Sunday, November 6, 2011

Book Review: The Academy, by T.P. Boje

Title: The Academy
Author: T.P. Boje
Format: Trade Paperback, 266 pages
Publisher: Create Space (Amazon)
Publication Date: October 10, 2011
Genre: YA Paranormal Romance



Reviewer's Note: I received an ARC of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.


When I first saw this book on Goodreads, I was immediately attracted  by the cover, which is haunting and touching at the same time (no pun intended).  There is a quality of longing in the two hands, one from a living human being, the other from a spirit, that speaks of a forbidden love.  This, of course, sparked my interest right away.

The story is told by Meghan, a sixteen-year-old girl who inexplicably finds herself being transported somewhere on a steamboat.  She can't remember how she got on the boat.  As she looks around, she doesn't recognize anyone.  Then she leans over the top deck railing, expecting, of course, to see water beneath the boat.  That's when she realizes that it's actually flying through the air...

Meghan has died, and is now on her way to a school run by angels, called, simply, "The Academy", located in a heavenly castle.  She discovers this through Mick, another spirit, who, like all the steamboat passengers, is on his way there.  Being a more experienced spirit (he's been dead for over a hundred years), he explains that it's normal for her not to remember her parents, or her life back on earth.  Meghan is completely bewildered by it all.

As the plot moves along, Meghan begins to learn about the afterlife at The Academy.  She and the other people on the boat are put in different groups, according to age.  She has a roommate in the girls' dorm.  She eats meals magically prepared by Mick, who turns out to be the cook at the heavenly school.  One of her classes covers how to go through walls and other solid objects.  (This started me wondering as to why such a class would be necessary for a spirit.)  The course is titled "The Art of Transition", and the teacher is Mrs. Ohayashi, a Japanese woman who immediately dislikes Meghan. There's also a magical "thinking chair" that will take Meghan anywhere she wants to go within the castle, whenever she's lost, which can easily happen because of the castle's many rooms and passageways, as well as the magical ladders that sometimes purposely lead nowhere.

By this time, I was already feeling disappointed due to the many similarities to the Harry Potter books.  Mrs. Ohayashi was an obvious parallel to Snape, one of Harry's teachers, who actively disliked Harry.  Even Portia, a student who is also hostile to Meghan, is an obvious twin to Draco Malfoy.  

I would have enjoyed this novel much more, had it not been for all the HP referernces.  The story itself is poignant, for it does concern a forbidden romance -- between Meghan and a human boy she meets when she goes against school rules regarding interactions with the earthly plane.   She and Jason fall madly in love, and she must end up making a fateful decision that will change their lives forever.

Meghan is a very appealing character.  Her innocence and candor immediately endear her to the reader, although her narrative style seems to be more like that of a much younger girl.  Jason, too, is a great character who courageously endures his horrible family situation.  As for Mick, he obviously cares quite a bit for Meghan, although he tries to keep his feelings for her in check.

The other characters are more sketchily drawn.  Salathiel, the school's headmaster, is somewhat like Dumbledore, while Rahmiel comes across like a fairy godmother, which is not necessarily a bad thing.  I would have preferred for both of these characters to have played more active roles in the book, though.

I have some problems with the believability of the whole story, as well.  Spirits having to be taught how to go through solid objects is bad enough, but they eat and drink, sleep, dance, and engage in everyday activities, just as if they were alive.  At one point, Meghan and Mick dance, and they are described as if they had physical bodies. 

Another bothersome aspect of the book is the fact that, although Jesus is mentioned (in fact, one of the more moving scenes made me cry), and the characters are in the afterlife, they can still be seduced to the dark side.  This is a bit confusing.  I was under the impression that these were all good spirits, in training for their eventual entry into heaven.  It seems as if the author has mixed Christian and New Age concepts, which is fine, I suppose -- to a point.  She walks a very fine line, however, since some of the ideas expressed in the novel do contradict each other.

To sum up, I feel that this novel had great potential, which was not fully realized.  The activities of the spirits in the next world are just not believable, and the plot should have been more complex, the characters more well-rounded.  

Despite my mixed feelings, the book did capture my interest, and I was able to finish it.  Perhaps, if the author reworked it, removing all the similarities to J.K. Rowling's novels,  as well as adding more depth to the plot and characters, this novel would really stand out as another fantasy classic. 


MY RATING:




7 comments:

  1. Thank you so, so much for that review! You've pointed out what might not be readily noticed in other reviews, but in my opinion it's what makes the book: it feels borrowed, and it lacks inner logic.

    I don't mind original religious settings, I guess, but they'd better be well researched. If it's solid enough, then go ahead - otherwise, just stick to what IS solid. Same happens with the physical laws, like spirits having a body or needing to learn how to go through walls: if it's stablished in the particular "lore" of the novel that they are at a real "place" and inhabit their old bodies, then fine, I might be able to buy it. If there's no explanation at all, I'll probably not enjoy the book.

    I think your verdict here was the best choice: potential, yes, but please make it solid and original the next time...

    Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts on this one! I might have been tempted to read otherwise, and I know I'd have gotten cranky! ;)

    Ron @ Stories of my life

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  2. Hi, Ron!

    Wow! I LOVE your in-depth analysis of my review! Very few commenters would go to such lengths in appreciating a review, believe me. I'm glad you agree with my take on this book. I don't like to give reviews that are less than positive, but I feel I do have to be honest. As I stated, this book does have potential. It's really too bad it wasn't realized. Aside from the obvious Harry Potter influence, there were other things that just didn't add up.

    You're very welcome for the review!! Thank you for such a detailed comment!! I LOVE those!!! : )

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  3. As you noted, the concept sounded original to me until you mentioned the similarities to HP. I wonder if the author's even aware of how this book has been heavily influenced; it might be a case of unintentional copying. Harry Potter has pretty much seeped into the collective subconscious. But that's where a good editor would point out such flaws to the writer.

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  4. Hi, Steph!

    I think you're right -- the Harry Potter books have indeed come to be part of the collective subconscious. Nice way of putting it! You might also be right in saying that this could have been unintentional. I don't know for sure, but to me, the passages in the book that have an HP influence seem pretty obvious. Unfortunately, she published the book herself, although it was edited by someone else -- presumably a friend. I think this is a persistent problem with indie books -- they don't have the professional editing available for books put out by the major publishers, such as Random House, Alfre Knopf, etc.

    Thanks for the very interesting comment!!

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  5. This is a great review. I have read Beyond but oddly enough, I have never read any of the Harry Potter books...just not my thing.

    ~Kristin

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  6. Hi, Kristin!

    Oh, I haven't heard of "Beyond". Gotta go check it out! As for the Harry Potter books, I think you should try them -- they're fabulous!! Well, I'm a lover of the fantasy genre, and perhaps you're not. They are very exciting books, though. Why don't you give them a chance? You might end up loving them!

    I didn't like all the similarities to the Harry Potter series in "The Academy". I can see an author being influenced by another, but, in this case, I think it was more than that....

    Thank you for complimenting my review!! : )

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  7. Unfortunately, there are a few books running around now that are clear rip-offs of other popular books. One, Carrier of the Mark by Leigh Fallon, is obviously Twilight without the sparkly vampires. (Which might make it more appealing for some, now that I think about it.) It takes a miracle to really think up true original ideas in fantasy these days. Sometimes it irritates me how much Harry Potter and other hugely popular books have taken over our culture. Then I feel like a hypocrite when hugging my Harry plushie. I just can’t win.

    Patricia @ Lady with Books

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