by Ilsa J. Bick
EgmontUSA, $18.99 hardcover, ISBN-10 1606844199, February 2014
Seventeen-year-old Emma Lindsay has problems: a head full of metal, no parents, a crazy artist for a guardian whom a stroke has turned into a vegetable, and all those times when she blinks away, dropping into other lives so ghostly and surreal it’s as if the story of her life bleeds into theirs. But one thing Emma has never doubted is that she’s real. Then she writes “White Space,” a story about these kids stranded in a spooky house during a blizzard. Unfortunately, “White Space” turns out to be a dead ringer for part of an unfinished novel by a long-dead writer. The manuscript, which she’s never seen, is a loopy Matrix meets Inkheart story in which characters fall out of different books and jump off the page. Thing is, when Emma blinks, she might be doing the same and, before long, she’s dropped into the very story she thought she’d written. Trapped in a weird, snow-choked valley, Emma meets other kids with dark secrets and strange abilities: Eric, Casey, Bode, Rima, and a very special little girl, Lizzie. What they discover is that they–and Emma–may be nothing more than characters written into being from an alternative universe for a very specific purpose.
Bick’s Ashes trilogy enjoyed a greater than average share of popularity in our teen section, and since I loved her teacher/student love/statutory issues novel Drowning Instinct, I couldn’t wait to get into White Space. 560 pages later–yes, 560–I find that I never did get into it.
On the plus side, Bick’s writing really lifts the story off the page. Teens with a thirst for horror will get plenty of satisfaction from the blood-splattered nightmares the characters battle. Well, battle is the wrong word; they’re largely helpless against the monsters and situations that continually attack them. No one can deny the creepiness of this book or the thoroughness of Bick’s world-building.
If only it made sense! At well over 500 pages, Bick has ample room to explain her goofy trapped-in-books multiverse setup, and she definitely tries. However, when Lizzie sits the other characters down and explains everything to them, they’re totally lost, and so was I. There’s simply so much going on in this Dickens/Matrix/Inkheart/Neverending Story hot mess that getting your head around it requires serious brain strain, and unless you’re gifted at understanding multiple metaphysical concepts at the same time, you’re probably going to finish the book thinking, “Wait, what did I just read?”
Basically, Bick’s brilliance got away from her, and she never manages to clearly articulate the facts of her world. Too much goes on at the same time and too many seams show. I still believe in this author, but I’ll definitely read reviews before deciding whether to take on the second book in this planned series.
Recommend to: horror fans, head trip fans, lovers of long books
To buy or not to buy: Despite its issues, libraries with large YA collections or a fanbase for this author will still want to purchase White Space. And hey, it may just be weird enough to succeed.