‘Sarah Rees Brennan’
I first discovered Sarah Rees Brennan when I missed out on reviewing The Demon’s Lexicon. I loved the front cover – brooding bad boy, reference to demons, plus the whole style of the thing – it just jumped out at me, and I really wanted to read it. Then I didn’t get it, someone else beat me to it while I was finishing whatever I was currently on at the time.
So I did something I didn’t do often, even then. I bought a copy for myself.
I feel the need to explain this every time I say that – I’m not trying to say I don’t like paying for books. It’s just, I get that many for review that I can’t justify buying books very often. Especially as they tend to sit on my shelves and be passed over for whatever it is I happen to be reviewing at the time. So I try to limit myself in buying only what I’m super excited about, and The Demon’s Lexicon made the grade.
I read it, and I loved it, and subsequently have picked up every Sarah Rees Brennan book that comes up for review. The only books of hers I haven’t read are the ones she’s done in collaboration with others, and I’ll probably track these down sooner or later.
So what makes Sarah Rees Brennan one of my favourite writers? Well, for starters her characters. Brennan has a gift for writing realistic, but unique characters – people who are smart, funny and strong, but vulnerable, occasionally stupid and needy at the same time. I.e. Real human beings. Every character in her books fizzes off the page with such energy that it’s hard not to be sucked into their world and their struggles.
And I like how the relationships between the characters are outside of the box as well. And I don’t mean just ‘non-heterosexual’ – though there are homosexual relationships in both the Demon’s Lexicon and the Lynburn Legacies – I mean that the relationships aren’t just ‘two people meet and fall madly in love.’ These are real relationships as much as the characters in them are real.
One of my favourite relationships is between Holly and Angela in The Lynburn Legacies. Holly – a boy crazy party girl – has to deal with her changing feelings as she does something she wouldn’t have thought possible: falling for Angela. Angela hates pretty much everybody and doesn’t do feelings for other people, and she hates that she’s fallen so hard for Holly, who she thinks can never return her feelings, so every time Holly tries to make a step towards her, Angela rejects it violently, thinking it comes from a place of pity. Watching these two slowly come towards a place where they can be together is nail bitingly tense – you really want them to work it out. And when they do have their moment, it’s a real ‘punch your fist in the air’ moment, because you’ve waited for and wanted it for most of the book, and to finally get it is intensely satisfying.
And I love this style of writing relationships, because people don’t have a smooth path towards each other most of the time, especially when you’re teenage and dealing with all these feelings and experiences for the first time. To present love as something that happens magically and instantly is somewhat disingenuous. Of course there are people out there like that (my great-nan always professed that she went weak at the knees when she first saw my great-grandfather) but showing love as difficult and messy and real makes for much better, more honest, reading in my view.
And with Sarah Rees Brennan’s books, every relationship is like that. And not just the romantic ones – the friendships are just as tangled and difficult and realistic, and the family connections too. The entire Demon’s Lexicon story is ultimately about the relationship between siblings – Nick and Alan, Mae and Jamie, Sin and her family. The situations may be fantastical, but they are rooted in such humanity that the stories always remain about the characters. And that, for me, is what makes them such powerful, compulsive reading.