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.