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Oddly surreal and detached, especially for YA

By Chris Poirier, editor

Apr 1, 2009: The Lighthouse Chronicles is the story of Max, a teenaged girl who has been sent on a mission by a voice she has heard since she was 4 years old. The first time she heard it, the instructions the voice gave her saved her from injury. What it is telling her now, however—at 15—is that she must find, obtain, and destroy an Artifact from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, for the Artifact will "destroy her" if she doesn’t. Max seems convinced that her real mission is to save the world, though, at 19 chapters to date, we have only her conclusions about that, and there’s no indication of how the world might actually be in danger.

While at the museum, searching for the Artifact the voice wishes her to find, Max meets Ben Quentin, the son of a wealthy family putting on an exhibit at the museum. When she eventually finds the Artifact, with Ben’s unwitting help, it turns out to be a diamond tiara once owned by his great-great-great-aunt and now in the very exhibit he is "managing". Its job apparently done, the voice abandons Max to her own devices (it hasn’t shown up again in nearly 20 chapters), and she must figure out for herself how to obtain and destroy the tiara. Conveniently, that very night, she meets (the other) Cat Power, a leather-clad, rooftop-hopping thief, who she later tries to enlist to her cause, when Ben declines to just give her tiara.

The story proceeds from there, with scenes depicting Max’s growing attraction with Ben, her relationship with her mother, her recruiting of Cat Power, and generally, her desire to pursue her mission.

There’s a surreal quality to the first dozen or more chapters that, together with other factors, gives the whole piece a rather detached air. Part of the problem is that the prose is so spare, that it feels like important stuff is being left out. Chapters zip by without much texture, and you never get a chance to really connect with any of it. There’s no tension at all, which seems odd for a story ostensibly about saving the world. Additionally, many of the conversations Max has—with Ben, with Cat Power, with a homeless man in the park, with her mother, even—seem a bit . . . off. They are very terse, like everything else, but more than that, they seem to be missing all the "glue" normal conversations have. A lot of them feel like the conversations you might have in a dream. To be honest, they made me wonder if Max is really a paranoid schizophrenic, despite her specific protestations to the contrary.

Max herself is a bit hard to believe as a character. She seems to have only minimal social skills—to be a loner out of necessity more than choice—and yet has managed to win the popularity contest that gets you a spot on the school student council. She straight up asks Ben, who she has only met once, to hand over the tiara, without any guile or attempt to manipulate him into doing it—as if she doesn’t know better. She seems to treat her mother almost as a child to be managed, and the only conversation she has with a school friend shows her to be completely disconnected from what’s going on in their relationship. At times, she comes across as 10 years old. At other times, 40. The words and the behaviours aren’t quite matching up, and, again, it makes the story rather hard to connect with.

Things have started to improve a bit in the most recent chapters—starting around chapter 16. The events in the story seem finally to be developing some actual presence in the characterization, and things are starting to feel a little more real because of it.

I’m going to reserve final judgement on The Lighthouse Chronicles for now—I want to see a bit more of it before I make up my mind. It’s a very quick read, and I think it’s probably worth a look—other reviewers here have certainly thought so. But I think the story needs to decide—and soon—what it wants to be. At present, it seems scattered, and a bit too surreal for its own good. It’s very directed in some ways (the plot), and totally directionless in others (the choice of scenes, the lack of tension). Further, it made a promise in the first chapter, and it has yet to live up to it, or show any real sign that it will. It needs to do that soon. To be honest, it should have done it already.

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