Thursday, December 04, 2008

Valiant by Holly Black

Plot Summary: When seventeen-year-old Valerie runs away to New York City, she takes up with a gang of squatters who live in the city's subway system. But there's something strange about Val's new friends. When one of them talks Val into tracking down the lair of a mysterious creature with whom they are all involved, Val finds herself torn between her newfound affection for an honorable monster and her fear of what her friends are becoming.

I read this book some weeks ago, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I didn’t expect to, mostly because this is essentially a story about drug use, and that’s not my cup of tea. But it was the way drug addiction was presented – not exactly softened, but not exactly the whole terrorizing experience either – plus, this kind of drug would tempt anyone into becoming addicted. Ms. Black walked a very fine line here, and pulled it off well.

VALIANT has been criticized for the sex and drugs content, and the general “raw” flavor of the story. But, for me, this is what made it work. Sure, there are some bad situations, lousy choices, and terrifying consequences, but don’t real drug addicts go through that? I think Ms. Black told the story she set out to tell, and intended it for an older YA audience.

As with all my book discussions, there are SPOILERS below.

Valiant. Valerie. The two are not synonymous. Valerie starts out this story as far away from Valiant as possible. But, through a long and dark road, she makes it there.

The drug Val gets addicted to is called Nevermore, and is essentially faerie magic in powder form. Users of this drug are able to perform magic themselves – making people give them money or expensive jewelry, turning garbage into cupcakes, etc. Val gets addicted to this drug, along with two of her new friends. The third friend, however, has the sense to stay away from it. He works for a troll, distributing this Nevermore to the faeries living nearby, and his whole reason for being seems to be to protect his brother from himself.

Val doesn’t get sucked in right away, which I found both believable and refreshing. Some books thrust their characters into situations before they’re ready, and it makes the story jarring. Not enjoyable. But Val got into her addiction gradually, which, I’d guess, is how it happens for many addicts. She spirals out of control, but then does something that not all addicts can do – she gets herself out of it. And she does it on her own (with a small support group), but no one does it for her. I respected her immensely for that.

Val is the kind of character that is deeply flawed, and not entirely likable at first. But if you stick with her, she eventually shines. Bravo to Ms. Black for taking the chance on writing such a character, and succeeding.

16 comments:

Carrie Harris said...

I'm one of the people who found the sex a little too much, which is funny because I'm usually a push-the-bar kind of person and I like Holly Black. But I found her reason for running away to be a little gratuitous. There are plenty of reasons to run away; why did she choose that one?

Marcia said...

Haven't read this, but it sounds interesting. I think I'll put it off for a while, though. After the last couple of upper YAs I've read, I'm ready for a relatively innocent MG. :)

Tabitha said...

I agree that the reason she ran away was a bit...much. And I found the scene with Dave gratuitous, but the rest seemed on par with her terrible choices. Which some people just can't seem to help. It didn't make her likable, but it made her real. And, even though I typically don't like stories with unlikable MCs, I still liked this one. Go figure. :)

Marcia - if you're ready for innocent MG, then put this at the bottom of your pile because this is FAR from innocence. :)

Anne Spollen said...

Not my cup of tea, but I have a friend who teaches English to kids in a group home, and she keeps complaining that the problems in YA novels center on middle class white kids. So there is definitely a market/need for this type of book.

Mary Witzl said...

Anne made the comment I was about to make, thus saving me from making it! But the fact that two people made the comment surely gives it more credibility... It's hard to imagine kids who've had tough lives finding some of the gentler YA stuff compelling.

Tabitha said...

Anne & Mary - yep. There are kids out there who've gone through what Val went through, and this book takes the reader through the experience without getting too graphic. And probably made the same terrible choices Val made. I think this is a good book to have on the shelves.

PJ Hoover said...

Hey! I put this down halfway through, and am not even sure now I want to pick it back up. I really liked Tithe, but I couldn't get past the drug thing in Valiant.
That said, now I'm curious about the sex. :)

Tabitha said...

I've heard that those who really liked Tithe didn't like Valiant so much. I thought Tithe was okay, but I really liked Valiant. The two stories are sooo different, that I'm not surprised by this kind of reaction. :)

If you've made it halfway through Valiant, you might have already seen the worst of the sex. :)

C.R. Evers said...

I may have to check this out sometime. I didn't read the spoiler, since I haven't read it yet, but I may have to give it a try.

Thanks for the tip!

Gottawrite Girl said...

I haven't read this yet and am especially interested, now that I see Carrie's comment. I like books that push the edge of what's typical / accepted, too. And am ALWAYS down to investigate any new-to-me read like this!

beth said...

Argh, I haven't read this one yet, either, so I stopped reading when the spoilers started. However, just form your description, I think I am going to enjoy this--I don't like "drug books" per se, but I do like tastefully, interesting ones.

Tabitha said...

Christy, GWG, and Beth - it's a good book, but definitely not for everyone. But if you're looking for a story on drug use without the standard drugs, this is a good one. :) If you read it, I'd love to hear your thoughts, especially since this isn't going to be everyone's favorite. :)

Prince Balthazar said...

I read this book and enjoyed it.

It's about much more than drugs. It's about a teenager who is going through a lot of crap. Her mom, School. Friends. I think a lot of YAs can relate to that.

Fortunately there is a wide range of YA books out there so everyone can have their cake.

Me? I like weird cake. The stranger the cake, the better.

Tabitha said...

Yes, it's definitely about more than drugs. It goes into why a teen might turn into an abuser by showing the difficult things a lot of teens deal with. And does it well.

Next time I make a weird cake, I'll send it along to ya. :)

Prince Balthazar said...

Hee hee, thanks Tabitha.

I also think that Nevermore has to be a metaphor for something. Perhaps Val's want for a world where everything is perfect?

Tabitha said...

I also wondered if Nevermore was a metaphor. :) It seems like it has to be, but I don't know the poem well enough to make speculation. :)