"A children's story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children's story. The good ones last." --C.S. Lewis
1. (+) Cara, the protagonist - So what if Cara's a stereotypical fiery redhead? I like her. I liked her a lot, and she reminded me a bunch of Scarlet. Cara likes to win and has a very competitive personality. She coaches the debate team, is the valedictorian at her school, and refuses to back down even when she begins to receive death threats because she's intensely loyal and stubborn, a natural fighter. To round out her passionate, strong personality are stunning moments of vulnerability that make it easy to connect with her.
2. (+) World-building - You learn a great deal about the differences between L'eihr and Earth via exposition between Aelyx and Cara, but it's smooth and never goes on for too long. There are also quite a few scenes where we're specifically shown the differences in their abilities like with Silent Speech/the L'eihr version of telepathy and Aelyx's generally arrogant behavior and ability to learn things so quickly. I mostly ignored the explanations about the science since a lot of it didn't seem too unrealistic, so if you're able to do that and go with the flow on the world-building, I think you'll be good.
3. (+/-) The Beginning - The beginning was confusing for me because Aelyx used a lot of L'eihr terms that I didn't necessarily understand or care about at the time, and it sort of fell over my head. It walked a fine line between inserting terms just so that I knew that Aelyx came from a different culture and intriguing me with regard to his plan and why he was determined to follow through with it. If you're having trouble with the beginning, maybe try to go on a bit further and see whether it gets better for you.
4. (+/-) Romance - Here's the thing: I thought the romance was cute and done well, letting the relationship between Aelyx and Cara grow from distrust/hatred to mutual respect to friendship to romance, but I wasn't entirely behind it because you know from the start what Aelyx is planning to do, and it's a shame that it takes him so long to finally admit it to Cara. It's realistic with his character development, his arrogance and beliefs about humans, but that meant that I didn't entirely like him as the romantic interest because that was always there for us to know. (Also I generally am not a huge fan of arrogant love interests). As a side note, the romance isn't just cute; there are definitely quite a few steamy/sexy scenes.
5. (+) Themes - This reminds me of the series theme in the Under the Never Sky trilogy: all about the importance of two different peoples learning to understand and accept each other. And the thing is, the way Landers portrayed the intolerance (and the acceptance) shown by both cultures felt real both in how it grew over time and the sort of actions people might take (though some are less logical than others, but hey, prejudice, right?). It seemed well thought out and while a tad heavy-handed, easy to discuss, adding another layer to an otherwise light science fiction romance.
6. (+) Plot - Although the plot is less focused on developing the side cast (e.g. Tori, Eric, etc.), it is good at providing surprises. The foreshadowing was done well, so that when a plot twist occurred, I was both surprised and able to remember exactly how Landers had set us up for that reveal. I'm excited to read the sequel because there's a lot of unanswered questions and some of the final plot twists make me anxious regarding thematic discussion, but hey, in general the book and its plot were plain ole entertaining.
7. (+) Humor - Down below I mention how the book reminds me of Rachel Hawkins' novels and that is mainly because of the voice. Cara's smart-ass humor and the teasing nature in the interactions between Aelyx and her brought a smile to my face many times, and I bookmarked a bunch of different pages for that reason. The line that did not amuse me was:
"...I'm going to the bathroom, not to Beirut. What horrible fate do you think's waiting for me in there? Death by toilet swirly?" (241; note: this quote is from an uncorrected ARC and may change later.)
Bah! (For those of you who don't know, I'm Lebanese-American). For a book that discusses the effects of intolerance, it seems really sad to have such a throwaway line about the Middle East, potentially propagating further stereotypes (not to mention some of the character stereotypes like the mean popular girl, but that's beside the point). I've been to Beirut. I've seen the damage that was wrought in the 2006 Hezbollah war with Israel, but a good portion of the city is not only stunningly gorgeous and repaired but also safe for tourists (it was, after all, once called the Paris of the Middle East. And it's going to host the Pan Arab Games in 2015, so it can't be completely dangerous if they're willing to let athletes travel there...) And yes, I know about the car bombing at the end of December, but ARCs had been made long before that happened, so to me that's not really justification. (Yeah, yeah, I'm taking it too personally, I know).
8. (+) Writing - Landers nails both teen voices really well, and does this in third person so it never feels like Cara or Aelyx get to be too much, too intense or whiney or angsty. This is why I said below that it reminded me of Anna and the French Kiss and Rachel Hawkins. It's got some of the angst in those romances while maintaining a light, peppy humor that makes the writing feel fresh and real.
9. (+/-) Pacing - What kept me from liking this novel more was that I'd felt a tad restless while reading. Sometimes it was due to Aelyx, as stated above, and sometimes it was due to the fact that I wanted more to happen. This book is paced well, allowing the romance between Aelyx and Cara to develop gradually while raising the stakes re: the hatred and intolerance that they face. However, I couldn't help but want a tad more action and conflict, and that's mainly where my dissatisfaction with the pacing comes from.
10. (+) The Cover - Minus the white-washing, this cover is good for portraying the light science fiction feel and the central romance that accompanies it. Plus it's so colorful, visually stunning in a way that'd stand out in a bookstore, and emphasizes the cultural differences between the L'eihr and humans.
I didn't expect to like this as much as I did, but this reminds me of a light science fiction version of "Anna and the French Kiss meets Rachel Hawkins." Adorable, fluffy fun but with an important theme.
Also, might I add that people who want more parental involvement in their young adult novels or more dynamic familial interactions will be pleased with this novel? Cara's parents are adorable, and I love that Landers provided an alternate depiction to what you normally see in the YA world.