Blog Tour & Book Review: BECOME by ALI CROSS

Welcome to the next stop on the Dark C.A.R.M.A. Tour! Here we'll be having at Ali Cross's new YA novel Become.

A little story first: Ali Cross asked Krispy to review Become and sent her a copy. Krispy started to read it but was too busy to get very far, whereas I had a little more time and read the whole thing. Ali asked for honest feedback and so we told her the truth: Krispy hadn't gotten far enough to form a real opinion and I had a number of issues with the book and therefore didn't feel comfortable reviewing it.

Herein shines Ali's awesomeness and literary integrity: She asked me to review the book anyway, and proposed a very special giveaway for this stop on her blogalicious tour. Her candor, humor, and stance on honesty should be lauded and applauded. Ali is fearless. No wonder she runs a ninja dojo.  From my understanding, she looks a little something like this:
Only, you know, she's like 10,000x more awesome.
Anyway, dear folks, here's info on the amazing giveaway we have courtesy of the equally amazing Ali! Comment on this post (and include your email if it's not linked to your blogger profile) and you will be entered to win an exclusive paperback edition of Become with a special Alz "this book sucks" cover. The giveaway will be open for a week, with a winner picked at random and announced on Nov. 23rd.

Buy the book:
Amazon! Paperback style!
Amazon! Kindle lovin'!
Barnes & Noble! Nookie nook!
Smashwords! Ebooktabulous!

Meet Ali Cross:

Now, onward to the review!


Become by Ali Cross

Pros: Interesting take on combining Christianity and Norse mythology; touches upon issues such as teenage alcoholism and suicide; protagonist does struggle with making choices.

Cons: Some very important plot points and worldbuilding details are glossed over, never sufficiently explained, or inexplicably vanish; many characters are archetypes with no real personality, including the heroine; the clop-clop-clopping of drama llama hooves echoes within the vaults of the protagonist's cathedral of angst.

Okay, so this is St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, but I imagine
Desolation looks like this deep inside, llama included.

Intellectual Rating: 2.75 out of 10 stars
Emotional Grade: F+

Book Blurb: (from Goodreads) Sixteen-year old Desolation Black wants nothing more than to stay in Hell where it’s cold and lonely and totally predictable. Instead, she’s sent back to Earth where she must face the evil she despises and the good she always feared.

When Desi is forced to embrace her inner demon, she assumes her choice has been made—that she has no hope of being anything other than what her father, Lucifer, has created her to be. What she doesn’t count on, is finding a reason to change—something she’s never had before—a friend.

Alz's Take: This book definitely feels like it has a bigger picture in mind than the simple angel-demon-forbidden-romance-mysterious-past that plagues the world of YA. Themes of morality, faith, friendship, fidelity, redemption, teenage suicide and alcoholism, and the good ol' struggle to find yourself in a confusing and dangerous world—these are high goals, and I respect that.

And therefore I weep, weep tears of blood that the story never actually scores a goal with regards to any of those themes. They're there, and they're touched upon, but the actual exploration thereof is shallow at best—the book dips a toe into these deep waters and then draws it back with an angsty sigh, instead choosing to wade through the shallows.

Desolation hates her father and doesn't want to embrace her dark side and Become a Sith Lord true demon because…I'm not really sure why, actually. Her teenage rebellion seems to be teenage rebellion for the sake of teenage rebellion, and she hates her father because he's Lucifer. Which sounds fairly reasonable until you start to think about it because he actually seems like one of the more decent YA fathers I've read: he cares about his daughter's welfare and has concern for her future, is encouraging her to pursue an active vocation (albeit one that involves evil), he provides for her emotionally and even materialistically to the point that this girl living in Hell has an iPod, Doc Martens, and tons of teenage human stuff in her room.
I always picture her with emo hair.

Lucifer doesn't appear all that threatening or evil. In fact, after a while my sympathies actually began to lie with the Father of Lies because sheesh, this guy has to deal with such an emo rebel-without-a-cause daughter—and yet he does so with fondly amused tolerance and relative good nature. Yes, Alz has sympathy for the devil, folks. I'm sure that will surprise none of you, especially Krispy.

At any rate, the story seems to be banking on preconceived notions of of-course-Lucifer-is-evil-and-Desolation-should-hate-and-rebel-against-him instead of actually developing a conflicting relationship between them based on personality, morality, and character. Desi doesn't want to become evil, but why? Is it because she doesn't believe in evil? Is it because the thought of torturing souls horrifies her? Does she secretly just want to be free of her father and live her life as she chooses?

I finished the whole book and I don't know. And since this is the central conflict of the story—Desolation's struggle between good and evil—that's not good.

On the flipside, does Desolation even want to be good? What is the difference between light and dark? Is there a gray side to any of this? Can the "right" choice sometimes be a dark one? What is morality? Does how we define ourselves have an effect upon what we choose to perceive as good and evil?

Again, I don't know. It feels like the story was based on these themes and kind of nibbles around the edges of them with no actual thematic exploration. This was particularly frustrating since the setup is so great: a girl struggling with her inner nature and trying to find herself in a world that sees her as a force of evil.

Desolation's character and conflict are interesting conceptually but the execution leaves something to be desired the way an unsalted soup leaves something to be desired: it's missing a surprisingly crucial ingredient that adds savor generally taken for granted.
A steaming bowl of Desolation soup.
I was frequently puzzled by Desolation. She'd swing from feeling Love and Light and Wanting to Do the Right Thing to Anger and Emo and Wanting to Be Alone within the space of a single page, and I never understood why. She's a snarky teen one moment and a despairing demon of woe the next. I actually thought for a while that maybe she was bipolar, but that doesn't seem to be the case.

There's a very important scene that I'm going to see if I can carefully skirt around right now because I'm avoiding spoilers. Let's see how specifically vague I can be. Basically, something really horrible happened and Desolation took matters into her own hands, meting out what I personally thought was a big glass of richly-deserved fresh-squeezed justice.

Once Desolation realized what she had done though, she was just horrified and mentally beat herself up for what she had done. Which I kind of understand—it's a reasonable reaction—but never once does it ever cross her mind that maybe she did a good thing, or that this situation warranted her actions, or feel some sense of satisfaction that comeuppance got served, hell yeah, hot off the lunchline.

So that's Desolation Black (no relation to Sirius Black). There are other characters whom come forth like perfectly formed chocolates from the silicone molds of stereotypes: Desolation's BFF/maternal figure is the Hooker with a Heart of Gold, Michael is the Noble Warrior, Akaros is the Cruel Forbidding Mentor, Daniel is the Criminal Millionare Douchebag.

Speaking of Daniel, I have no idea what he looks like. The guy is a tool in more than one sense of the word, though mainly he's a tool that provides ritzy lodgings and everything a teenage girl could materialistically desire for Desi, is occasionally a jerkface, and is generally so unimportant that he vanishes near the end of the book for no explicable reason.

Daniel is never, ever described physically. I have no idea if he's dwarfishly short or gigantically tall, Herculeanly athletic or a big fat ball of lard. He might have seventy-five feet of gloriously golden magical hair and like to cross-dress for all I know.

This is an example of the technical issues the book has—sometimes characters and places aren't described enough or even at all. The magical/theological system is interesting as it mixes Nordic and Christian elements, but important plot points are so vaguely described I didn't understand what Etc. meant or why it was so important, even though it's so very important and powerful that Lucifer even now is fighting for it. What is it, exactly, and how does it work?

Looking at the book in terms of story construction, I was pleasantly surprised when I went back and reread some sections—there were a few clues to Desi's past and true nature tucked in here and there that I had totally missed because they were so innocuous at the time. That was cool, though I do feel like maybe they were a little too obscure to set up for the Big Reveal.

On the other hand, the pacing is more all over the place than an ADHD-afflicted duck on a disco dance floor. It's slow and then it's fast and then it's slow and then it's confusing and then it's more confusing and then it's all rush-rush-rush to the end. Characters suddenly appear but they've got terminal cases of Told-Not-Shown because we're told they're important and told why and told that they care about what's going on because…uh, because. Things happen suddenly! And then other things happen! And now it's time for a dramatic end, see you in book two!

But enough of all that. Let's talk romance! If you're a fan of the Destined Troo Luv type o' romantic entanglement, you'll probably like what's offered up here. Unfortunately, some narrative flaws muck up the story to the point where I was never entirely sure how much Desolation knew about Michael and her own mysterious past. It jarred me quite a bit because one moment she was pondering who Michael was and why she seemed to know him, and then suddenly a few pages later she was talking about him like she'd remembered everything and I'd somehow missed her mnemonic epiphany—and yet later, she seemed to have forgotten, only to remember.

And since the book is first-person narration, all that's a problem. I was confused.

The story involves numerous plotlines and ideas that never quite build up to a perfect whole. As I read I kept on expecting details and plot points to be explained and come together, since it seemed like the book was taking the immersive worldbuilding approach, which is my favorite. But by the end, I was still confused—about Desi's past, her motivations, why she hates her father, the mechanics of the world mythology and magic, where these other characters came from, and what, in general, the hell is going on.

Alz's Conclusion: Keep in mind that I am Alz, AKA Picky McPickerson, Lord of Judgment and Demon of Criticality. Unlike other books that actively pissed me off or disgusted me because they treated delicate issues offensively and went for shock value above good storytelling, Become is based on philosophical questions and thought-provoking themes that are never quite done justice. Technical and narrative flaws bog down the rest of story to the point that it becomes a whirlpool of confusion into which I was trapped, helplessly trapped and spun around, grasping for something to ground me and being frustrated because so many things tantalizingly brushed my fingertips before I was again swept away.

All that aside, I can honestly say that while the book didn't suit my taste, the trappings of angels, teenage angst, and a semi-anti-heroine will probably appeal to any number of people. This Alz just ain't one of them.

All pictures not doodled by Alz are courtesy of Wikipedia.


Shannon O'Donnell said...

Interesting viewpoint. I appreciate the length of your review and the sincerity with which you voiced your opinions. I disagree, though. While there were times I felt confused, especially about Desolation and Michael, I felt that we had resolution by the end. I also thought it was clear that Desi did NOT want to commit evil acts. Even when she was being angsty, she felt guilty about it. She was good at her core but was afraid to embrace it because of who she was--the devil's daughter. By the end, she realizes she DOES have a choice, She CAN choose to be good. Lucy's forgiveness is a huge part of that. The storyline unfolds as we read, but it feels complete (at least for me) by the edge-of-our-seats conclusion.

ali cross said...

OH my gosh I had no idea an awesome ninja-ali drawing would be a part of this deal! I love her! Can I have her? She's way more cute/sexy/kick-ass/awesome than me in real life, so online I'd love to be her. :)

You did great Alz. I loved how thorough you were, and I appreciated that you did as I asked and didn't (mostly) hold back. I do hope others will view the book more like Shannon, but I know that's just not always possible.

Thanks for being an awesome sport and playing along! And thanks again for reading AND REVIEWING my book!

Larry Kollar said...

This was the most hilarious negative review I've ever seen! Love the illustrations.

Will you pan my book when it comes out too?

Chantele Sedgwick said...

You are the most scary, but hilarious reviewer ever! lol The pictures were awesome! Thanks for the review. I'd love to win a copy of Become. Since Ali ROCKS. She's awesome. :)

Valerie Ipson said...


Loved the review just for the introspective comments and awesome pictures. The book in the ocean is my favorite and made me laugh out loud. "Go deeper..." :D

Unknown said...

Wow very thorough review! Thanks for pointing out all that you had problems with, some just say I don't like that and give no explanation.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

With the visuals, I'd give the review a nine out of ten, because it was both funny and thorough.
No need to enter me as I already own the book!
And Ali is an awesome Ninja.

Angie said...

I love the ninja drawing! I appreciate your honesty and Ali's awesomeness.

Lydia Kang said...

Me: happy that there are doodles today. And the llama in a basilica? Puuuure geeenious.

Okay. Thanks for the honest review again. And can I just say how TOTALLY COOL Ali Cross is for commenting and being such a good sport about this review? I would buy this book just because of that.

Go Ali! Go Alz!

Anonymous said...

I haven't read this book yet, but it's on my TBR pile.

Unknown said...

If I didn't own the book already, I'd buy it just because of Ali's great attitude.

Your review is so thorough. Any writer would be lucky to have such an honest review of their work. I'd just prefer it before the book came out. :D

Love the illustrations.

Golden Eagle said...

Thanks for the review! I love the thoroughness--it's always nice to come across a post that really seems to say what the reader thought, in detail.

Great illustrations. :)

Suze Reese said...

Wow. Props to you for such an amazing review. I laughed. I cried. And props to Ali for such an amazing attitude. I will say the review made me want to rush out and get my hands on Become so I can form my own opinion! Way to go both of you!

Lori M. Lee said...

Great review, Alz. I respect your honesty :)

And I cannot stop cracking up at the drama llama XD

Anonymous said...

Great review...and Ali, props for being so magnanimous about it! I hope I can do the same when my book comes out! And, of course, I hope I win so I can read the book and form my own opinion! Thanks,


thaliansmhc at yahoo dot com

Momo (Books Over Boys) said...

Omg, this is the cutest review ever! LOL, no joke! :) I had a lot of fun reading it!

Thanks for the giveaway!
booksoverboys at hotmail dot com

Nina said...

my comment shall be my email address. 3monkeyz@att.net

Gabi said...

I love that Ali Cross asked you to do this, even though you didn't love the book. That's so awesome. I don't know if I would ever be able to do that with my own work . . . negativity is scary. But this post handels it in a good way - you're not bashing the book, like most negative reviews do. So thank you. :]

Gabi: teddycavygal at yahoo dot com