8 out of 10 stars...it's the top ranked book on the site!
[This review contains some spoilers.]
Read the blurb and Pictures of You appears to be a typical supernatural young adult suspense, but you don’t have to dig for long to discover a real heart and soul that helps carry this work high above many of its contemporaries. This novel – presented in diary format – is written with a kind of brevity and care that you’ll go a long way to find again.
Despite its dark overtones – and at times I was genuinely surprised at the themes this book explored – every time I returned to reading, I felt as though I was receiving a nice warm hug, in spite of the wrath the story threw at me.
Author T.J. Alexian says that the novel is about learning to accept the ghosts of our past, and for Ashes, our 16-year-old main character, she’ll be forced to face an onslaught before this story is through. Her older brother Daniel passed away some years before this story begins, and both Ashes and her mother are going through the motions of life. How can you ever recover from the loss of a young life?
But her world is rocked when videos filmed on Daniel’s camcorder some years before suddenly begin surfacing on YouTube. The footage is filmed by her brother, but Ashes has never seen these videos before. As the videos increase in number, the mystery deepens. Who is behind this? And, more importantly, why?
In any suspense novel, there is that dreaded line between entertaining your reader, and allowing them room to uncover the mystery for themselves. Pictures of You perfectly balances supernatural and suspense elements, never letting the reader become too passive. While the well paced plot serves to bolster the mystery, the absence of any conceited romance story or typical teenage tropes linked to this genre, are a credit to the novel, providing room to further explore what should be paramount to Ashes: answers.
Ashes is an instantly likeable character, with quick wit and a real charm. She’s suffered immeasurable loss, and at such a young age too. But the way that she composes herself scores empathy points with the reader. She’s a fighter, and she won’t stop for anyone. Sure she has insecurities, who doesn’t? Especially at that age. But her cracks only serve to round out her character. I was never against her. Always beside her. I never felt smarter than her, nor alienated from her world.
The author has spent time painting the various shades of supporting characters, and this helps serve in establishing possible red herrings and dead ends in our growing mystery. However, this reviewer did feel as though some of the hints regarding the outcome could have been handled a little more delicately. Such hints did register alarm bells when they passed my eyes, but having said that, there were other alarm bell moments that elicited similar reactions, and, as it turned out, were simply designed to keep you guessing. I suppose, for authors of suspense, that’s the burden they carry. You can’t do right for doing wrong. The reader will always like to believe they are one step ahead of the author.
Yet, the ‘what’ was not as nearly important as the ‘why’, and it was the ‘why’ that was kept hidden for so long. The revelation was a surprise, but I still had questions. I know why, but I’m still asking why. And the method to the madness is almost brushed away in a few short paragraphs. A shrug and that’s life. While the mystery’s resolution did feel a little rushed, the way in which the narrative’s main theme was tied up, and our main character’s world set on course again was well managed.
In a way, Pictures of You gave me flashbacks to the Goosebumps books that were at their height of popularity in the 90s. That’s not to say that Pictures of You is as simply woven as one of R.L. Stine’s works – It’s not; it has far more weight, subtext and emotional punch, but it is as instantly accessible by young and old alike thanks to the fluid and friendly writing style employed by the author.
Characters are well drawn and welcoming, but the antagonist suffers in the final act, becoming almost one dimensional in its actions, and then quickly an afterthought. I had questions, especially as to what societal motivations led the antagonist to behave as it did, and what in turn that spoke about other characters who may have been aware, or closely tied at one point in time.
In addition, one of the supporting characters is conveniently sidelined while the plot rampages to its conclusion, and yet there I felt that there was more to explore with this character in the conclusion. However, taking the whole work into consideration, these are minor inconveniences in an otherwise solid and inviting tale.
I’ll recommend Pictures of You to you. An enjoyable and moving read. Furthermore, I was pleased to find zero errors or typos in my read through.