Sacred by Elana K. Arnold
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“Growing up on Catalina Island, off the California coast, Scarlett Wenderoth has led a fairly isolated life. After her brother dies, her isolation deepens as she withdraws into herself, shutting out her friends and boyfriend. Her parents, shattered by their own sorrow, fail to notice Scarlett’s pain and sudden alarming thinness. Scarlett finds pleasure only on her horse, escaping to the heart of the island on long, solitary rides. One day, as she races around a bend, Scarlett is startled by a boy who raises his hand in warning and says one word: ‘Stop.’
The boy—intense, beautiful—is Will Cohen, a newcomer to the island. For reasons he can’t or won’t explain, he’s drawn to Scarlett and feels compelled to keep her safe. To keep her from wasting away. His meddling irritates Scarlett, though she can’t deny her attraction to him. As their relationship blossoms into love, Scarlett’s body slowly awakens at Will’s touch. But just when her grief begins to ebb, she makes a startling discovery about Will, a discovery he’s been grappling with himself. A discovery that threatens to force them apart. And if it does, Scarlett fears she will unravel all over again.”
I found out from a co-worker that Arnold got her creative writing degree at UC Davis, which is where I work and where I got my own degree, so I was quite curious to read a book written by a fellow alumnus. I’m happy to say that Arnold’s writing is indeed quite creative. In a genre overpopulated by vampires and werewolves, this book makes use of the mystical rather than the supernatural. What magic is used doesn’t overwhelm the story, either; instead, it supports a tale that is centered on people and their reactions to grief and pain.
What really impressed me was that the author turned to Jewish mysticism for the otherworldly aspects of her story. It’s so common to pull from folklore and legend to inject magic into a story that the decision to use religion is startlingly refreshing. On top of that, the subject was handled with grace and respect. Will’s father gives Scarlett books to read that promote self-awareness and tolerance, and that’s a message that I think today’s young people sorely need.
But this novel isn’t all peace and love. Scarlett is a heartbroken girl when we first meet her, grieving the loss of her older brother and engaging in destructive behaviors to deal with the pain. Again, Arnold displays a remarkable understanding and compassion for those who do such things—readers never get the feeling that Scarlett is being vilified for self-harming or starving herself. It’s obvious that she’s in terrible emotional pain, and the author gets that across without being maudlin, but also without sparing the reader from seeing the effects.
Scarlett and Will’s relationship has to grow from these trials, and it does so in a realistic way. Despite the mystical connection that the two share, it plays less of a role in them getting together than you might imagine. Will is indeed drawn to help her, but Scarlett proves quite capable of fighting her own demons. Most of what’s between them is a real affection and respect. And speaking of respect, Will’s father is a major force in the story, and his gentle support of Scarlett was very heartwarming and positive. I wish more books had such role models for their characters.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Sacred, but I’m happy to say that I got a book that, while not skimping on the darker parts of grief, does much to promote more positive and caring portrayals of relationships than otherwise. I greatly enjoyed this book and am looking forward to the sequel this fall.
This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on February 28, 2013.