Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson

If you have been following the #IreadYA hashtag that has been trending on Twitter these past few days, you might have noticed many people tweeting about the shift in YA literature; many agreed that it has gone from from not-so-serious literature to hard-hitting, honest stuff that anyone can appreciate. I have been tweeting in agreement, because I, too, have noticed this shift. When I was a teen, I almost never read YA lit. I admit that I was hindered by the stigma that surrounded YA books. I had no interest in reading about vampires falling in love and zombies wreaking havoc on unsuspecting individuals. It just wasn't my thing.

Then I started working in libraries again, specifically with teens. My job required me to be familiar with teen/YA literature in its many shapes and forms. I am happy to announce that my perceptions were immediately changed and I realized that I had been missing out on some amazing reading!

Flash forward a year and I am a massive advocate for YA lit. It's within this area of literature that I have read some of the most moving, emotionally honest material I've ever laid eyes on. I have often heard friends slam YA fiction as sub-par or lacking in quality. I could not disagree more with these naysayers. Sure, YA fiction is just like anything else; it has its highs and lows, its successes and its failures. Yet, the more I read and discover YA fiction, the more enthusiastic I become about working with teens and teen literature. I feel as though I stepped into a world that expanding and growing at a rapid pace, and I love sharing the gems that I find whilst reading YA fiction. The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson is one such book.

A few weeks ago, my coworker engaged me in a conversation about this "new, amazing book" that she had just finished.
Her: So this book was awesome. I need you to read this book so that we can talk about it!
Me: What's it called? 
Her: The Kiss of Deception.
Me: *Pauses* Nah, I'm good. *shrugs and walks away*

I will be honest with you, I had no interest in reading about a deceptive kiss, a princess, yada yada yada. I had "romance novel!" shouting in my head. Again, not my thing.

A few days later, I've got the ARC (Advanced Reader's Copy) in my hand and CANNOT put it down. The Kiss of Deception starts with a beautiful, cryptic tale that tells of destruction, misery, and a time that once was but is no more. Then, suddenly we're thrown into a disturbing scene in the land of Morrighan, where a young teen, Lia, is being "prepared" (literally) for her arranged wedding to the Prince of Dalbreck, a man that she's never met. According to her country's customs, princesses (or First Daughters) must undergo a "kavah" before their wedding ceremony; think a beautiful, Henna-like tattoo that is "drawn" on with very sharp knives. The priests who administer the kavah draw the coat of arms, wedding vows, and scrawling, beautiful artwork on her entire back with utter precision. Lia, meanwhile, is undergoing serious mental duress. As a First Daughter, Lia's marriage is supposed to bring about peace and strengthen the two nations against their mutual enemy. She knows in her very soul that she cannot go through with it and runs away at the last moment with her maidservant and friend, Pauline. The two flee to the neighboring country of Terravin and finds work in a tavern, where she believes she can live the rest of her life in secret and have the freedom that she's been longing for.

Lia's plan does not exactly pan out the way she had hoped. Her secrecy is disrupted when two men, Rafe and Kaden, show up at the tavern and their mysterious aura captures her attention. What she doesn't know is that both of these men have been looking for the AWOL princess and believe that she fits the profile. As she tries to break through their mysterious shell, they try to break through hers in hopes of revealing her true identity. In their attempts to draw each other out, Lia finds herself attracted to Rafe, the handsome, passionate farmhand from a neighboring town. Similarly, both Rafe and Kaden are falling for Lia; they are surprised and delighted by her self-confidence, strength, and unfaltering wit. The two remark on her severe divergence from the usual "royal" type. While it seems that there might be a love triangle developing, I assure you that it's not and therefore doesn't bog down plot with needless hemming and hawing. Lia begins to believe that a future with a man she loves because she loves him is within her reach.

Suddenly, her peaceful existence comes crashing down when she receives horrifying news of war brewing as a result of her fleeing her wedding with the Prince of Dalbreck. Since there is now a bounty on her head, she had unknowingly brought danger to the country that she left and the one she lives in now. Lia knows she must return to her former country and resume her arranged marriage with the Prince of Dalbreck. Yet, even that plan goes awry and Lia is kidnapped by someone she thought she trusted and begins on an epic journey with her kidnapper. (I cannot reveal major spoilers... you must read it!). It seems that everyone has an ulterior motive when it comes to Lia. What ensues next is an epic journey across vast desert with dangerous company, a gypsy caravan, tigers (oh my!), and a shocking bout of self-discovery. By the end, I had gone through just about every reaction and emotion one can possibly conjure whilst reading a novel.

There are so many complex layers within this book, it's almost impossible to write a review (so many feels!). Pearson has woven a plot that is so intricate and character driven, that it's easy to fall into her world head first. Lia is this strong female lead who actually wants to be married and have a family. I have grown used to YA females who reject traditional female roles and values and are these kick-ass assassins or warriors. Don't get me wrong, I love reading about that perspective. It's important to remind young readers that women don't fit into one role (or even two) and can and should pursue who they truly are. Lia's desire to marry on her own terms forces her to reject the deep-rooted tradition of her family and country. Her righteous indignation is solidly founded and the reader roots for her success.

Another exciting aspect about The Kiss of Deception is that the time period and setting are never explicitly stated. On the surface, it reads like a medieval fantasy, but if you look closely at the poems, tales, and songs that show up between chapters, she does offer clues as to what the setting may be. My co-workers and I have talked for hours on end about this, arguing over what the time period is and where it takes place. All in all, I won't go into specifics because the whole genius of The Kiss of Deception is that Mary E. Pearson leads you through this complex plot and world with revelation after revelation. It's truly an exciting ride that you have to experience yourself! 

In the end, what you walk away with is a seriously well-written story with unique characters who each have their own voice. The book is mostly told from Lia's perspective, but we also get small glimpses into the perspectives of Kaden and Rafe. Pearson plays on our conceptions of good and evil, our stereotypes, and the importance of self-discovery and love. This book, if written poorly, could have been a hot mess of jumbled character viewpoints and cryptic nonsense, but Pearson proves that she is a master writer, editor, and story teller. I implore you- come July, PLEASE read this book. 

Now excuse me while I sit down and read it again...

The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson is published by Macmillan/Henry Holt and Company LLC, Books for Young Readers. Review copy provided by the publisher. Release date: July 2014

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