My rating: 2 of 5 stars
This is going to be one of those reviews that proves difficult for me to articulate, but I’m going to give it my best shot in the hopes that it establishes how I consider the work I’m writing about.
I feel a tremendous sense of heaviness when reviewing Carole Rummage’s “Refuge”, and the reason might surprise some of you. No, it’s not because I’ve had my fill of YA paranormal romances – I’m actually a little more forgiving considering it’s a popular genre and I know there are going to be a lot of writers who may take on similar themes, but attempt to put their own stamp on it. What I usually look for in any genre are those stories that captivate me even if it might follow a common troupe or set of themes. Sure, there might be books that take on a story about a girl falling in love with vampire/werewolf/shapeshifter/insert paranormal character of choice, but the questions that I usually ask are: how well you can pull me into the narrative, how developed are your characters, and how well do you make the world and work your own?
Probably the strongest part of “Refuge” in terms of its intimacy/uniqueness was the attention given to the overarching setting – and I actually liked that part of it. It’s set in Columbia, North Carolina – a small town located towards the northeast part of the state, and there are references through the work that make this very much a North Carolina novel – attention given even to the universities like UNC-Chapel Hill, N.C. State, and Duke, among other elements. And given that the author’s from NC, I understood wanting to establish that sense of place, and I commend the work for that because there are some authors who don’t even take the time to make sure those details are accurate and have meaning to the context of the overarching story told.
That said, for everything else provided with “Refuge” – it’s your run of the mill YA paranormal romance novel, complete with instalove and an overfocus on the romantic inclinations between the characters. I would’ve rather seen the kind of intimacy noted with the place in this novel applied with the characterization and the overarching story, but alas, that wasn’t to be. That’s what disappointed me, because with such attention taken to the place, I ask why more wasn’t done to make the other elements less…obvious?
The story toggles between the perspectives of Laney, a young woman who has lost her family and goes to live with her aunt and uncle after a horrible accident, and Gabe, an outcast youth branded by his “illness” and questionable history. Laney struggles to adjust to her surroundings and meets Gabe, where both seem to hit it off rather quickly (and might I add a little too quickly for development’s sake). The story henceforth tells of (not so much shows) their attraction to each other and conflicts in terms of their relationships. I was fairly underwelmed by the story because it follows many of the same templates of titles in this genre: girl meets boy, they fall in love, girl encounters other boy who vies for affections and girl figures out he’s a jerk, boy has questionable past and secret (when the secret’s obviously leaning towards the paranormal), something terrible happens and it’s blamed on the boy’s family, the truth comes out and things work out between girl and boy.
Seriously, it’s that straightforward, no derivation whatsoever. I wish I could say that the characters brought something to the table that made it more than that, but they’re fairly generic versus ceding to more intimate and unique developments. I never understood why the author chose to keep Gabe’s “illness” a secret for so long, and worse yet, have a platform where Gabe was defined by his illness in the eyes of many of the community members. At one point, and this left me fairly incensed – one of the characters – Matthew tells Laney to stay away from Gabe’s family because – and this is a direct quote – “For one thing, they’re sick. Some nasty disease, maybe HIV. I don’t know.” And he’s an aspiring doctor.
I was fairly incensed with Matthew’s character in general, and he’s obviously set up to be the “bad guy” in this story, but I didn’t like the attributions made to illness in that context. People are not defined by their illnesses and I think more could’ve been done to knock that idea down, though Laney does recognize in the context of the story that Matthew has a skewed view of illness in general.
I think to wrap this review on an overall note: this story had elements where it could’ve easily taken itself out of the familiar and become more, but it’s fairly cliche and doesn’t do much to expand upon its particular genre, and I think that was the story’s greatest weakness in the end. I was rather disappointed with it.
Overall score: 1.5/5
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher Cedar Fort.