This was a really unique and imaginative story, and I wish it had a bigger following! Elizabeth Caldwell doesn’t feel emotions. That is the beginning of the blurb on the back of the book. That’s not so unusual in a heroine who is blunted by pain – but no. She really DOESN’T feel emotions. Nothing. No fear, pain, joy, hope, disgust, nothing. And she knows that is totally true because Fear keeps showing up and trying to get a rise out of her.
Elizabeth doesn’t feel emotions but she can SEE them. Not as vapors, or the looks on people’s faces – she sees them as people. The other plane, it’s called. There is a personification for every emotion, and the elements, like wind, fire, winter and spring and such. Even Moss has a little creature that embodies it. They are able to duplicate themselves (otherwise, how would they go everywhere there is a need for their particular purpose?) They come and go, sometimes they hang around if the urge is really intense. If they don’t show up and touch the person, it’s possible for someone to get caught in a loop of the same emotion. If for some reason they aren’t able to show up, the person can pull up the memory of the emotion. But basically, they keep emotions balanced.
The interactions with Fear are pretty terrible. He does embody, after all, fear, and when he shows up, he sort of tortures her by showing her all kinds of terrible things to try and get a rise out of her. She once wakes up tied to a bed, all cut up, a man with a knife in the corner. That scared the shit out of me until you realize it’s not real. Elizabeth tries to hide this, but she can’t do it all the time. Her family, including her drunken, abusive father, is kind of scared of her. They have a small farm with dairy cows and the family does the work. Her mom, who suffers the worst of the abuse, tells Elizabeth that she knows she isn’t her daughter, that her daughter smiled and laughed and played. Her brother is away at college, and when he’s home, he pretends everything is ok. (This really made me mad, as his mother and sister are being abused and this coward doesn’t do anything – but sadly, that can be the way in abusive, dysfunctional homes). Charles is the favorite and only gets yelled at. Her father calls her a freak and will beat on her when her mother is locked in the bathroom. She’s bullied at school by the person that used to be her best friend. Everyone thinks she’s a freak. And the girl who is her friend, Maggie, is dying of cancer.
At first, I thought she had it kind of good, what with the way her life is. Who’d want to feel those emotions, right? But what she has instead is nothingness. She has to remember to call her sick friend. She has to negotiate with the bullies, pretending to show fear or whatever they might want, just to get the abuse out of the way now, rather than later, when it might be far worse. It’s pretty heartbreaking. And I found this to be dark, but I enjoy dark stories, and this is kind of haunting and beautiful. She struggles with the nothingness, wondering why she doesn’t feel but can see the other plane, and what her dreams mean.
She continuously dreams the same thing – the image of a beautiful dark haired girl weeping over the figure of a beautiful dead boy. She sees the clearing where it happened, the heartbreaking wails of the girl begging him to come back. And then there is the mysterious woman. She can sense her but doesn’t know what emotion she is. When she shows up, she gives her the barest bit of warning, telling her it’s almost time, telling her where not to go. It’s very frustrating, because something is going on. Elizabeth begins to sense that there is a wall between her and emotions touching her. There are even times when a brick or two in that wall seems to move, to suggest there is something more, and some people affect that wall more than others. She can sense other powers as well, but they are nameless to her and she doesn’t know what they are.
In and among all this is Joshua. He’s got a huge crush on Elizabeth, which she isn’t able to return. He sees another side to her, and we begin to question if she is as immune to emotion as she believes. If it’s hard to navigate processing emotion and human behavior with bullies, imagine how hard it is with someone who has a crush. One of the emotions suggests to her that she should be kind to him and so she tries to manage the tricky process of not hurting someone who has a lot of feelings when you have none.
Among all this, something out there is searching for her, and she has no idea what it is. Let’s just say there is a lot more to Elizabeth than she believes. She’s drawn into a struggle for her life and she learns what her dreams and visions mean. I wouldn’t call the writing really gorgeous or anything but it was very straightforward and well done. The story was beautiful, the love story was amazing, and it was really creative and different. I’m definitely reading the sequel.