Saturday, September 1, 2012

Review: Clarity by Kim Harrington

Clarity “Clare” Fern sees things. Things no one else can see. Things like stolen kisses and long-buried secrets. All she has to do is touch a certain object, and the visions come to her. It’s a gift.

And a curse.

When a teenage girl is found murdered, Clare’s ex-boyfriend wants her to help solve the case—but Clare is still furious at the cheating jerk. Then Clare’s brother—who has supernatural gifts of his own—becomes the prime suspect, and Clare can no longer look away. Teaming up with Gabriel, the smoldering son of the new detective, Clare must venture into the depths of fear, revenge, and lust in order to track the killer. But will her sight fail her just when she needs it most?

Clarity is one of those novels that leave me with some... mixed feelings. On the one hand, we've got an amazingly crafted paranormal thriller, with a great plot and some really interesting red herrings. On the other... we've also got ANOTHER YA novel with some... questionable portrayals of female sexuality.

Let's start with the good: This is a paranormal thriller, a detective story that thankfully doesn't think its readers are idiots. Clare Fern is able to pick up memories from the objects she touches, and when a girl is killed, she is recruited to help the police department on the side. Things get complicated, though, when her brother Perry becomes a prime suspect.

This is an amazing concept, and thankfully, it's competently executed. You never know who the culprit is and the characters' setups make up for quite a few red herrings that are relevent to the plot. One might say that the paranormal twist was a bit of a cop-out, a way to get helpful clues at the right moment, but on the other side, without her paranormal ability, Clare would not have been involved in the investigation to begin with. So I didn't particularly mind that.

What I did mind was... well, how sex is portrayed in the novel.

Okay, so here's a situation for you: Clare's brother Perry is a bit of a manwhore, and he slept with Tiffany, a mean girl who is, by virtue of being a mean girl, also a whore. When he didn't call her again, Tiffany decided to get back to him by sleeping with his sister's boyfriend, effectively breaking them up. The boyfriend, Justin, was drunk at the time, but of course loves Clare very much and was even about to give her a promise ring as proof of his respect for her decision to wait.


Okay, let me try to seperate the good from the bad here. Kim Harrington knows how to write her characters - most of her leads are three dimensional and interesting, and the secondary cast are given some nuance, though some less than others. Clare is a very strong heroine - she doesn't take shit from anyone and she's ready to fight back when she's being bullies. She doesn't take Justin back just because he made a mistake.

Justin, for his part, is neither demonized nor given sainthood - he's a guy who made a stupid mistake, who is deeply sorry, and who remains supportive of the girl he likes even when she starts seeing other guys. So yeah, he's decent.

But... Perry and Tiffany? Their treatment was less even. Early on, Tiffany is established as a royal bitch, and even though there is a scene in which she is given more depth, it feels tacked-on, inorganic. Perry, on the other hand, receives a much gentler treatment as the scapegoat. I get it that the story is told from Clare's point of view, therefore the reader sees her bias, but I'm not sure how much of this is Clare and how much is author intent.

Let's try and break Tiffany's character down, shall we? So she slept with Justin when he was inebrated - okay, clearly, that's misguided, but doesn't she have the right to be angry? Perry thought she was just looking for a hookup, because clearly, if a woman is sexually active, she must adhere to the stereotypical traits attributed to her by popular media. Never mind that sex is an emotional and physical gamble, and that she might have hoped for more understanding from a fellow whore.

And even if she was just looking for a one-time thing, I'm not so quick as to dismiss her reasoning - Perry doesn't usually even remember the last names of his conquests, it's safe to say he was less than a gentleman when he started avoiding her. Yeah, later, Clare berates her brother for his ways, but her anger is only framed in terms of how his actions impacted HER life - not those of the girls Perry sleeps with.

Clare doesn't have sex. I would have understood if she wasn't ready for it, but with all the backstory as to how she and Justin broke up, I feel there are undertones of the good ol' "virgin-whore" dichotomy we're used to seeing in YA. [ it is revealed that Victoria, the victim, also slept around a lot, and may have died because she was trying to blackmail an older, married man, into divorcing his wife and marrying her instead. Yeah. (hide spoiler)]

I don't know, I'm kind of hoping to read the sequel just so that I can see Perry and Tiffany getting together.

**Image and synopsis courtesy of Goodreads.

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