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die for meDie For Me by Amy Plum
Revenants #1

HarperTeen 2011
Hardback
341 pages
YA Paranormal Romance



In the wake of their parents’ death in a car accident, teenage sisters Georgia and Kate move to Paris to live with their paternal grandparents. They each have their own ways of grieving: Georgia, the attractive, social older sister, goes out almost every night, clubbing and making friends, though Kate hears her sobbing at night sometimes. Kate, on the other hand, is a quieter, bookish type, and holes up in her room, unwilling to go out. Finally her sister convinces her to at least go to a cafe and read, if read is all she wants to do. It’s there, at the cafe Kate goes to almost every day to read on the patio, that she sees the boys for the first time – in particular, one dark-haired gorgeous boy and his two friends.

After seeing him the first time at the cafe, Kate next sees him while she and Georgia are taking a midnight walk along the river – he’s on the bridge, trying to talk a girl out of jumping. Underneath the bridge, they hear a fight – with swords. One of the other men Kate’s seen the mystery boy with comes to lead them away. She finally meets him – Vincent – properly at the Picasso museum, and a flirtatious friendship begins. But Kate is aware that something is a bit off with Vincent and his friends, right from the beginning – or from the moment she watched him dive off a bridge to save a girl’s life while his friends battled unseen foes. When she follows him and one of the others, Jules, into the Metro after overhearing a confusing conversation, she witnesses something unbelievable and shocking: a man jumps onto the tracks in front of the train, and Jules jumps down too, pushes him out of the way and takes the hit.

Kate can’t understand why Vincent is so calm about it and doesn’t seem upset that his friend just died. Unable to comprehend it, she severs the friendship. But while researching the Paris riots of 1968 she comes across a death notice for Vincent, and his friend Ambrose – the names were different, but the photos were exact matches, give a change of hairstyle. They were firefighters, the obituaries said, who died saving people from a building fire. But it’s when she sees Jules, alive and well though denying knowing her, that Kate realises the only way she’ll be able to make sense of any of this is to go to Vincent, and get answers.

Vincent and his friends – Jules, Ambrose, twins Charlotte and Charles, an older man called Gaspard and an old man called Jean-Baptiste, the leader of the group – live in one of Paris’ private palaces, one of Jean-Baptiste’s many properties throughout France. Convincing Jean-Baptiste to let her in to write Vincent a letter, since he’s unavailable, she finds herself alone and in the position to do some snooping. Nothing could have prepared her for the sight of Vincent on his bed, dead. Only, he’s not dead. He’s something else, something more. A Revenant. He dies for other people. They all do, this group of mostly young people, and they have dangerous enemies too.

Kate’s just lived through the experience of her parents dying, way too young. Can she continue beings friends – no, more than friends, something deeper and more lasting, with Vincent, only to watch him die again and again? What is the cost to herself, and can she pay it? Can she love him enough to stay with him?

I am feeling a bit mixed about this book; since finishing it last week, the things I liked about it have faded away almost completely. It is well written, I loved the Paris setting, and I liked the new paranormal element: the revenants, which is a very interesting concept and nicely played out. It is lacking some of the more frustrating, common elements of YA paranormal romance, though it does still have a bit of “insta-love” as others have called: instantly falling in love with one look at the beautiful boy across the way. Still, Kate kept a level head, didn’t do anything too silly, and overall was a pretty decent teenage role model. Though she still put Vincent on a pedestal.

Right about now, you’ve probably spotted where I’m going with this. Die For Me is, for better or worse, the Twilight anti-novel. Or the anti-Twilight novel. I had the strong sense that Plum had taken all the things that annoyed her – or rather, all the things that readers hated about the Twilight series, from Edward’s stalker and over-protective behaviour to Bella’s apparent uselessness – and rewritten them. It bears a lot of similarities, not just because it follows a format common to the genre. Vincent is a patient, understanding young man who backs off when Kate demands space, and who (mostly) stays away when she breaks up with him. He’s still god-like, to Kate’s eyes anyway, and he’s still immortal. His friends could easily be stand-ins for the Cullens: Ambrose, the big muscular black guy with the goofy sense of humour, is Emmett. Charlotte with her pixie haircut is Alice. I suppose Jules and Charles are the two sides of Jacob: Jules is always half-jokingly hitting on Kate and Charles is full of angst and anger. You’ve got tongue-tied poet Gaspard and J-B as the parent figures. None of this is important, of course, it’s just something that really stood out to me.

Not to mention all the in-jokes. There’re plenty of references to vampires and the fact that Vincent’s not one, and other comments that seem to make fun of Twilight, like Vincent reassuring Kate he’s not stalking her. None of this bothered me – I loved the Twilight series but I don’t take it seriously. It’s hard not to see comparison in books that follow, and that have so much in common. It’s just that, with Plum’s novel, I got the distinct impression that it was all deliberate, which gave it a tone of self-consciousness – and, even, smug superiority – that I hate finding in books. Possibly my only point in mentioning this is that, if you hated Twilight, you’ll probably love Die For Me. (Then again, if you loved Twilight, you’ll probably enjoy this, since it is paranormal romance and follows much the same structure and formula.)

Where I struggled with Die For Me was in regards to structure and timing, a lack of real chemistry between Kate and Vincent – this tends to happen when you remove the intensity typical of paranormal romance and let plot and world-building take over the story – and a heroine whom I found, at times, to be a bit wishy-washy and lacklustre.

There’s a lot of new information to be doled out in this first volume, and some of it came just too late to appease my feelings of frustration and confusion. Vincent is very forth-coming about who and what he is, but in the interests of not over-loading Kate, the text and readers all at once, it’s spread out. The problem was, I didn’t fully understand what had happened early on in the novel until near the end, when I finally got the pieces I needed to have a clear picture. By then, I was a bit irritated at not knowing. I can’t help but feel frustrated when the main character doesn’t ask what, to me, seem like the most obvious questions. I find it very distracting, though not enough to ruin a book on its own.

Kate and Vincent were very likeable, but – dare I say it – too goody-goody-two-shoes for me. Everyone has flaws, weaknesses, or moments of weakness. Quirks of character. Things that make us interesting, unique, in small ways or big ones. I found Kate to be very ordinary, and a replica of the classic book-loving, always-reading, quietly-passionate but surprisingly-obtuse heroine common to YA. Sure I can identify with a girl who loves to read. But when that’s the only thing that really distinguishes her character, I tend to lose interest pretty quickly. What kept me reading was wanting to find out what the deal was with Vincent and his friends, in detail. And I love a good romance. Keeping in mind that I’m not really Plum’s intended, juvenile audience, but an adult who’s read some pretty, a-hem, risque stuff over the years, the romance was disappointingly bland for me. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy quieter, slow-burning love stories – I do, they’re probably my favourite kind. But I need some intensity, a tangible sense of tension, a back-and-forth play of wills maybe, or just straight-out sincerity. I’m not effusive with my emotions in real life, but I love living vicariously – and feeling it – through books. I didn’t feel it with this one. I didn’t really feel much at all.

The things that I enjoyed and the things that disappointed me are balancing each other in my reaction to this book, leaving me feeling like I’m on the fence. There were parts I really enjoyed, and other parts that were way too obvious. Like Lucien, it was blatantly obvious what the deal was with him as soon as we meet him. And I found myself feeling almost indignant that Kate is praised for not running away “like anyone else would have done” at the end, when in fact that was the first thing she did try to do! Was that forgotten in the final edit? And why did she attempt to flee, leaving Vincent’s body completely vulnerable? In that moment, she seemed like a fraud. At least admit to a moment of human weakness, I’d respect her for it more.

I failed to make a real emotional connection with the main characters, and that meant that the story couldn’t really hold me. I only felt moderately interested in the evolving plot, which was very simple and quite uneventful. Usually, the romance side of things provides ample entertainment in the place of an action-packed plot, but that wasn’t the case here. I’m not sure that I completely liked Vincent – I’m not sure I completely trust him, even though there’s no reason not to; and I found Kate pretty lacklustre at best. All my criticisms aside, I did find the writing to be solid and smooth, and I have respect for that. Especially considering I don’t find very many YA novels to be all that well written. Where the writing faltered was in constructing plot, main characters and romance. You’d think, in that case, that the writing wasn’t any good at all, but I have to be fair and say that my negatives on this one are mostly subjective. A different personality type will probably find that there is plenty of chemistry between Vincent and Kate, etc., and I want to allow for that.

Will I read the next book? I don’t feel any particular urge to do so. I’m not terribly interested in where the story goes from here, because without a great romance, or an exciting plot, or characters that felt real and interesting to me, I have no motivation to invest more time in the story.

___________________________________

Other Reviews:

“Paris offered a different setting for an exciting paranormal series. I think what sets this YA novel apart from so many others on the market is that Amy Plum has a beautiful writing style and I really felt the characters were alive and realistic (albeit zombified).” The Australian Bookshelf

“Unfortunately, Die For Me fell flat to me. I found myself unable to connect with the characters.” Good Books and Good Wine

“Overall it was a pretty good read, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I wanted to. I liked it and thought it was okay, but there weren’t any huge emotions involved while I was reading it. That being said, I will still read the next book, because it got me intrigued enough and hopefully it’ll be more action packed and Kate will finally start to trust her instincts and the people she cares about.” Little Pieces of Imagination

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