Author: Jennifer Banash
Genre: YA, NA, Historical Contemporary
Publication Date: April 4, 2013 (Penguin – North America)
Source: Publisher-provided ARC
Summary: A gritty, atmospheric coming of age tale set in 1980s New York City.
Seventeen-year-old Cat is living every teenager’s dream: she has her own apartment on the Lower East Side and at night she’s club kid royalty, guarding the velvet rope at some of the hottest clubs in the city. The night with its crazy, frenetic, high-inducing energy—the pulsing beat of the music, the radiant, joyful people and those seductive white lines that can ease all pain—is when Cat truly lives. But her daytime, when real life occurs, is more nightmare than dream. Having spent years suffering her mother’s emotional and physical abuse, and abandoned by her father, Cat is terrified and alone—unable to connect to anyone or anything. But when someone comes along who makes her want to truly live, she’ll need to summon the courage to confront her demons and take control of a life already spinning dangerously out of control.
☆: 3.5/5 stars – a great debut for Banash!
Review: We really need more dark, gritty contemps like this in YA, guys. I’m just going to lay that out there now. “White Lines” is incredibly hard to read at times because it’s filled with a lot of darkness, a lot of frustration, and a lot of pain, but it’s also an important book to read as well. Banash brilliantly brings back late 1980s New York with ridiculous ease and a vibrancy I haven’t felt in YA contemporary in quite a long while. This is not the feel good book of the year, but if you want one of the more meaningful ones, definitely check out “White Lines”.
The biggest issues I had with this book: the pacing, and the ending. The pacing was more than a bit uneven – almost bipolar in some areas – it seemed to drag the most during Cat’s days outside of the clubs, and was the most eventful when she was doing her job at night inside of the club. I’m not sure if this was a conscious decision on Banash’s part – to show how empty Cat’s life was, and how it positively dragged when she wasn’t dancing, doing drugs, and feeling free at Tunnel. Looking back on it, it might just have been. I just wish there’d been a little bit more action during the day, a little more tension and a little less exhaustion to plod through.
The ending: It felt far too neatly wrapped up for my taste, especially considering how messy everything was for Cat in her life throughout the book. It was almost a fairytale ending, if you think about it (though I won’t spoil it here), and while for Cat it’s a badly needed thing to help heal her and get her on the road to recovery, it happened way too fast to be realistic. I do love the climax of the book – where everything is literally going to hell around her – but the resolution was just too easy.
I will say, though – Banash definitely knows how to kill her darlings, and kill them well. Cat goes through SO much in this book, and afterward, you just kind of want to hug her forever. She may not be the most likeable MC, but she’s definitely one of the more relatable ones to come along in YA contemp in awhile. Banash holds nothing back with creating Cat as her MC, and that too was refreshing. The suffering, the alienation, all of it felt very, very real, and I loved every bit of that. The world that Banash helped create through Cat’s eyes and experiences felt very true to the real late 80s New York – where it was all drugs and clubs, yuppies and parties – and some of her little added dashes of hints of things to come (Sebastian and his blue spots was a VERY nice touch when you think about what those blue spots mean – AIDS) within the next few years, and how it all starts to turn around. Banash took many risks with this book, this MC, and this world, and for that, I definitely tip my hat to her.
But what really takes the cake is her absurdly awesome use of sensory language and imagery. A lot of it felt like the same imagery evoked in Francesca Lia Block’s “Weetzie Bat” series, which took place and was published in the 1980s, and it felt really real. If anything, I’d say that while Block’s prose still retains a dreamy element to it in the “Weetzie” series, Banash’s look back into one of the darker parts of the late 20th century is absolutely visceral in quality, to the point where there were some scenes where I had to put the book down, catch my breath, and continue later. You know an author’s done their job when you feel their story in your guts and you have to actually step away from it for awhile to process what’s going on.
Final verdict? While not perfect, “White Lines” still delivers as a heartstopping debut for Banash, and makes me want to read more of her work. I’m definitely looking forward to whatever she puts out next. “White Lines” is out from Penguin on April 4, 2013 in North America, so definitely be sure to check it out when you get the chance!