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A Reader of Fictions: Review: Touching the Surface

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Friday, October 26, 2012

Review: Touching the Surface

Touching the Surface

Author: Kimberly Sabatini
Pages: 352
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication Date: October 30, 2012
Source: Publisher for review via YA Books Central

Description from Goodreads:
Experience the afterlife in this lyrical, paranormal debut novel that will send your heart soaring.

When Elliot finds herself dead for the third time, she knows she must have messed up, big-time. She doesn’t remember how she landed in the afterlife again, but she knows this is her last chance to get things right.

Elliot just wants to move on, but first she will be forced to face her past and delve into the painful memories she’d rather keep buried. Memories of people she’s hurt, people she’s betrayed…and people she’s killed.

As she pieces together the secrets and mistakes of her past, Elliot must find a way to earn the forgiveness of the person she’s hurt most, and reveal the truth about herself to the two boys she loves…even if it means losing them both forever.

First Sentence: "My body smacked the water."

One of my very favorite subgenres of fiction deals with stories about the afterlife. I spend a rather indecent amount of time considering what life after death might consist of and my only completed work of fiction dealt with that topic. Touching the Surface has been on my radar because of its subject matter, its beautiful cover (which looks like the work of my friend Annie and fits the book perfectly), and the author's participation in the Apocalypsies. As ever when embarking upon a book with high hopes, I dreaded disappointment, but instead found a beautiful, quirky, emotional, clever, sweet, dark, magical read.

Sabatini's vision of the afterlife enthralled my imagination completely. She combines familiar concepts into something fresh and compelling. The concept of reincarnation has always called to me far more than most religious ideas, so I loved that Sabatini included that. She also put her own spin on it with the idea that, on a soul's third failure to reach some sort of enlightenment and whatever next step that brings, the soul's memories are wiped. This forces delving, a slow recapturing of the previous life's memories that allows for deeper reflection and analysis, removing preconceptions and errors kept in ordinary memory. Delving is also a group experience, not just a personal one, so that others can try to help the Third Timers figure out what has kept them from moving on.

Another fascinating element of this is the bodiless nature of the characters. They are all technically embodied throughout the book, but they have not always worn that body. In her first life, Elliot and her best friend Julia were twin brothers named Arty and Jim. The souls simply continue to wear the body and use the name of their last life until they reenter the stream to a new one. The souls can idenitfy one another by their scent that remains constant from body to body. Though she occasionally comments on appearances, the personality obviously factors in much more in how others seem to her.

The other main delightful quirk about the afterlife is the ability to manifest the mind's landscape physically. Thoughts can be created, from a lake to a mountain to a book the soul wants to read. Within the Obmil, this afterlife, the body cannot be injured and seems to have so much power. Not gonna lie, I would want to stay there and would try to get my friends to stay too. Of course, when you have a bad day, you literally will be stuck in a storm cloud of your own devising, but that's a small price to pay for the perks.

Alright, now that I'm done fangirling over the world building, I should probably discuss the plot a bit, shouldn't I? At the outset, I was a bit concerned that the book was heading for a stereotypical romance plot line: a rift between two best friends, a beautiful boy she feels inextricably drawn to (Oliver), a hot, angry boy who also seems to be part of her past (Trevor), and a love square between the four. Thankfully, this got cleared up pretty quickly and the characters did what was right for them, rather than conforming to tropes. Though the emotions become intense alarmingly quickly, it helped set the scene and conveyed the confusion Elliot felt being confronted with people who remembered her that she could not yet recall.

Elliot is a great character. She doesn't kick butt. She's sometimes weak. She's selfish, and sometimes a bully. All of that makes her who she is, and, even at her worst, I still felt for her and got her motivations. She manages to feel utterly real, especially in her struggle to find a sense of self, and her blithe unawareness of how she can steamroll others. Elliot wants to move on, hates having come back as a Third Timer, but she fears delving into her memories. Obviously, death in one's teen years doesn't signify a happy story.

The book alternates between the fantasy lanscape of Obmil and flashbacks to the characters' memories of their previous lives. This allows Sabatini to confront both gritty real life issues and psychological struggles. The flashbacks also explain why the characters feel the way they do about one another in the beginning, often for reasons even they don't know. This storytelling method adds a lot of tension to the tale and kept me flipping pages.

I dearly love Trevor. Oliver may be the nice one, though he shows some darker moods too (which I like), but I always have been drawn to the moody ones. Watching Trevor open up is delightful and he definitely puts hummingbirds in my stomach, let me tell you. What I love best is the way he changes the slogan on his t-shirt to match his emotions, generally with a smartass comment.

Ending books about the afterlife is generally pretty tricky, more so than with other genres perhaps. Sabatini's ending worked perfectly, I felt. I didn't anticipate quite the direction it would go in, and I really appreciated that. Nothing's wrapped up exactly, but it feels complete.

Kimberly Sabatini's debut blew me away and I know Touching the Surface is a book that I will be rereading. For a book with similar themes that does some wholly different things, check out Level 2 by fellow Apocalypsie Lenore Appelhans.

Rating: 4.5/5

Favorite Quote:
"'Damn it, Elliot, do you ever make kissing easy?' he said, cupping his nose.
   'Maybe you should learn not to be such a tease and get to it a little quicker,' I shot back.
   'So, I've got to get to the kissing before you start thinking too hard about something else?'
   'Something like that,' I said, reaching to check his nose. He winced.
   'You'll heal in a minute,' I said with a smirk."

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Blogger nutschell said...

Sounds like an interesting read!
BTW, You just won the giveaway. Hop on over to my blog to claim your prize :)

October 26, 2012 at 12:37 PM  
Blogger Giselle said...

Wow, I never expected such a positive review from you for this book. It looked so.... bleh. Like any other YA book. This cover.. I'm not a fan. But it sounds really good I also love books that deal with the afterlife and it sounds like this one pulls it off real well. I also wanna read Level 2 and I had no idea it was a similar theme O_O

October 26, 2012 at 1:11 PM  
Blogger fakesteph said...

This one has been on my radar too! I'm so glad you loved it so much!!!

October 26, 2012 at 8:53 PM  
Blogger Blythe Harris said...

Wait... What? A good young-adult novel dealing with the afterlife?


Oh, wow. I, like Giselle, didn't expect this to be that great, but now this is definitely on my radar when it is released on Tuesday! I'm just like you in that I *love* books dealing with the afterlife, and while most books I've read recently that deal with afterlife have been either slight or MASSIVE misses, this sounds like it would get me right out of my afterlife funk. And now I'm really anxious to read about this world that is so well-developed! Good and proper world-building is such a rarity nowadays in young-adult that it almost feels weird to look forward to a book because you know it has good world-building. I mean, good-building just seems like something ALL books should have. *sigh* And I'm also really looking forward to reading Level 2, as well, and I had no clue that Touching the Surface was similar to Level 2 (I haven't read the synopsis for Level 2 in a while, but the cover gives me a whole 'girl inside a video game' vibe. I'm too lazy to read the synopsis again. Maybe later.). So now I have two new books to add onto my radar - Touching the Surface and Level 2! Great review, Christina!

October 27, 2012 at 12:14 PM  
Anonymous Anya said...

Whoa. This sounds AWESOME. First of all, Elliott. She sounds like a pretty awesome heroine, not to mention that the plot sounds well thought out, and the worldbuilding. The WORLDBUILDING *swoon* must check this out from the library, ASAP!

October 28, 2012 at 6:59 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Dude, it was SO good! I didn't think this cover looked like every other book particularly, although I was definitely more drawn to the blurb in this case. The cover fits the book perfectly, though!

Both Level 2 and Touching the Surface are about the afterlife, though they handle it differently. :)

October 29, 2012 at 3:19 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

SO much! So glad you're planning to read it!

October 29, 2012 at 3:19 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Bahahaha, I love Donna. She has such an expressive face and rocks gifs so hard.

I mean, we're sort of hit or miss on whether we like the same books, but I just loved this. On the one hand, there's not a lot of world building in the sense that there's no explanation for how it works, but it's the afterlife, so...yeah. But it felt RIGHT to me, if you know what I mean.

Level 2 does sort of have that vibe, but it's also about the afterlife and angels and revolution and things!

October 29, 2012 at 3:26 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

I really liked Elliott. She manages to be real and flawed, not kick butt or overly whiny or anything. Basically, she felt real and normal, which doesn't happen too often. Definitely read this. *hugs book and spins*

October 29, 2012 at 3:39 PM  

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