Initial thoughts: I think this is one of the times where, in the consideration of a book “great premise, lacking execution” fully applies. This book didn’t work for me for quite many constructive reasons, which I’ll expound upon in the full review when I’ve had a chance to meditate over some of its themes. It has a heart in right places, but cedes to things and lacks the execution needed to have due impact in what it brings to the table.
One of the things that tend to make or break a book for me for impact occurs when the thematic tackles a difficult subject relating to a protagonist. There has to be a degree of due weight in relation to the difficult subject(s) presented. “Flutter” has an excellent, fascinating theme behind it, and easily, by premise alone, it’s the kind of book that I should’ve loved from beginning to end even with its intended age group in mind. I’ve read, and have even been inspired by, many books where the primary character (young or elder) has a particular health issue and experiences hardship with respect to how it impedes their ability to live – whether in a realistic or supernatural fashion. In many cases, the story progresses with the steps they take to either try to overcome it or mitigate its influence so that life can be lived or a specific goal that the character wants can be achieved. That’s a very valid theme.
17-year old Emery Land is a young woman who, since the age of 12, has been suffering from a major seizure disorder, one that threatens her very life with how intense and long she’s under. Her father, a scientist, gathers data about how each of Emery’s seizures affect her body and scientists suspect that there’s more to her seizures than meets the eye, keeping her within the hospital not just under protection, but also to observe her. The measure where Emery feels like a lab rat trapped in the hospital environment when all she wants is to live a normal life did strike me, but not through the writing itself. I’ll explain why in a little bit.
There’s a catch to her respective condition, something far more complex beneath the surface. Emery doesn’t simply suffer from seizures as per her diagnosis, but rather her condition is a gateway to time jumping. She terms them “loops” to where she experiences certain events and encounters not only what seems to be a future involving an older version of her father imparting wisdom, but also a mysterious boy (whom she calls “my boy”) whom she’s curious about. Frustrated, Emery makes an escape and follows specific visions in her loops to lead her away from her father’s influence. Question is – what’s causing her visions to grow more intense, where are they leading her to, who is the boy in her visions, and who is this “other” boy she comes across in a group she takes refuge with from her father?
If that sounds like it might have the potential for becoming a supernatural romance, you’re absolutely right. And I’d say that’s what the book mostly comprises of. While that element in itself may not necessarily seem like a bad thing (depending on how its done), for this novel, it doesn’t treat its particular dimensions and subjects well for what the premise would lend.
Let me start by tackling the major problem that “Flutter” seems to have. It’s presentation is, ironically, quite entwined with its name. Instead of being a book that takes on its respective tough issues and delves as much as it can into the emotional contrast that Emery feels with being manipulated, confined and subjected to these time loops and within the hospital environment, the narrative just barely skirts the surface of the emotions themselves, and has a bit of a jagged presentation that disrupts the flow of the narrative. I didn’t feel the conflict as readily as it could’ve been, I think Linko could’ve gone a bit deeper by not using exposition to tell what Emery feels, but rather show it and show the contrast with more intimacy. It’s not that I don’t think Linko has the ability to show details, because in the dream states and in describing the setting – she does a decent job, but it’s not translated to the character’s narrative and emotional focus. I felt very at arms length with Emery’s experiences, and there were tangents in terms of the pseudo-science/medical speak that harmed more than helped the narrative. I’ll give credit to Linko that she gets the symptomatic states of seizure disorders correct in some terms, but it’s very loose. Also, I’ll admit the transition to and from these states don’t pack as much of a punch because of the awkward exposition.
Emery’s body/state of health is at a point near death. For a reader to be constantly told “I’m going to die” or “think I’m going to die” in so many variations by Emery herself – it gets a bit grating especially seeing how naïve Emery’s voice tends to be. There are so many ways to show the stakes and panic/pain of near death and what the intimate experience of a seizure entails. Linko doesn’t bring that potency/contrast to the table as urgently as I think she could’ve. This problem doesn’t just occur with Emery, but also with some of the other characters which I’ll describe shortly. I did understand that Emery was fed up with her situation, with not knowing who to trust and suspecting that her father was a part of some greater conspiracy (albeit a very loosely drawn conspiracy). When introduced to Emery’s friend Gia, noted as the only one who “believed” her, I figured the story would take a transition point where Emery’d have enough and flee when she could. It was after that point where things became a bit rocky with respect to the story structure.
The characters, apart from Emery’s narrative, aren’t nearly as fleshed out as they could’ve been. I get a sense of Emery’s conflict in the beginning of the book, and I thought that was probably the part of the novel that was better done than what the story transitioned to. Second part of the book, during which the main character escapes her unverified danger to a town called Esperanza, Emery meets Ash, a boy with his own secrets. It’s pretty much a fair helping of an “instalove” connection. Ash, I felt had some good qualities about him – helpful around the cabin areas albeit a little difficult to get to know otherwise at first. I found it difficult to connect to him and there are many times when he suffers from the same expositional distance as Emery.
A major revelation about Ash’s life, for example, falters because of this expositional measure – we’re told his details, rather than being able to fully feel the depth of his experiences. There are a bunch of terms about spies, FBI, and “Law and Order” ties drawn to try to describe the process of which Emery’s being pursued on the outside of where she’s hiding (via narratives from Gia), but this really isn’t drawn that well and there’s very little to no sense of imminent danger/conflict because of the telling. I think the only time I felt the dangerous aspects of the story kick in was when that revelation about Ash hit and the story transitions to address that part of the narrative.
Then there’s the big reveal about Emery’s ability and the ending. In a more developed narrative, with more vetted characters and streamlined emotions and events, I would’ve said that the way Linko ended this would’ve been brilliant. However, there are so many story elements that are left unanswered and untied, and the characters don’t hold the weight of either the conflict nor that particular scene for it to work for what it entailed. I think some would see it as a rushed ending with an obvious leaning towards a direction much beyond where the story started, I see it as an underdeveloped ending that doesn’t match up with the premise that well and doesn’t carry the emotional intensity that it attempts. Much of that is because the characterization, development, and treatment of the respective conflict doesn’t add up to what it could’ve been.
Overall, Linko’s narrative in “Shutter” disappointed me because the style and progression of the story did not match the potential of what the premise would lend, shortchanging its potential by not only skirting the emotional resonance of the story, but also skirting its more interesting elements to a supernatural romance between characters that lack due dimension. As I mentioned in one of my end reflections upon the novel, if you’re taking a story in a tough direction, you can’t just bring elements out of nowhere and not treat the tough subjects with as much dimension as they’re worth – you have to seize them and take the plunge to develop them and treat them with due weight. I would likely try another book of Linko’s to see more of her style, but this didn’t have intrigue for me, considering it’s a YA supernatural time-traveling story that lends more to a formulaic romance when it’s all said and done.
Overall score: 1/5
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher Random House BYFR.