The Gathering by Kelley Armstrong
Maya Delaney has always felt a close bond with nature. The woods around her home are a much-loved sanctuary – and the pawprint birthmark on her hip feels like a sign that she belongs. But then strange and terrible things begin to happen in the tiny medical-research town of Salmon Creek (population: 200). The captain of the swim team drowns mysteriously in the middle of a calm lake. Mountain lions appear around Maya’s home, and won’t go away. Her best friend, Daniel, starts experiencing ‘bad vibes’ about certain people and things. One of those people is Rafe – the new bad boy in town. What is he hiding – and why is he suddenly so interested in Maya …?
I recently read and reviewed Bitten by Kelley Armstrong – the first in her adult series Women of the Otherworld – and enjoyed it so much that when I saw a proof copy of The Gathering lying around at work, I didn’t hesitate to grab it! Wonderfully timed with a weekend of feeling under the weather, it was the perfect easy read to while away the hours.
I have to admit, I didn’t expect much from The Gathering when I first saw it. The cover reminded me slightly of every other ‘dark romance’ young adult book filling the shelves at the moment, and the blurb didn’t really entice me. But after seeing how much of a good writer Kelley Armstrong really is, after reading Bitten, I thought I’d better give this a chance!
The Gathering is the first in Armstrong’s new Young Adult Darkness Rising trilogy. The story centres around fifteen-year-old Maya, who lives in a small medical-research town with the parents that adopted her when she was only a baby. Maya has a real love for animals and cares for those who have become injured in the park in which they live. No one knows why but the animals seem to heal much quicker when Maya is around. Most of her friends put this down to her Native American blood – a history which Maya knows very little. When Maya’s best friend Serena drowns in a local lake, Maya and Serena’s boyfriend Daniel are left with many questions, especially when mountain lions unexpectedly start showing up around Maya’s house, like they are almost drawn to her. But when a ‘reporter’ starts snooping around the town and its inhabitants, they find they are much closer to the answers than they think. Also thrown into the mix, are mysterious newcomers to the town Rafe and his sister, who Maya is more than suspicious of.
What I loved most about this novel has to be the Native American history that gives the story much more depth. I love any stories about Native Americans, and so I was pleasantly surprised to find references to the Navajo and Hopi stories and histories. It gave the story much more of a serious undertone with many references to Maya’s identity and the way she is perceived by others. Today, Native Americans are often stereotyped as drunks, out of touch with their old traditions, and Armstrong isn’t afraid to question these within the novel. I think there are some really important racial issues that kids aren’t so familiar with within the story. There are definitely some important questions that Maya needs answers to, such as where does she come from? And who were her birth parents? I’m sure these answers, when she eventually discovers them, everything will begin to make sense.
The second thing I loved was the characters. For once I didn’t find this a dreary typical teen romance novel. We have Daniel, Maya’s best friend, who would do anything to protect her. His father is a drunk and often verbally abuses Daniel to the point where he must seek refuge in the home of Maya’s family on a frequent basis. The friendship between them is strong and loyal, and lovely to watch. Sometimes you are left questioning whether there is actually anything more between them, or whether it is more of a brother/sister relationship. Either way, I’m convinced there’s something more to Daniel than what we see in this novel so far…
Rafe is also an interesting character. I liked the way Maya saw straight through his ‘bad boy’ image and wouldn’t stand being seduced by him until she saw his true colours. There are times when you can’t help but feel extremely sympathetic towards Rafe and his sister, and the situation they are in (for reasons I will not disclose – this is a spoiler-free review!).
There is also of course, the constant questioning of the town’s medical research centre. What is they are actually doing there? In a town of 200 people, where virtually every adult works in this centre, and where the town has been created specifically for this purpose, it is only natural to question what’s really happening there. I’m convinced it’s something a lot more sinister than we can ever hope to guess…
The Gathering is a real hidden gem amongst all the dark romance teen fiction today. I was surprised to find that I even enjoyed it more than Bitten, and I think this was because it was a much faster read, the pace of the book was better and the story was a bit more exciting. Kelley Armstrong is a fantastic writer who should not be ignored, and I know I’ll be encouraging teens to read it as much as possible! The Gathering is definitely set up for the next novel, ending on a rather annoying cliff-hanger, which leaves you slightly frustrated. But I know I am definitely excited for what’s coming next! I’m intrigued to start reading her Darkest Powers trilogy, but am slightly worried that the story sounds very similar in some ways to The Gathering, so if anyone has read the Darkest Powers books – do leave a comment and let me know your thoughts!
The Gathering is out now in paperback, published by Atom.
To read my review of Bitten click here.