Vicarious by Paula Stokes
Series: Vicarious, #1
Expected Publication: August 2016 by Tor
Genre(s): Young Adult
Pages: 109 out of 336
ISBN: 9780765380944 (hardcover edition)
This review is written based on reading the 100-page preview excerpt obtained from Netgalley, so beware: spoilers!
(There’s 109 pages in total as the title pages and such are included in the book’s page count)
Whoever compares Winter Kim to Black Widow needs a swift smack from reality because you’re comparing a women who was trained to become what she is since she was a kid (in Richard K. Morgan’s Black Widow run, Natasha’s one of many young orphaned girls trained at an early age by Petrovitch at the Red Room under the Black Widow Ops program) and who has killed hundreds without batting an eye, to some teenager who recently gotten PTSD, had a traumatic childhood and became some sort of a BAMF (‘Bad Ass Mother F****r’ for those who don’t know) in three years even though she has never held a gun until recently or even killed anyone before. In all of seriousness, Winter Kim is barely a quarter of who Natalia “Natasha” Romanova is.
Also, can YA authors please stop using the bloody ‘My sister’s prettier than me and I refuse to use makeup because I don’t want to be a faker’ trope because we sure as hell know that Winter’s one of those pretty girls since “[p]eople say we look alike, but what they mean is that we look alike except she’s more striking. She has the same basic bone structure and pale skin, but bigger eyes, fuller lips, longer hair, and now, apparently, curlier eyelashes” (p.14). Like, excuse you, whether your sister’s more “striking” or not, that still means you’re one hell of a better-looking-than-average person, especially when a minor celebrity mistakes you for your sister. This kind of typical denial is starting to irritate me because 90% of the YA/NA heroines are certainly not average-looking in any sense at all. They always have something beautiful to them and nine out of ten times, it’s a physical feature or two.
Seriously, I find the ‘A-side’ Special Snowflake Syndrome characters (those who actually believe that they’re special unique snowflakes) more tolerable than those of the ‘B-side’ Special Snowflake Syndrome characters (those who imply that they’re ‘not like all the others’ because they do some other perfectly normal yet non-stereotypical gendered activities instead). Therefore, combining Winter’s good looks with her near-magical BAMF-ness, PTSD, a traumatic childhood and her being a Korean immigrant, simply makes her the more dislikeable B-side Special Snowflake. Especially, when the written fact that her PTSD is “never anything that serious” even “at its worse” is taken into considerations as well (p.15). It’s like she’s tooting her own horn.
That aside, I have a few more issues with Vicarious but one of the mains ones is its logistics. Firstly, that ambulance scene smack-dab in the beginning is rather questionable. How does one who’s lying down, wipe blood away on one’s nightgown without noticing first the bulky oxygen/breathing mask obscuring half of your lower vision? I’ve been in an ambulance, I’ve worn the oxygen mask. So yes, questioning this scene very hard right now. Also, Rose is pretty chill even though her sister’s in the ambulance. Seriously, who in the world “…chides the men for scaring…” a patient in a bloody ambulance (p.10)? A definite wrong choice of words here because it gives me the feeling that Rose is the one who directly caused her sister to be in such situation rather than whatever other supposed external or internal factor. Unless, of course, the purpose of this is to actually clue the reader in that yes, it’s Rose who caused that.
Additionally, that part in the beginning where Gideon and Rose actually have a conversation with eyes alone (not even including their eyebrows!) has me wondering if my future boyfriend will be able to do this with me. Since Gideon and Rose surely can, I’m pretty sure mine won’t accuse me of having high standards and thinking that he’s psychic because the both of us will totally be able to talk and understand each other through our eyes (remember, no eyebrows or any other facial feature) without any possibility of miscommunication at all!
Moving on, some of the dialogue tags used here are rather redundant. For example, “‘Oppa!’ I say a bit forcefully” (p.63). I believe that the inclusion of the exclamation point already serves the purpose of showing the readers that Winter is certainly stressing the word. Additionally, there are also some inconsistencies in the use of contractions in the narratives—like going from ‘I’m’ to ‘I am’ within two consecutive sentences. I understand that there are inconsistencies in real life, but it nevertheless felt odd reading them. And, on the topic of feeling odd reading something, even though I do have some Korean friends who spell their romanised names with a space in between characters, it still felt strange reading the Korean names as ‘Ki Hyun’ and not as ‘Kihyun’ or ‘Ki-hyun’ as well.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I found quite a number of faults with the 100 pages of this novel that I’ve read, but there are good points as well. One such good point would be Paula Stokes’ writing. Engaging and with a good balance of descriptions and dialogue, there was never a dull moment despite my constant questioning of certain aspects. Furthermore, it helped that the plot built up nicely, though at this point, the prologue doesn’t really seem have any importance because those bits of facts can surely be inserted in the other chapters instead—as flashbacks or something. Other than that, I like the idea of ViSEs—very interesting and outside of manga and comics, it’s a concept that I’ve previously not read about.
Another good point of this book is that Stokes’ portrayal of people of colour, especially the Koreans, don’t feel too confined to stereotypes or incredibly whitewashed. However, do note that aside from similarities with my own culture, I’m not as knowledgeable about the Korean culture as I do with the Japanese or the majority ‘other’ cultures in my country, so I’m not really sure how stereotyped or whitewashed Winter, Rose and Gideon are. Nevertheless, I have to say that it’s also due to that feeling of them not being to confined to stereotypes or incredibly whitewashed, that there’s another feeling that the Korean characters can simply be replaced by ones of other races as well since there’s not exactly a deeper instillation of ‘being Korean’ here. I’m not certain how to explain this but it feels like something is missing.
All in all, the first hundred pages of Vicarious were a better-than-average read despite some setbacks. I’m definitely eager to know what happens next, and the excitement/anxiety is enough for me to push away quite a bit of what I didn’t like about this book as well.