If you're a fan of young adult fiction, I heartily recommend signing up for PulseIt, a website that weekly posts free books and extended excerpts of books that you can read online. The site is run by Simon & Schuster, which means all of the books posted are published by that house, but they still cover a wide variety of genres within the young adult sub-set. They've recently lengthened the postings from one week to two, doubling the amount of time you have to read a title, but still post weekly so that, at any time, you have two books and two (or sometimes more!) extended excerpts to look at. I found Poison Princess and the rest of the Arcana Chronicles, which I've really enjoyed, through this site, along with some frustrating titles, but I still think it's worth looking at.
Compulsion was a book that middle in quality. It had great potential out of the gate, but I think it fizzled later on and never really lived up to it. I expected it to be a sort of teen southern Gothic, maybe something like Servants of the Storm, which I thought was wonderfully written but fell agonizingly flat at the end. I thought that Barrie, moving to Watson Island, South Carolina from her mother's home in San Francisco, would face some sort of lurking menace in her new abode, something that would utterly change her life, but she really didn't.
So, as I said, Barrie moves to Watson Island. This comes in the wake of her mother's death. Her mother, Lula, was seriously disfigured in a fire while pregnant with Barrie, and remained a shut-in for the rest of her life, often applying the same rules to Barrie, who's rather sheltered as a result. Barrie's caretaker, Mark, was diagnosed with cancer and was going into hospice care, so Barrie couldn't stay with him anymore. Instead, she moves to Watson's Landing on Watson Island to live with the aunt she never knew she had. At the beginning of the book, she's not look forward to it, which is fair because I imagine few people savor moving for their final year of high school. On top of that, the move doesn't exactly go well. Her aunt doesn't pick her up from the airport, and when Barrie takes a cab to the family plantation, she finds that Aunt Pru might be a little bit crazy. And on top of that, the house is apparently trying to kill Barrie, and her special ability--that to find lost things, which she's always had--starts going haywire. On the bright side, there's a really cute guy she's attracted to and who's attracted to her, and now Barrie has a family that she never even knew existed.
Not too far into the book, Barrie meets her cousin, Cassie. There's a lot family intrigue going on between the families of Barrie, Cassie, and Eight, who is Barrie's love interest. Basically, it all boils down to their ancestors being a group of pirates, and while Barrie and Eight's families got gifts (the Watsons can find what is lost, the Beauchamps or Beauregards or whatever the heck they're called know what people want) Cassie's got a curse. Cassie wants Barrie's help to break the curse by finding a family treasure that was buried during the Civil War, though how that's supposed to help I'm not quite sure. The gifts and curses supposedly stem from the Fire Carrier, a Cherokee witch who trapped evil spirits on Watson Island, which is also interesting because the Cherokees didn't have territory along the Carolina coast. Meddling with Native American customs, including "magic," is a tricky business, and while I can't really say if Boone did her research on it or not because I don't know enough on the subject to call her out on any errors, I hope she tread carefully regarding that aspect of the story. But, historical accuracy aside, let me talk about Fire Carrier for a moment. At the beginning of the book, he's made out to be very menacing. As the book goes on, he gets more benevolent. That's fine; character development and all, though he's not really a main actor. At least, he's not a main actor until the very end, when he neatly wraps up the book's main conflict on his own in a very deus-ex-machina moment.
My main complaint with the book was Barrie. I liked her as a character in general. I thought her gift was unusual enough to be interesting and that her adaptation to the new situation was realistic. What I didn't like about Barrie was that she's completely incapable of doing anything for herself. Whenever she gets into any sort of situation, whether it's finding a secret room, going into town, or escaping the boat of her wicked drug-dealing uncle, she can't get out of it on her own. She always has to be rescued, usually by Eight but once by Fire Carrier. It's hard to view her as a capable person when she can get into trouble, but she can't get out of it, not even the most mediocre sort. And she does this even after Eight points out that she's doing it.
The southern Gothic air I expected in this book was also lacking. It was there at the beginning--spooky plantation, weird powers, family secrets and intrigue, etc. But then the menacing shadows became cute little sidekicks, the family intrigue turned out to be not-so-intriguing, and the weird powers didn't end up packing that much punch. The spooky plantation underwent a makeover to become just another charming southern locale. It seemed like Boone lost a lot of her atmosphere and momentum in having Barrie try to improve her surroundings, and the entire book suffered for it. The writing was beautiful, and I can only imagine what Boone could have done with a properly creepy atmosphere, but she gave up that opportunity way too early on for it to add to the book as a whole.
Finally, the title. The title and the book's description both describe the abilities of the families as "compulsions." Except a compulsion means that you have to do something. Barrie likes finding things that are lost, because she gets a headache if she doesn't, but she certainly doesn't have to. It doesn't eat away at her sanity if she doesn't. She just gets a headache. Compulsive disorders are a serious mental condition, and I can't help but feel that Boone trivialized that in how she worded and structured her novel.
I'm mildly interested in the sequel to this, Persuasion, but I'm not sure I'll be picking it up. Barrie didn't really grow much as a character, other than deciding that she liked Watson Island. Which is good, considering that she's stuck there in more ways than one. It would have been interesting to see her struggle more, and with things just working out for her so easily, I'm not sure how compelling of a read the sequel will be.
2.5 stars out of 5.