Saturday, December 24, 2011

Review: The Sharp Time by Mary O'Connell


The Sharp Time by Mary O'Connell

Pages: 240
Publisher: Delacorte
Published: November 8th, 2011
IBSN: 9780385740487

Sandinista Jones is a high school senior with a punk rock name and a broken heart. The death of her single mother has left Sandinista alone in the world, subject to the random vulnerability of everyday life. When the school system lets her down, her grief and instability intensify, and she ponders a violent act of revenge.

Still, in the midst of her crisis, she gets a job at The Pale Circus, a funky vintage clothing shop, and finds friendship and camaraderie with her coworker, a boy struggling with his own secrets.

Even as Sandinista sees the failures of those with power and authority, she's offered the chance to survive through the redemptive power of friendship. Now she must choose between faith and forgiveness or violence and vengeance.

The death of her beloved mother and the constant failures and shortcomings of the world around her leaves Sandinista caught between constant defeatism and rage. On the weird and wonderful Thirty-Eighth street, plans for violent revenge take root and a redemptive friendship is formed.

Sandinista had one of the most capturing and passionate voices I've ever read. Everything she was feeling was laid out bare -- her pleas, her grief, the memory are you paying attention? on repeat. She was profoundly angry and profoundly melancholic, and it never even needed to be said, the mood was so effectively created. The writing had the feel of a stream of consciousness, so raw from the perspective of someone so haunted.

Beyond being so easily sympathetic, Sandinista was a relateable protagonist struggling with a relevant issue. Her loss of faith in authority figures and burgeoning desire for retribution articulated feelings the audience is very familiar with. 
So much about Sandinista's journey was deeply affecting.

The story demonstrated the potential for redemption and solace in the relationships in others; a touching thing for the profoundly lonely Sandinista to come to realise. Her relationship with Bradley had a realistic and gritty dynamic, and the way their bond strengthened through the comfort they eventually found in each other was warming.

On top of being teeming with the heavy, how-can-she-bear-to-carry-this emotion, the writing style is wonderfully clever. Articulate and poetic and wry and so, so clever. "...a squinting owlish lover wondering 'who, who, who are you?'" O'Connell's first novel demonstrated a talent for writing not bestowed upon many debut authors. She subtly creates feeling, such as the thick tension, and builds it gradually and carefully into something almost tangible.

The setting is brought to life with vivacity and stunning imagery. The alternative and surreal thirty-eighth street -- home to an erotic bakery, a monastery, and the vintage clothes store The Pale Circus that Sandinista finds peace working it -- is described evocatively and personified as this comforting maternal figure to Sandinista.

The Sharp Time was a gritty glimpse into the life of someone filled with an emotion YA doesn't often delve into. Grief is well-covered, ditto hopelessness, loneliness, longing. Sandinista's anger is well conveyed and sympathetic, her story detailed intimately, and the message proved touching and relevant.