I’m at a loss for words because Lisa Ann O’Kane’s “Essence” is little more than a contemporary YA romance with love triangle and coming of age leanings wrapped in a futuristic dystopian package. It really isn’t a dystopian title in any means because it literally does little – if anything – to play up the environment or even the future in which it takes place. When you take away those parts of it, there’s very little holding it together at all, and much of it comes across as ludicrous and puerile. I honestly have no idea what’s distinguishing this. Scant worldbuilding and mediocre scientific focus to boot.
Autumn starts off the novel as a young woman who’s recently lost her little six year old brother, and rebels against the society that raised her because of their callous attitude towards her brother’s death. They are a society that is restrictive in controlling the “essence” of the people in their population. Strong emotions, non-conformity, things of that nature are all indicative of one who lacks balance in their respective “essence”. I could get behind that. Even when I was a little skeptical of Autumn’s quick to judgement movements and actions, I figured the book would expound on these details later on. It caught my attention and the prose was easy to read through.
Autumn comes across a group of outsiders who convince her to follow them because of her doubts in the society she was raised and that they want to show her that her life has been a lie. She’s only minimally skeptical and ends up going with them without much fight at all (despite leaving her mother and aunt behind – because rebellion!). Even still, she says she’s doing this for the sake of discovery in her brother’s memory, but more like she’s attuned to the alluring presence of a boy (Ryder) and his respective group. She ends up toggling affections between two boys (one of which was formerly of her same group), discovering people who are partially unclothed or fully naked (as some of their water dives showcase), trying drugs for the first time, having sex, running (because her society’s focused on meditation and notably sedentary as it would disrupt their “essence.” When Autumn takes off running in rebellion and feels the pain of physical exertion for notably the first time – I had to shake my head. It made my fitness/wellness mind facepalm many a time).
It turns out that Autumn gets recruited into some tests that measure her essence in order to prove that the “essence” theory is B.S. (Huh?) And in order to prove that it’s B.S., she’s running with a group of her peers in these high adrenaline activities in what used to be Yosemite Park, but there have been volcanoes and natural disasters that decimated the world at one point (this is threadbare in establishment). But she finds that more than one person is lying to her about her circumstances (including Ryder), and she undertakes a very harrowing task involving walking on a mountain without so much as checking until the last moment for her security details for very little reason at all, just because she trusts the person who doesn’t turn out to be trust worthy at all. But it’s all okay, because she has the love of a hot boy (Ryder). He likes to show off his nakedness to her, and even if he drugs her (just because his father told him to) and has sex with her (which was awkward) – she might call him out on these things and label him a jerk that’s dangerous and wrong for her in one moment, but the next she’s back to loving him as if nothing wrong happened at all.
This book had so many things wrong with it that it’s just painful for me to even dwell too much on it. I will say, constructively speaking to end this review out – that the character development and motivations were completely off and vague, the worldbuilding did nothing to play up the respective environment and make it interesting (or even clear cut), the love triangle/love story felt so forced it made me feel like it was a forgone conclusion, the character actions were supposed to be discovery/coming of age, but came across as stupid, the ending was a bit vague, and…
Yeah, none of this worked. Not recommended.
Overall score: 0.5/5 stars
Note; I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher Angry Robot/Strange Chemistry.