Sunday, 31 May 2015
by Kristi R. Johnson
Ana "Reaper" Keating has moved onto the Hugo Liberal Arts College campus, forty minutes away from her hometown. Dorm life will be incredibly different from her life in the cave at the quarry. Not only will there be reliable air conditioning and a roommate, but Reaper also believes she will no longer be threatened by the powerful and wealthy Goldwater family that adopted her mother, Sue, when she was a child. Neither Reaper nor her father, Jim, like to talk about Sue's death. And Mr. Paul, the Goldwater patriarch, still blames Jim for what happened 16 years ago.
When Reaper learns that Mr. Paul's son, Ian, has also enrolled at HuLAC, she realizes that her days of dealing with the entitled and vengeful family are nowhere near over. It is Jim's worst nightmare, but it also what he has been preparing Reaper for all of her life.
Review - 3 out of 5
Reaper is going to college, where her life will finally be something more than her dad and her over-bearing extended family.
Reaper is a well-written book, and in places it has the potential to be downright amusing.
The main character, Ana (known to one and all as Reaper) is a very unforgiving girl. She isn't afraid to judge everyone and works hard at a) staying away from idiots; and b) trying not to smack the idiots that come within range. Reaper has a sharp sense of humour, and makes people feel foolish and back down, before they have a chance to hurt her.
"Reaper" follows her day-to-day life, as she handles school, male-interest, and an over-bearing family. Nothing particularly dramatic happens, so I'd recommend it for those days when you don't have to remember 100 different fine points.
Speaking of fine points - I found there was actually too much detail in Johnson's scene-setting.
I want to get lost in her world, for Reaper's life to jump up and be alive in my imagination. For that to happen, there has to be flow, and trusting your reader to fill in certain gaps.
Instead, the whole first chapter is about the finer points of an air-cooler. Yes, I realise that the author is setting up the resistance to the Goldwaters (small-town gods who own the company that installs A/C systems); but we don't need to know the entire, finicky history of every air-cooler they owned and how they broke, and how they kept repairing them, and how the parts were really hard to find now...
Then there is the minutely detailed description of Reaper's dorms. Not only is her room on the top floor, and furthest from the elevator, but I know the floor plan of the entire dorm. I also know that the beds are not traditionally store-bought, and they have a curve of 3.75* and are set at a height of 14.5 inches... ok, that last part is an exaggeration, but it was the only thing missing from the description.
In all honesty, it turned into a skim read for me, I just couldn't cope with the constant analysis, and jumped straight to the dialogue.
The only other issue I had with the writing was a minor point - why did Reaper immediately introduce herself as Ana to her classmates, when it was such a big deal not telling Steve her real name?
Other than that, I am curious why Johnson's publishers have a) classed the book as Children's on Amazon; and b) why they have priced a relatively short novel by a debut writer at £4.53?
When I got back to 707 Haley and her parents were already gone again, so I started unpacking. A few of the other rooms on our floor had the doors propped open, probably to encourage visitors. That was certainly the last thing I hoped to encourage, but the air in the room was stale, probably from it being shut up all summer. HuLAC played host to plenty of camps and corporate retreats during the summer months since it really doesn't offer a wide range of summer classes for the students, but the Frollo Towers were not offered as an option for them to stay in. Not that they would ever be chosen anyway. So against my better judgment, I propped open our door using my copy of Moby Dick. Really about all that book is good for anyway.
But now that the door was open I couldn't have my back to that side of the room, so I stood facing the door and started hauling out books from the refrigerator box. If I wasn't facing the door I would not have noticed a large figure appear in the doorway after walking by just seconds before. My natural inclination is to ignore whoever is there and pretend to be so engrossed in hauling out books that I don't notice someone standing there. My hope is always for the other person to give up and go away.
My fault for propping the door open I guess.
I look up after pulling out Ernest Cline's Ready Player One and see a massive young man wearing the same HuLAC shirt that all of the other student move‐in day volunteers are wearing. Standard blue t‐shirt with yellow‐ish gold lettering that simply states "HuLAC Volunteer," and then underneath that, "Move‐In Day Fall 2012." This guy has to be at least 6'4", 230 pounds, and is built like the concrete walls of the newer dorms. Just one solid mass. Brown hair, brown eyes, and a jaw‐line that he could hurt someone with. I couldn't question him being in the building, or even on a girls' floor since he was a volunteer, and I really wasn't looking forward to hearing what made him stop in my doorway.
"Yes?" I say, making my best attempt to pull a Jim and give him the blankest, most uninterested face possible.
"I, uh, was just walking by and saw you hauling out all of those books. That's quite a collection."
"I imagine," he continued, "if you brought all of those here with you that there are still more that you left at home."
One of the many things I learned from Jim about interacting with people you want to quickly be rid of, is that if you let them talk long enough they'll eventually give you enough to work with for a justification to turn on them. And then, if done right, you'll never have to deal with them again. And I already had this guy on edge and slightly uncomfortable.
"I'm a move‐in day volunteer," he says, pointing to his shirt. "I just got done helping 710 and was making my way back down."
And that is enough for me.
"Why would you go out of your way to get back to the staircase?"
"Um, what? I..."
"If you were helping 710 then you could have gone to the left and made it to the staircase, or even the elevator, much quicker than by turning right and taking the long way around, thereby walking past the majority of the rooms," I observe, as stoically as I can, even though I could not be more annoyed by this obvious ploy.
"Well, I...I just thought I'd..."
"I think what you're trying to say," I said, putting Ready Player One down as I stood up and stepped away from the refrigerator box, ignoring the impulse to just start throwing books at this guy, "is that you purposely took the long way around the floor to the
staircase in order to get the opportunity to look into as many girls'
dorm rooms as possible."
"Okay, that's not fair," he says. But he's still smiling. He thinks this is just one of those interactions that could still make for a cute story later. Now I'm annoyed that I have to push a little harder.
"Have you helped out any guys today or are you trying to keep yourself available to the females?" I ask.
"Well, I am one of the bigger guys around today. And the girls live on the higher floors so yeah; I do try to target the families with female students living on the higher floors."
"Wow, this is seriously like my worst introduction ever." He steps into 707 and puts his right hand out. "Let me try again. Hi, I'm Steve."
Clearly this has not gone the way I thought it would. Either I am not as good at this as I always believed I was, or Steve just isn't fazed.
Before shaking his hand I quickly size him up one more time, but not so quick that he doesn’t notice. I want him to see my hesitation. I also want to double check and make sure that yes, I can take him if I have to.
"I'm Reaper," I say, offering no explanation. I don't owe him one.
He cocks his head to the side slightly, like a dog, and furrows his eyebrows. “Reaper?" I nod. "Is that your given name?"
He drops my hand and uncocks his head, letting a slight smirk appear on his face. "Well now I am super intrigued. Do you not like your real name?"
"It's fine, I have nothing against it."
"Can I ask what it is?"
Steve waits for me to continue, then offers another question when I don't. "Well, what is it?"
"You can just call me Reaper," I state plainly.
This actually makes Steve take a few steps back. Good, now just a few more and he will be out of 707 and I can shut the door.
"Yes. As in Grim."
Kristi R. Johnson
Kristi R. Johnson is the creator and primary contributor to the book blog Door Stop Novels. Kristi currently works at the University of Texas at San Antonio as a Senior Admin, and part-time at Our Lady of the Lake University as a Writing Consultant. Kristi writes and reads whenever she can, and plans to keep reading, writing, and traveling as priorities in her life, always returning to her home in downtown San Antonio, which is little more than a treehouse with air-conditioning.
Reaper is her first full-length novel, the first 50,000 words of which she cranked out during National Novel Writing Month 2013.