of wonder and mystery established here as an unnamed girl and her Gypsy boy meet for the first time.
Unfortunately, the magic of this prologue doesn't come back to this same powerful high at any point in the rest of the book. There were instances where the sentences had a powerful punch but they seemed too few and far between to keep the magic going throughout the story.
For a book seemingly meant to be either a magical realism or a supernatural romance addition to the Young Adults section, this book seemed to struggle with its footing in these genres. I had trouble accepting the fate of Gwen, a girl who seemed determined to keep her heart hardened against everything after the gossip that followed her around until her family left their seaside town when she was 10. She would accept things for a moment and then quickly change her mind, supposedly because she should know better than to fall for pretty tales that could be meant to make her look stupid. Her constant doubt grew tiresome in her interactions with Jesse, the guy who claims to be the Gypsy boy she met on the beach when she was a child. A sense of doubt is obviously healthy, as we don't want a weak and insipid lead, but Gwen's attitude came off more abrasive than anything, especially with all the constant signs that something otherworldly was happening to her.
By trying to keep the plot on the straight and narrow in reality, the magic of the prologue was lost and the supernatural romance label just doesn't fit on this book. Then while seemingly strong in some instances, Gwen also had the tendency to come off a bit standoffish, somewhat understandable when it came to the people of the town but ultimately rude when it came to dealing with her Nana. Sometimes it felt like Gwen would make a decision to set forward on a certain action but once she got there she seemed surprised by the turn of events she found herself in. It was all, "I'm going to town to tell that guy off!" to seconds later being, "Why is everyone fighting?" Not very inspiring overall in a lead to tell the truth.
As far as characters went, I found myself a bit miffed with their handling. Jack Cates is a character constantly mentioned for the fact that he worked with Gwen as her child psychologist after her night on the beach as a child and yet Gwen managed to never cross paths with him. I find it hard to believe that in such a small town Gwen managed to avoid the man she claims made her feel miserable about what happened just by her sheer will of thought and careful maneuvering. It seemed like buildup for the sake of the anxiety to make the lead uncomfortable and nothing more. Then the book had characters dropping in on page 221 out of 279 pages just to hang around for a festival and then drift off away again. The truth is these random characters didn't need to exist at all. The narrative could have moved on just fine without them. And the Jack Cates storyline felt like a plot thread that was meant to have more development but was dropped once the book got too far along. All very unfortunate for the book. I was waiting for that confrontation, where Gwen could show that she's strong and that her child psychologist was wrong about her and what happened, and then Cates could see that Gwen has managed to distance herself from the rumors to become a well-adjusted young woman but I didn't get it.
Gwen also had a pair of supposed best friends, Jill and Mandi. I say supposed, because for the few pages they appeared they seemed to be more of a thorn in Gwen's side than the confidantes they're supposed to be. They appear at the start of the novel and then return about 3/4 of the way through and I honestly couldn't see a reasonable reason for their reappearance. Really, like the other characters that dropped in and out of sight in just a few pages, Jill and Mandi seemed to reappear for the sake of conflict and then went back to their summer plans once they were done. Even Gwen's parents never had a reappearance after the start of the book and I think their reappearance would have made more sense what with their involvement in the original scandalous mystery and their link to the seaside town.
The only characters I felt came off right overall is the mysterious Jesse and the independent Nana. They never truly acted out of character at any point in the book. Jesse had the necessary confidence as a romantic lead and a clear sense as a 'fish out of water' that was necessary to sell his mystery to the reader. Nana had the ability to come off as a true caretaker and a believer in magic without becoming hokey. Ultimately Nana's strength was humbly refreshing compared to Gwen's determination to explain everything away with logic. If Gwen had just a bit more conviction I think I would have liked her just as much as her Nana.
Unfortunately, the conflict of the story involving the shady doings of the teenager Zack McCracken and his need to constantly butt heads with Gwen and Jesse seemed too contrived to be believable. Sure I can be led into thinking it's likely that in a small town like theirs Gwen would find it impossible to avoid a guy hell-bent on making her stay miserable at any available moment. But I draw the line on "believable" when Gwen's friends drive in to visit her and bump into Zack on their own in town and then everyone joins up on the beach for an uncomfortable standoff. Not very likely in the long run of events.
The conflict ended with its pieces all wrapped up tight too fast to make sense. It seemed like one moment Gwen was terrified with what Zack could do and then one page later everything was resolved, fortunate for some and unfortunate for others. Honestly, I got kind of a "Voilà!" vibe out of it. It just ended a bit too neat for my taste. Also after the big mystery of the book was revealed, Gwen only had essentially 5 hours to understand, accept the truth and move on. And when I say 5 hours, I mean in their book time, which essentially equates to about 3/4 of a page in the book for us readers. I'm not sure if that was the author's intention or if the book was meant to continue on a bit more. As mean as it sounds it feels like the author had more to do with the story but she was told to cut it short and she just put a small ending to what she had and left it at that. There wasn't enough falling action in the dramatic structure of the novel for it to make complete sense in the conclusion. It feels too abrupt to give a proper resolution for the reader and some questions were never answered. I finished the book and then went searching online to see if Farley had written a sequel. Needless to say, my search was futile.
Rating: 3 Stars
Maybe it could have been worse but Farley's poetic sense and her beautiful sentences helped bring the rating up a bit. I WANTED to like this book, I sincerely did, but I had too many problems with the characters and the abrupt ending to give this book anything higher than a 3. If Farley ever continues this story I'll give it a shot in the hopes of adoring that book and boosting this one up to a more favorable position in my library.