Adela Castiele is a typical seventeen-year-old, high school senior. She lives on a ranch in rural Northern California, loves her parents and young twin siblings, and also loves horses. She has a major crush on Max, her best friend and the guy she thinks she'd someday like to marry, except that he seems all but oblivious to her feelings. Then there's Courtland Reese, a boy who everyone at school thinks is strange because he's rumored to be able to communicate with animals. Court is also Max's sworn enemy, a fact that Adela hasn't examined too closely. She's simply gone along with what Max thinks until Court steps in to save her from being trampled by her horse. Then she starts wondering if there's more to him than meets the eye. But it's not until a massive, devastating earthquake hits their little community, leaving the teens stranded together, and then Max abandoning her in his parents' wine cellar with an injured Court that Adela really starts to realize that Max has been selfish while Court is willing to risk his life for her. As they rely on each other for survival in the midst of utter destruction, Adela and Court discover a sweet, tender love blossoming between them. But will they be able to find their way to safety amidst a cave in, a wildfire, frigid temperatures, injuries, and other frightening obstacles?
Allusive Aftershock is a stand-alone YA romance from indie author Susan Griscom. It's primarily a contemporary story with slight science-fiction overtones. The sci-fi element comes in the form of an apocalyptic level earthquake called a megathrust. I hadn't heard this term before, but I looked it up, and yes, it is a real thing. However, rather than the earthquake being confined to a particular area of California as we typically see, it basically devastates the entire state, killing thousands, and leading to numerous powerful aftershocks. Hence, the touch of science-fiction. Not that this might not be possible - I honestly don't know since I'm not a seismologist - but an earthquake of this magnitude is certainly not something we've seen before that I'm aware of. It also leaves the state in complete ruin, with the protagonists facing near-constant danger and obstacles to their survival. So, it's also an action-adventure, survival story. But somewhere in the midst of all this peril and devastation, we get a sweet romance between a boy who's had a crush on the heroine since the fourth grade and a girl who begins the story not even sure if she likes him as a person but who slowly starts to appreciate him and see his hidden depths.
Adela is just your average, typical teenage girl who's a senior in high school. She loves her family, which includes her mom, dad, and four-year-old twin brother and sister. She also adores her horse Big Blue. Adela has been best friends with Max since she met him upon moving to the area in the fourth grade. She has a crush on him and thinks he'll someday be "the one," but Max, who attracts female attention everywhere he goes, doesn't seem interested in her in that way. Little does she know that Courtland, who she's known nearly as long, has been sweet on her from afar for years. Max hates Court, though, and because he's Adela's best friend, she basically goes along with whatever he says. A rumor was started years ago that Court is a freak who can talk to animals, so after a pretty strong earthquake hits the area, agitating their horses, Adela's father calls Court to come calm them down. At first, Adela is offended that her dad thinks the school freak can take care of her horse better than she can, but when Court prevents Big Blue from throwing her off and possibly trampling her, she begins to see him a little differently. After the megathrust quake hits and he saves her life again, she's definitely much more open toward him. At the very beginning of the story, I thought Adela was acting a bit spoiled and petty about Court helping with the horses. She also goes along with Max a little too willingly rather than judging Court for herself, but this improved dramatically after he saves her life. I liked that she insisted upon staying with Court after he was injured even though Max was dead set on leaving the relative safety of his family's wine cellar. I also like how she cared for Court's injuries and helped him out in any way she could.
Courtland is part Native American. He lost his mother when he was in the fourth grade. With his mother gone, his father couldn't cope and became an alcoholic, so Court has lived a fairly independent life, learning to take care of himself at an early age. Around the same time his mother died, Adela became one of his neighbors, and he developed a crush on her. After the rumor of him being a Dr. Doolittle freak got started, most kids either teased him or gave him a wide berth. He never thought that Adela would ever feel the same way about him that he does about her, but it doesn't stop him from admiring her from afar. Court is a total sweetheart, who was easy to fall for and who stood out in stark contrast to the rather selfish Max. He saves Adela's life multiple times, and once he's recovered enough from his injuries to be of use, he's very protective of her and does everything in his power to make sure that she stays safe, while helping her find her family. I love that once things start to become more romantic and heated between Court and Adela, he never, ever pushes her to do anything she's not ready for, which is another contrast to Max, who we learn isn't nearly as respectful of girls. Court is simply an all-around, wonderful guy who knows how to treat a girl right.
Since this is a YA book, I'll address any potentially objectionable content for parents or educators who might have concerns. Because of the catastrophic nature of the story, there are a lot of deaths, including loved ones of both the protagonists and supporting characters, including a beloved pet. In general, though, the author doesn't tend to linger over them. On the one hand this might be a good thing for her target audience, but on the other hand, it did leave me a little emotionally cold at times, because it feels like, in some instances (though admittedly not all), they just take it in stride and move on without a lot of emotions involved. Court must hunt animals for food, which is given a moderate amount of detail, so anyone who hates violence against animals beware. I will give the author kudos on this, though, because Court isn't overjoyed by having to do it, and at least once, she shows him thanking an animal for its sacrifice like his Native American ancestors would have. The language isn't pervasive, but there is some. However, the sensuality would probably be the greatest concern. Court and Adela snuggle together for warmth while sleeping, and on one occasion, sleep together fully nude after getting their clothes wet. There's also some fairly passionate kissing and heavy petting, that nearly leads to love-making. I liked, though, that when faced with the choice, they had an open discussion about it and were intending on using safe sex practices. I also thought it was very sweet that both characters are virgins. While there's no actual sexual content, and IMHO, nothing I've described was over the top, the sexual tension was still higher than I've seen in any other YA book I've read to date. Primarily for this reason, I'd probably only recommend the book for mature teens of perhaps sixteen and up.
Overall, Allusive Aftershock was a sweet story romance-wise, and I very much enjoyed that part of it. The action-adventure and survival aspects kept me reading to see how they were going to make it, although admittedly, I couldn't help thinking more than once that the author was throwing nearly everything but the kitchen sink at these poor kids. I also thought the ending was perhaps a little abrupt. One thing after another kept happening as the page count continued winding down, until voila! they're miraculously saved. In general, it wasn't too bad, but it was a tad jarring. There were also a few nagging, little things that didn't entirely make sense, such as how the rescuers knew that certain people had died when there were apparently no bodies or why these kids didn't have any cell phones when nearly every teenager in America today does. Mostly, though, I was rather distracted by the writing itself, or perhaps more accurately, the editing, which was not very well-done IMHO. There were a number of typos (including the heroine's last name having two transposed letters on more than one occasion), missing or incorrect words, and most importantly a lack of contractions. This was especially problematic in the dialogue, because it makes it too formal, particularly given that the characters are teenagers. Because of some of these issues, I waffled on how to rate the book. For the first half or so, I was planning on giving it 3.5 stars, but once the romance really got going, I was more invested in the story and enjoyed the latter half enough to bump it up to 4 stars. In general, Allusive Aftershock is a good story and a rather unique one to the genre. If you aren't a nit-picky reader like I am, and you enjoy sweet but slightly sensual YA romance with a touch of science-fiction and a healthy does of adventure and peril then it might just fit the bill.
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