This is the story about a Yulia, a girl with psychic powers whose family is kidnapped and held hostage by the KGB in exchange for her participation in their a secret (Sekret?) program involving young psychic agents in the communist USSR (Russia, 1963). I really cannot tell you any more about the plot other than that, not because I do not want to spoil it, but because I can't remember anything about the book that is relevant regarding the missions. There's something about a spaceship launch, something about capturing fellow psychics, but I can't remember anything else that is worthy of being summarized because this book was so dry, so long, and so forgettable.
As a testament of how much the main character interests me, halfway through the book, I realized that I had forgotten Yulia's name.
There is a lot of inconsistencies within this book, one of the which is a timeline inconsistency involving music. The book is set in 1963, Russia. There's a reference to a Beatles song that doesn't get released until 1964. There is a reference to "California Dreamin'," which doesn't get released until 1965. There is a reference to "California Girls," which doesn't get released until 1965. There is a reference to "House of the Rising Sun" by the Animals, which doesn't get released until 1964. I know these songs because I love all of them and I listen to all of them. If you are going to make references to them in the book, get the fucking date right. I know I'm anal about details, but if you are going to write historical fiction, the timeline should be completely accurate.
Yes, the book is is filled to the brim with action, but it does not hold my interest. It is fast-paced at the expense of a relevant, compelling central plot. It is not over the top in romance, but the romance felt unnecessary and undeveloped, complete with a love triangle with a trope-filled brooding bad boy who should not be trusted.
“Listen.” He jerks his head over his shoulder, checking that we are more or less alone. “I know he’s got this moody, broody artist act down, and some girls go for that. Oh, look at the sad puppy. But it gets to be a drag, you know?”
“Not really,” I say stiffly.
Here is where the book did not work for me:
The Fucking Psychic Morons: Listen, if I had psychic powers like the people do in the book, I'd put them to a lot better use than these fucking idiots. They are seriously so unbelievably stupid.
Example: Yulia's family is kidnapped, she wants them back, she is constantly planning to escape. Ok, fine, but um, have we forgotten that THERE ARE MIND READERS IN THE HOUSE? Why are they not constantly reading her thoughts about escaping? Yulia learns a way to disguise her thoughts, but she is a new learner at this. Yulia cannot hide her thoughts 24/7, and rest assured, she thinks of nothing else but escape. So why are the mind-readers not doing anything about this?
Better yet, just fucking erase her memories! There is a type of psychic called a "scrubber." The scrubbers are skilled at "changing the very stream of someone’s thoughts— altering their memories, or creating a new reality around them.” WELL ALRIGHTY THEN. WHY DON'T YOU JUST FUCKING LOBOTOMIZE YULIA?! That would have been absolutely perfect. You erase her memories of her parents, you erase her personality, you create a mindless robotic soldier completely obedient to your will instead of allowing her to remain a stubborn, uncooperative, rebellious, sullen little twit of a teenaged girl.
Honestly, I just don't understand the absolute under-usage of the psychic powers within this book. Their powers are fucking wasted because there's an absolute lack of a brain to be shared within the group. And speaking of powers...
The Inconsistency in Psychic Powers: The premise started off well, there are various types of psychic powers. For example, some people are "scrubbers," as in they can erase memories, they can fix memories. Others can visualize things across distances. Fine, that works...except then it falls to pieces because the powers are so inconsistently used and sometimes, used not at all when they should be.
It felt that after the introductions of the characters and their powers, the usage of their powers were just largely lumped together into one general psychic category and everything else was made up haphazardly as the book progresses. I had so many questions, and I felt a lot of frustration towards this fact. For example, Yulia's power is to feel things through touch, she can detect memories, fragments of things that have touched that article.
Me, I’ve found how to focus thoughts and memories through touch, like steadying a radio antenna with your fingertips, the static sloughing off until a clear melody remains.
Except it doesn't always work that way. For some freaking reason, she is also able to communicate telepathically to one other select member of her group, as well, something which has never been mentioned as part of her power within the book.
Furthermore, the extent of her powers are conflicting and contrary. She feels things through touch, yet Yulia can somehow sense memories through AIR?
Brilliant pinks, blues, reds spin across the dance floor before us, and thoughts and smells spiral away in the dancers’ wake: sweat, eagerness, acrid perfume, regret. One thought is faint, but unmistakable to me— the hum of a brain that’s encountered a scrubber.
And yet again:
I catch a flash of lightning in the crowd— feel it more than see it, ripping through my mind.
Yulia's powers are also inconsistent in that it is selective, sometimes it feels like she is unable to resist feeling things through her touch, other times it feels like she can choose to turn it off, which doesn't make any sense. Sometimes Yulia moans about her inability to escape feeling things through her psychic powers, because whenever she touches something, she senses memories and emotions from them, but then again, she doesn't mention anything about feeling anything through the multitude of people and things that she must touch every single day.
The premise of psychic powers is an interesting one, but in this book, it was badly and inconsistently executed.
The Training: Usually there is a lot of intense training involved when a group of teenaged soldiers, psychic or not, are utilized to be awesome secret soldiers by the state. There is. We just see almost nothing of it in the book. Yulia gets kidnapped. She goes into a few training exercises. BAM! It's a month later, and she goes on a mission. That's it?!
Yulia's Personality: To sum it up, Yulia is a typical teenaged girl, with psychic power. She is sullen. She is morose. She mopes. Yulia has to constantly be told to just snap the fuck out of it. There are some people who make the best out of a bad situation...they see the silver lining in the cloud, they make lemonade out of lemons. Yulia is not one of them. Her life in hiding before she was kidnapped was not good. There was not enough to eat. There was a lot of illness. There was a lot of black-market trades just so her family could get enough to barely survive. Yulia may have been kidnapped, but she's got it good. She has enough food, she knows that her family is safe, because the KGB will keep her family safe as long as she participates with them. It is a really, really nice life, with people who understand her. Yulia even recognizes this fact, but she goes against all sense of rationality to rebel against what, I don't even know.
“You were an idiot to try to give this up,” Misha says, and Masha nods. “Look around you— isn’t this a better life?
Let's see. Yulia has a chance to go to Moscow University and study what she has dreamt of her whole life. She has the ability to help her country (never mind that it is the USSR, it is still her country). And she...mopes. No, thank you.
She is also TSTL. She not only thinks about running away, she does run away, only to almost get herself killed. There is a way of running away successfully, it involves a lot of planning, a lot of backup strategies. Yulia's plans consist of 1. running away. That's it. Idiot.
The Setting: I read this book wanting to know more about the daily life, the daily struggles of living under the USSR in the 1960s. I didn't get much of that. There is mention of starvation, of rationing, but that's pretty much it. There is a LOT of name-dropping, like Nikita Khrushchev, Yuri Gagarin, constant references to Lenin, and an overemphasis on Communist murals, but the entire book is set in a closed boarding school type setting that felt rather constrictive and not at all illustrative of life under a harsh Communist regime.
A terribly disappointing book. If you want action and are willing to overlook inconsistencies, then go ahead. It wasn't for me.
Quotes were taken from an uncorrected galley proof subject to change in the final edition.