The Call by Peadar O'Guilin
Novel: The Call by Peadar O'Guilin | GoodreadsRelease Date: August 30, 2016Publisher: ScholasticFormat: ARCSource: Publisher
The Hunger Games meets horror in this unforgettable thriller where only one thing is certain . . . you will be Called.Thousands of years ago, humans banished the Sidhe fairy race to another dimension. The beautiful, terrible Sidhe have stewed in a land of horrors ever since, plotting their revenge . . . and now their day has come.Fourteen-year-old Nessa lives in a world where every teen will be "Called." It could come in the middle of the day, it could come deep in the night. But one instant she will be here, and the next she will wake up naked and alone in the Sidhe land. She will be spotted, hunted down, and brutally murdered. And she will be sent back in pieces by the Sidhe to the human world . . . unless she joins the rare few who survive for twenty-four hours and escape unscathed.Nessa trains with her friends at an academy designed to maximize her chances at survival. But as the days tick by and her classmates go one by one, the threat of her Call lurks ever closer . . . and with it the threat of an even more insidious danger closer to home.
Going into ALA Annual, I knew that I wanted to get The Call. If someone can do faeries well - in the malevolent, eerie way depicted in folk tales - I’m a goner. (Part of the reason I became such a Maggie Stiefvater fangirl was her evocative mood in Lament.) I was so happy when the kind publicists at Scholastic found me a copy! I read the first chapter, lying on my bedroom floor, and it took all my self-restraint to save it for my vacation. I always love having at least one creepy read on the island, something otherworldly to fit the mood.
I’m still a bit in shock. The Call was so much better than I could have imagined. I went into it not knowing a ton about the plot, but it thickened gradually so I could easily understand what was happening. The atmosphere, narrative, and characters were all absolutely sublime. My immediate thought was that it's like Gone by Michael Grant - but with malevolent Irish faeries.
First of all, I was immediately drawn in by Nessa. Our main character is strong, but not to the point where she loses her humanity. In novels like this, especially focused on survival, I often have trouble relating to characters who seem so machine-like. Subsequently, the reader is consistently reminded of her fragility and obstacles. Also? Little thing but I love that she's only fourteen; sometimes YA can get stuck in this rut where they only use seventeen year olds for stories like this, ones that require maturity and grace. But Nessa is marvelous exactly the way that she is. She's not even remotely passive, and her interactions with others - passionate, startling - build the foundation for a superb crescendo.
I appreciated seeing some disability representation. I'm able-bodied, so I can't say for certain whether it was done well, but O'Guilin managed to capture a thoughtful balance between Nessa's dependence and inability vs. her insane drive and capabilities. She didn't want pity and she didn't want special treatment, but considering the world around her, she also had to carefully weigh her options in certain scenarios - often having to go down unfortunate paths. She has grit.
The supporting characters were complex, each contributing to the constant uncertainty. They were grisly and funny and delicate; the spot-on characterization by O'Guilin made each person have a distinguishable voice. Conor, the fiend; Anto, the gentle giant; Megan, the blunt; a few others who were absorbing.
The amount of strategy and world building that must have gone into The Call was just astonishing. There’s a ton of sensory detail lent to both the Sídhe world and the dystopian-like community from which Nessa originates. I relished the exploration of folk lore, and the clear imprints those had on the story. What’s more, it’s crafted in a way that’s pretty subtle; there’s never a concrete explanation of all the history necessary to create a world so fully-fledged, but it doesn’t feel like it skimps in any way. That might actually bother some readers, but I didn't mind. Instead, the ambiguity contributes to an atmosphere that’s dark and uncertain at every turn, heightening the suspense.
I am in absolute awe of any author who can pace well, and O'Guilin did an excellent job. The subtlety of the horror paired with the mind-boggling way it was interwoven into the story was just phenomenal. For example, the mini-chapters of those who’d been Called just absolutely destroyed me. They were vivid and horrible but woven with just enough hope to keep you rooting for each person as they navigated the savage world of the Sidhe. Furthermore, he balanced the inevitable Call with the panic and emotion of a frenzied adolescence, as well as some unsteady characters at home who always had me guessing. The line between human and faerie - who was capable of unspeakable violence and terror? - blurred.
Meanwhile, although the details are stunningly creative, it never veers too far into absurdity. There's a logical backbone that kept me involved in the story, recognizing and dissecting certain strategies and tropes vs. their unique counterparts that O'Guilin threw in there. The word I keep coming back to in my thoughts of The Call is balanced. I don't normally see too many books that are inherently distinct but also have solid proportions between all these different aspects that make a story successful.
Overall, however, the main reason I loved The Call was because it has a sinister atmosphere that I could sink into. Every page of it was unfailingly compelling, and the mood was fiercely independent of any other novel I can think of. I'm always on the hunt for what I call "Halloween books", those creepy tales that start to paint October for me. I like getting in a horror-conducive mood. Last year, my title was The Accident Season. This year, it looks like I'll be endorsing The Call. I also love books that truly surprise me plot-wise. I feel like becoming a blogger and starting to recognize literary patterns has started to dull my ability to be shocked by twists. It was such a remarkably pleasant feeling to have goosebumps, or to jump, or even just to feel my heart thudding against my ribcage when there was a Call, or something happened back at the school.