November 9th, 2012, 10:21 am

Phase Exciting New Addition to Pack

Just when you thought that paranormal teen books - especially of the supernatural variety - had been to death and then undeath a new book changes all that. I picked up E.C. Newman's Phase end my Halloween reading, and I'm happy to write it's far more genuine and engaging than half of the books which proceeded it. Perhaps it's because "Phase" isn't simply a story about romance, but instead, friendship in the face of a dangerous new status quo.

Sophie Todd is a painstakingly average teenager with a painstaking average collection of problems, which include a lack of friends who won't stab you in the back and a surplus of bullies willing to make her life miserable, the worst being the snobbish Summer. That all changes when Sophie meets the abrasive new girl, Juliet Varden, who is herself just starting to adjust to a new foster family. The skittish Juliet spurns Sophie's every attempt of friendship, but when Sophie sticks up for Juliet in the face of all-too-familiar bullying, the two finally become friends. It turns out Juliet needs a friend, since her new family, which includes Sophie's high-school crush Ezra, isn't who or what they seem.

I'm pretty sure Sophie Todd would be a forgotten and wasted character in the hands of any other writer. This warm, friendly if slightly chubby teenager would have likely ended up as comic relief at best or disposable foil at worst in the hands of any other writer. Instead, Newman wisely wraps the entire plot in her perspective, allowing us to revel in her success and cry for her trials. The contrast Newman makes for Sophie and Juliet equally sells the narrative, especially between Sophie's squeamish insecurities and Juliet's independence. The interplay alone makes the book worth reading, to say nothing of Juliet's wide variety of foster siblings.

The only problem is the book runs out of steam in the first act of all places. Newman eschews the cliches of teenage paranormal romance by dwelling in the pleasant day-to-day activities of the protagonist rather than giving the readers a readily identifiable (and easily solved) conflict. Despite enjoyable characters and pleasant pacing, the plot is kind of listless in the first half and there's not really much capturing the reader's attention to keep them coming back for more. The book really hits its stride halfway through, putting Sophie in both relational and mortal peril, and it's at that point that the book becomes truly unputdownable, but everything leading up to it feels a bit too relaxed.

Phaseis the first part of a trilogy, and I honestly couldn't wait to read the second part after finishing the first. Newman's strength comes with boiling down the supernatural, the cosmic and the downright weird into a poignant tale of friendship between two girls. With a genuinely likable characters and a first person POV which puts the reader right in the character's skin, Newman is posed to be a juggernaut in the teenage paranormal section for some time to come.

(That's it for this rant. Check out a new Blue Yonder next week!)

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