Kristi Carmichael thinks she has all the answers, which is part of why she stopped caring about just about everything two years ago. She knows all about her workaholic mother, absent father, and why the incredibly cute Gusty Peterson would never want to have anything to do with her. She can even understand the romantic thoughts and strange fantasies her friends Mallory and Jacob have for her. Of course, being psychic can have that effect on a person.
Part of having all the answers is being chronically unimpressed (definitely how Kristi feels about her free-spirited high school) and always playing by her own rules (that’s covered by the padlock on her bedroom door and the cat she hides inside it, not to mention the found wardrobe).
But as the school year progresses, Kristi finds a lot of things happening that she didn’t see coming–even with all the answers. The sudden return of her father, attentions from not one but two boy at school, and other surprises leave Kristi in a tailspin as she wonders if, maybe, the vibes she’s been getting were more bogus than psychic all along.
Such is the premise of Vibes (2008), Amy Kathleen Ryan‘s second novel (and the subject of a rumored movie adaptation according to Cinema Blend–although the fundamental inaccuracies of the basic summary there do leave me wondering about the accuracy of the rumor).
I really liked this book. The fact that Kristi is psychic is treated as a normal event–not a big deal, no worrying about why she can read minds–which I enjoyed since mind reading usually supersedes plot when it crops up in non-fantasy books.
At 249 pages, the book goes by fast but the story is still deep. A strong point of Ryan’s writing are the characters she has created. In the beginning of the novel Kristi and also the new boy at school, Mallory, are deeply troubled, something both teens try to deal with through anger. Kristi doesn’t mince words when she tells readers all of the reasons she has to be angry (there are a few). However, as the story moves forward and Kristi realizes that reading minds isn’t the same as understanding what people are thinking, she also learns that there is more to life (both good and bad) than she had first thought.
Because of her anger at, well, everything Kristi is initially not a sympathetic character. She is mean to her friends, her mom, and even strangers. Fortunately, because of the character development Kristi realizes this about herself and tries to do better.
One theme that the novel deals with well is self-esteem in that Kristi does have much at the start of the novel. Seeing herself as fat and ugly, Kristi doesn’t find herself very surprised when she hears the word “sick” in Gusty Peterson’s head whenever he thinks of her. Kristi’s low opinion of herself is hard to shake even in the face of positive attentions from Mallory and, of course, her family. To some readers it could seem over the top, but the truth is I was right there with Kristi and when those things came up in the novel, it felt like Ryan was quoting a page from my own life.
The other theme that was handled really well in Vibes is the absent father issue. There was a point in time where books about single mothers would always idolize the absent father (“Dad is so much cooler than Mom. It’s Mom’s fault he left. If Dad came back everything would be better . . .”) and that would be it.
Recently, however, I’ve noticed a trend where children of divorce or the like begin to see their family situation in a more realistic way (A Thousand Splendid Suns and Absolutely Maybe are just two books in this trend). Kristi misses her father terribly, and in many ways does idolize him, but only until he shows up again. Then it becomes apparent that there was more to her father’s leaving that even a psychic could have guessed.
In summary, Ryan blends a lot of different themes and genres to create a new kind of story that readers (teen and otherwise) are sure to enjoy.
Possible Pairings: Waiting for You by Susane Colasanti, Paper Towns by John Green, Slide by Jill Hathaway, Alice, I Think by Susan Juby, The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart, Don’t Expect Magic by Kathy McCullough, Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, Don’t Even Think About It by Sarah Mlynowski, Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins, The Archived by Victoria Schwab, Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee, Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altedbrando, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin