Genre: YA, Fantasy
Publisher: Scholastic Press on September 18, 2012
Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past.Blue herself never sees them—not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her.
His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.
But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all—family money, good looks, devoted friends—but he’s looking for much more than that. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.
For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.
I have come to expect the unexpected with Maggie Stiefvater’s books. She’s got a style that’s very much her own, combining lyrical writing, bizarre plots, and compelling characters to create wholly original works of fiction. THE RAVEN BOYS is no exception.
Blue Sargent is the daughter of a clairvoyant and related to every other practicing psychic in the small town of Henrietta. Built on top of a powerful ley line, Henrietta has drawn many a “believer,” from those looking for work to those looking for answers. Unlike her relatives, Blue doesn’t have any psychic abilities. Oh no, she’s just saddled with an unfortunately grim prophecy about her love life and a strange ability to boost other people’s gifts.
Blue has a bit of that manic pixie dream girl thing going on, but we’ll forgive her since she can’t really help it. I mean, her name is Blue and she does live in a house with like five other women. You’re bound to have some MPD syndrome in an environment like that. Blue and her family are from the wrong side of the tracks, solidly working class in a town sharply divided between the dirt-poor townies and the wealthy out-of-towners.
On the right side of the tracks we have the students at Aglionby, an all-boys private high school dominated by said out-of-towners. The school’s mascot is a raven, but the crest of the black bird carries greater meaning than educational affiliation. In backwater town Henrietta, the raven is a sign of wealth, privilege, and arrogance. When Blue encounters a tightly knit group of friends from Aglionby one night at work, she beings referring to them as the “raven boys.”
The four boys make unlikely friends, but somehow they fit together. There’s Ronan, the acerbic and volatile boy with a tragic past bent on self-destruction; there’s Adam, the brilliant and proud local boy with an awful home life; there’s Noah, the one considered a reclusive and strange loner in a group of already strange people; and then there’s Gansey, the whimsical, mythology-obsessed glue that holds them all together. These four boys, and their relationship with Blue, are the foundation of the series. It is their dreams, fears, hurts, and desires that made this book such an enjoyable reading experience for me. Readers who aren’t as fond of character driven novels might want to steer clear.
Since Aglionby is a private school, most of the raven boys come from very wealthy families…except for Adam. Adam is the ubiquitous “scholarship kid” that every private school drama needs, introducing elements of class conflict that I found very intriguing. I’ve often found that YA novels about the rich and privileged shy away from the class structures that disempower the impoverished, but Maggie Stiefvater does a commendable job of subtly weaving it into her story. The relationship between the ringleader Gansey and Adam is particularly compelling: the eccentric son of multi-millionaires, Gansey tries to help his friend by offering to loan him money, but the last thing Adam wants is charity. There’s a stubborn pride in Adam that frustrated me while also making me respect him; I think that’s a sign of a well-crafted character. Ronan was similarly well-crafted, and equally as frustrating. I didn’t like him but I found him fascinating, if you know what I mean.
Despite her narrative presence, I felt very disconnected from Blue. Much of her narration is spent introducing us to the raven boys from the perspective of an outsider, which is very effective for developing their personalities but not so much for hers. Compared to their dynamic and larger-than-life presence, Blue comes across as very two dimensional and flat. We know that she’s got the special snowflake thing going on – but then so do several of the raven boys. I’m hoping that her narration in the sequel will flesh out Blue’s backstory and give us some insight on the eerie prophecy that governs her romantic life.
While THE RAVEN BOYS may be light on plot (and I saw a few plot-twists coming), there’s still a lot to love about it. Small town atmosphere, quippy teen dialogue, existentialism, and intense romantic tension between characters. Lord, the tension!
Recommended for fans of beautiful writing and character driven novels.