Archive for ‘Middle Grade’

January 17th, 2011

Radiance by Alyson Noël; Review

by Madeleine Rex

Title: Radiance

Author: Alyson Noël

Published: August 21st, 2010

Number of Pages: 192

Rating: 4/5


You do know you can manifest a whole new wardrobe right? We’re really not bound to the mistakes of our past. So go ahead, knock yourself out. Just close your eyes and ask – What would Joe Jonas wear?


Riley has crossed the bridge into the afterlife—a place called Here, where time is always Now. She has picked up life where she left off when she was alive, living with her parents and dog in a nice house in a nice neighborhood. When she’s summoned before The Council, she learns that the afterlife isn’t just an eternity of leisure. She’s been assigned a job, Soul Catcher, and a teacher, Bodhi, a possibly cute, seemingly nerdy boy who’s definitely hiding something. They return to earth together for Riley’s first assignment, a Radiant Boy who’s been haunting a castle in England for centuries. Many Soul Catchers have tried to get him to cross the bridge and failed. But all of that was before he met Riley . . . [From Jacket]



I kind of skipped middle grade novels growing up. (You know – Nancy Drew, Harry Potter, Little Women, Gone with the Wind, and pow! here I am.) I had never thought seriously about shifting toward middle grade books in the least, and it’s very likely that I wouldn’t have picked one up for years.

Thanks to Miranda Kenneally for lending this to me without telling me what it was!

I really, really enjoyed Radiance! I was pleasantly surprised by the protagonist, Riley – surprised to the degree that she truly made the book for me. Riley was simultaneously intelligent and foolish, intuitive and extremely naive. In other words: She’s exactly what you’d expect from a smart twelve year old girl. Her vocabulary was colorful and stretched the boundaries of what you might expect from a barely-sixth grader, but it was what she was saying that reminded me distinctly of me at her age. Her naivety was welcome, as it so often isn’t in YA literature, because it’s not a mark of idiocy – it’s simply due to the fact that she hasn’t quite learned her lesson yet.

The workings of afterlife, called “Here” in this case, are commonly disputed and the perfect basis for world-building. You can do anything with it that you’d like – it’s fiction! Alyson’s take on the afterlife in Radiance is like nothing I’ve read before. In fact, it’s like nothing I’ve ever considered or heard of. The concept of there being levels and goals you must reach to in order to get to the next level is an intriguing, almost video game-like one. Immediately, there’s a goal, there’s a purpose, and I, as a reader, know where the book is heading.

One fantastic upside to middle grade (at least in this book’s case) is that the story starts rolling almost immediately and, though we hit potholes, certainly doesn’t stop until the end. When Riley is given her mission, she only wanders for a moment before her “guide” picks her up and the plot moves along splendidly from there.

Though the mission mentioned above is short and remarkably simple in comparison to much of what you’ll find in YA and adult literature, it’s not lacking in any of the features that make a plotline intriguing, such as suspense, mystery, comedy, and unexpected twists (unexpected but very welcome). This novel is the perfectly quaint. I’m eager to read the upcoming books in this series, every one a short, sweet, and topsy-turvy chapter in Riley’s new life… after death.

The characters in this novel were deliciously pre-teeny. As I said before, I found their naivety cute. The only main character that is actually going through puberty (or was before he died, anyway) is Bodhi. He’s just a little younger than me, but far more interesting. I loved that his original appearance is so ridiculously different than what I eventually found him to be, and I’m thrilled by the fact that I’ll be able to meet up with him in the sequel and discover more about his total non-dorky-ness. (Also: His sarcasm was a joy to me.)

Alyson’s writing is succinct and perfectly tuned to the voice of a delightfully intelligent and arrogant 12-year-old. I’ve been contemplating picking up her young adult series, The Immortals, because I’m curious as to how the two will compare. Riley is the younger sister of the main character in The Immortals, Ever, and Ever plays an absent though crucial role in Riley’s after-life story. It’s not until Riley realizes that she’s been trailing after her sister all her life that she finds the courage and motivation to take a chance and do something independently for a change.

I was impressed by the little ways in which Alyson displayed Riley’s growth – and in so little time as well! This book passes in the blink of an eye, but every word is taken into consideration and used wisely. She also did a masterful job of keeping me satisfied with Riley while leaving enough to be desired that I’d keep reading only to see how she’ll develop and fulfill her potential.

I’m very pleased that I took a chance on Riley’s story and would recommend it specifically to those YA/adult readers who have not considered reading middle grade. It’s likely you will be as surprised as I by how similar they are and by the charms of a 12-year-old’s voice. I can’t wait to watch Bodhi and Riley as they grow (figuratively). Not to mention the fact that I think they rock in general. It takes skill to make naivety cute!