by Patrick Carman
Published by Katherin Tegen Books, Nov 2011
Fifteen-year-old Will Besting is sent by his doctor to Fort Eden, an institution meant to help patients suffering from crippling phobias. Once there, Will and six other teenagers take turns in mysterious fear chambers and confront their worst nightmares—with the help of the group facilitator, Rainsford, an enigmatic guide. When the patients emerge from the chamber, they feel emboldened by the previous night's experiences. But each person soon discovers strange, unexplained aches and pains. . . . What is really happening to the seven teens trapped in this dark Eden?
Patrick Carman's Dark Eden is a provocative exploration of fear, betrayal, memory, and— ultimately—immortality.
I have to admit that when I first opened this book, I read the first two pages, and put it right back down. I had just finished reading A Dance With Dragons, book 5 of “A Song of Fire and Ice”, aka, the Game of Thrones series by George R. R. Martin… and it was stellar. Getting back to reading teen lit was a bit like reading an essay by a 5th grader after reading Shakespeare. That is not to say that this is poorly written, but the tone was quite different. Even the font was larger.
Side note: Did you know that there is now a "teen paranormal romance" section at Barnes & Noble?
Anyway, I put the book down, and I was not too enthusiastic about reading it, especially because the cover was lame. Unlike the cover shown above, my cover has two gorgeous fake brooding teenagers on it, which is seems like nearly every teen book has on it nowadays. Show me some real teens, darn it, with less-than-perfect hair, skin, and busts! As if 7 anti-social phobia-filled teens would be pretty. Most likely, their social issues would carry over into the overall mental well-being and thus bleed into the way they looked. Just sayin.
I finally did dedicate myself to reading this book a few days later. And you know what? It caught me. I hate to say it, but it did! I really wanted to know what the phobias of the other kids were. The author did a great job of building that suspense and keeping you waiting for the answer. Unfortunately, the answers, while meant to be dark, were more tepid. Of course, again, I have to keep in mind that I was coming down off of Game of Thrones, which has many truly dark themes and disturbing images. Dark Eden is more like White Sock Washed In With the Jeans Eden… slightly grey.
That being said, I really was engaged and curious about the teens and their phobias. That part was satisfying. It was an easy read too, so it was no trouble finishing it in a few nights by putting in 10 or 20 minutes before bed. Overall, I liked the book, and I think most teens would enjoy it as well.
But then we hit the ending…
The ending had a plot twist that I did not expect, so I really appreciated that. I liked what happened to the main character, and I did not really see it coming. It was intriguing, and definitely set it up for a sequel, which I also have and will start reading shortly.
The thing is, after the “big reveal”, there are a series of short chapters which bother me. They are written as post-thoughts, after the finish. To me, it feels like the author could not find a way to incorporate these plot points into the book itself and realized that if there was any hope of writing a sequel, he had some explaining to do. It was all very Scooby-Doo in that he used these anecdotes to explain the whole book instead of gradually revealing information over time. If he had built up the plot better and added in some more clues, I think it would have gone better than being like OH, and HERE is what ACTUALLY happened and why. Although the explanation was not so awful as, "and it was all a dream", it sort-of had that feeling.
Overall, this book was interesting, and I am not dreading reading the second book, so we will see how that one goes. There is no profanity or sex, though is some murder and dark themes (discussing the phobias). The overall reason behind everything is dark as well, but I think anyone over age 12 or 13 could read it without instigating any phobias of their own.
p.s. Bonus points to the author for referencing The Pearl, which a lot of high schoolers have to read anyway. Your understanding of Dark Eden would probably triple if you have actually read The Pearl as well instead of relying on the author to explain it.