Cassandra – aptly named – can tell when someone’s about to die. They have a mild glow around them, and when she sees this, she knows they will be dead in a matter of hours. Cursed with this knowledge, she tries to sort through what she should do about it. Should she tell people? Would they think she’s crazy (classic Cassandra complex), or would they listen to her? If they do listen to her, is she right to warn them? Can she prevent deaths, and if so, should she? Should she interfere with fate, or is it just that person’s right time to die? If it’s their time to die, should she try to give them a chance to put things right in their world or say goodbye to loved ones? These are the questions that burden her.
I’ve wanted to read this book now for about 1.5 years, since I saw an ARC (that they weren’t giving away sadly) at ALA in summer 2009. I’m not normally into paranormal YA, but this one had a special appeal to me. See, my grandmother – as crazy as this sounds – periodically goes through something similar to this. When she meets someone who will die in the near future, she gets this sort of headache and she just knows. This has happened all her life. It’s not the only thing she can see or feel psychically, or whatever you want to call it. My grandmother knew before I did each time I got pregnant. She would inform everyone in the family, so that when I called to tell, they all knew already, even though I lived across the country and she hadn’t talked to me at all. She just knew. She knows when someone’s about to get severely ill, or go through a divorce. She saw her own father’s death in a dream months before it happened, down to the exact way he died, and tried to warn everyone, only to be ignored. She had a dream foreshadowing the death of her children, and was able to prevent it from happening by explaining the circumstances to her oldest daughter. It doesn’t happen all the time. She doesn’t know everything. But when she knows something, she knows, and we listen.
Again, I know it sounds crazy. I don’t expect anyone to believe it, and I wouldn’t believe it myself except that I’ve seen and experienced it over and over again. So you can see why a book on this subject would really appeal to me. I do admit, though, that I was leery of the book. The problem with an explosion of any genre is that books are pushed out as fast as possible to capitalize on the movement. Many times the writing, style, voice, and character development are sacrificed in the rush. I worried this would be one of those books, the sort of book I could skim through and end up feeling very meh about.
It wasn’t. I was really surprised, especially now after two months of mostly mediocre books, but Jen Nadol writes fabulously. This book was far less concept-driven and more philosophical. Cassie takes a philosophy class throughout the course of the book and learns about all different ways to think about life, the meaning of life, and duty. She struggles with all those questions I mentioned in my synopsis. She tries different ways of dealing with this thing she can do, and different ways of looking at it.
There is so much packed in here, and all these themes are so well explored. Cassie is a wonderful character, and her discoveries about herself, her family, and her strength along the way are gradual and realistic. I can’t tell you how good it was to read something so wonderful again!
There’s only one bad thing I can say about the book: I wish I hadn’t read the last four chapters. They smacked of market manipulation. They changed the book from a wonderful character introspection to a way-out-there paranormal. It went from heart-rending to completely unbelievable. And what for? Well, to me it felt like a trilogy setup, though of course I might be wrong. That’s just what it felt like. It really irritated me, though, because the book could have cut off those four chapters, adding a concluding chapter, and worked as a brilliant standalone. The reveals in those last chapters felt completely wrong for the tone of the book, and I just couldn’t suspend my disbelief enough. I didn’t like them at all. I don’t like the current trend towards trilogies (whether or not that’s what was going on here) and I wish more authors/publishers would just let books stay as standalones.
Personally, I’m just going to pretend those last four chapters don’t exist and I won’t be reading any sequels. I’m not going to let those last chapters ruin what was otherwise a wonderful reading experience, and I highly recommend the book without them. Jen Nadol’s writing is wonderful and she has some really deep thoughts that run through The Mark.