Let me begin by saying that writing a novel is a terrific achievement. I know, having written one ~ and only one. My hat is off to anyone who can complete a novel.
That said, here is my honest opinion of Robin in the Hood, a young adult adventure-romance by Diane J. Reed which I finished reading Thursday night.
Characters: Robin in the Hood treats us to a wide array of colorful, eccentric and well-defined characters, beginning with protagonist and narrator Robin McArthur. It’s through the eyes and snarky sense of humor of this high-spirited, good-hearted but inexperienced 15-year-old girl that we meet the quirky characters of the Turtle Shores Trailer Park.
A pair of unwelcome arms pulled me upright in the seat and nearly squeezed the stuffing out of me. When I was finally released, I found myself staring at a very large . . . skunk?
Black, bouffant hair with platinum streaks filled my vision, until I leaned back and took in the fluorescent purple eyeshadow and blood-red lips with a strategically placed beauty mark on one cheek. For a sophomore who wasn’t even allowed to wear makeup at Pinnacle, the effect was downright . . . frightening.
I screamed again.
“Aw, it’s all right, honey,” the woman purred with another bear hug. “How do! I’m Brandi with an I,” she winked, “not a Y. Welcome to Turtle Shores.”
Diane does a great job showing her characters through “the character triangle” — what they say, what they do and what they look like.
She offers a splendid, and often humorous portrait of a young girl coping with a world turned upside down and getting a crash-course in life, love, courage, service and responsibility. Diane even manages some personal description of her protagonist, which is hard to do in first-person format:
Granny lit a match and leaned against her chair, puffing her cigar till it glowed. I could feel her studying me—her timberwolf eyes tracing the contours of my cheeks and nose, the waviness of my long, chestnut hair that never went completely straight, even with a hot iron. Then her gaze met mine, as if she were reading my dark brown eyes.
Earlier in the book, when Robin changes out of her girl’s school uniform into some stolen jeans, she — and the readers — discover she has curves.
Robin’s “instructors” in this fast-tracked school of life include the psychic Granny Tinker; her father, partially paralyzed by a stroke; good guys, bad guys, and of course the love-interest and the one who teaches Robin most — a handsome, though intimidating young man named Creek:
A tall guy, maybe a year or two older than me, in a black t-shirt and torn, faded jeans. His tangled, sun-bleached hair looked like it had never seen scissors, yet it framed his tan skin and piercing blue eyes like a rugged surfer’s. To my surprise, he flashed a half-smile, making the jagged scar across his cheek press into a dark, thin line, like a dagger. For a second, I wondered if it was a warning—
Diane lovingly crafts each character, even the supernumeraries, making each one vivid and compelling.
Plot: Teen-aged Robin teams up with fellow teen Creek on a crime-spree to help support the commune-like trailer park sheltering her and her Dad. Robin and father are on the run, after her father’s law firm goes belly-up, and the two of them lose everything.
Robin goes from being an unloved child of wealth and privilege to being a loved and helpful member of a poor but close-knit community, with dramatic, emotional and humorous consequences.
Setting: Diane does a nice job describing Turtle Shores trailer park and the other settings for the story. Here, Robin visits the lake shortly after her arrival at Turtle Shores:
Brushing aside a few honeysuckle branches, I pursued the path past a long bramble of twisted bushes and fallen sticks, when all of a sudden I saw it—
The setting sun.
Glowing gold across the water and shimmering on the wet sand.
It was so beautiful it took my breath away.
I liked this description of the interior of Granny Tinker’s gypsy wagon:
She set down her shepherd’s crook in a corner of her cramped, gypsy wagon that was filled with hanging herbs, dusty books, and jars of icky things like lizard’s feet and entrails. I watched as her black lace-gloved fingers skimmed a crystal ball on a shelf, and for the life of me, I thought I saw it cloud over.
“…jars of icky things…” love that.
Diane does enough with settings to orient the reader and give the flavor, without spending too much time on them.
What I thought could’ve been done better: I’m tempted to skip this section. But I’m on record saying that if you can’t find something to like and something to improve, you haven’t read closely enough.
So here are two “improves.” I think you’ll agree, though, they are both stretches.
1. Diane is fond of this wordy phrase, which I hate: “all of a sudden.” For instance, Diane writes “All of a sudden, I felt the tea cup rattle in my hand.”
Better, because less words but says the same thing: “Suddenly, I felt the tea cup rattle in my hand.”
Better still, because you don’t need adverbs if you’ve got good verbs: “I felt the tea cup rattle in my hand.”
Best, because it’s the fewest words, saying the same thing: “The tea cup rattled in my hand.” So of course she felt it. And if the sentence follows directly after the thing that made the cup rattle, then you’ve shown it’s sudden and don’t have to say it.
Picky? You bet. Not as picky as my next point.
2. Diane offers some nice description of Robin’s brown eyes and wavy chestnut hair. The problem is that this description doesn’t happen until about a fifth of the way into the story. I’d already formed a mental pic of Robin.
Now I discover the main character looks different than what I’d imagined.
So the suggestion here — and Diane does this with every other character — give at least some description when the character is introduced.
What I thought was good: Honestly, YA is not my favorite genre, but I wanted to read this one since my own WIP features teens. Also, I find it’s helpful to me as a writer to read outside my comfort zone.
That said, I enjoyed this story. I liked it’s structure. Diane puts her protagonist into situations of ever-increasing suspense and danger, building up to a truly exciting climax.
And Diane is a master of active voice and vivid verbs.
Creek gripped my fingers with a painful urgency, as though it might be the last thing he ever did.
“I love you, baby,” he whispered, before he buried his face against mine.
Shots rang out through the darkness.
Her dialogue too is effective.
“So,” I replied, “are you saying want me to sashay my hips and flirt with the armored car guy, then try and grab his money?”
Creek sighed impatiently. His eyes took on a wolfish concentration.
“Sweetheart, the fastest way to get dead is to mess around with an armored car guy. They shoot first, then maybe ask questions later.”
But the best thing, imho, is the intensity of the slightly over-the-top narration of 15-year-old Robin. She views, feels and tells of the events with the super-enthusiasm of the young, guided by the steady hand of the trained veteran writer.
Robin’s account is filled with these gems. They start when the story does and continue all the way through:
“We were broke.
Um, not just a little broke.
I mean, really broke-broke. Super-nova broke. As in, time-to-slit-your-wrists broke.”
Until that very moment, I didn’t think it was scientifically possible for every single skin cell in my body to blush in unison. Nevertheless, I’m quite sure that even my bare midriff had turned a bright, cherry red.
I think Diane nailed the perspective of her YA protag.
Overall: Robin in the Hood mashes literary devices “unity of opposites” with “fish out of water” to create a fun, quirky young adult adventure-romance.
Improbable in places, yet delightful all the way through, the story has a strong subliminal helping of William Faulkner’s eternal verities ~ love, honor, pity, pride, compassion, and sacrifice.
Faulkner has said it’s a writer’s duty to remind people of these values. Diane — and Robin, Creek and company — have done so, in fine fashion.
Good job Diane!
And for a sexy superheroine paranormal sci fi romantic adventure thriller, check out my own novel American Goddesses ~ thanks for visiting Honest Indie!