Thursday, December 22, 2011

You Have Seven Messages by Stewart Lewis

Fourteen year old Malia Clover, lives in Manhattan with her father, Jules Clover, a famous film director and her younger brother Tile, so named because her mother would lay on the Spanish tile in the bathroom for comfort when she was pregnant with him. Known to all as Luna, and to her father as Moon, Luna's mother who was a beautiful model, was killed in a car accident almost a year ago. Luna is having a tough time coping with the loss of her mother partly because her father hasn't really told her much about what happened. So she decides to go to her mother's studio which has remained untouched since her death.

She finds two things of interest; "a cufflink made to look like the face of a sad theater mask" on the nightstand and her mother's cell phone which still works. Luna is puzzled by the cufflink because she is certain it doesn't belong to her father. This mystery makes Luna somewhat uneasy and she wonders if her mother was having an affair. She also is startled to see that her mother's phone has seven new messages. Luna decides that she will listen to these messages in the hopes that they will help her learn more about the circumstances of her mother's death.

At the same time, Luna befriends Oliver, a sixteen year old neighbour who plays the cello and whom she has been crushing on since grade nine. Luna confides in Oliver about the cell phone messages and asks him to help her sort out what has happened with her mother. Although he agrees, Oliver doesn't really do much to help Luna. Instead, they start to become friends.

As she listens to each new message, Luna becomes convinced that her father is not telling her the entire truth and that her mother was living a life that Luna knew very little about. The reader expects each message to be unusual and mysterious but in reality they aren't. Instead of this novel developing into a mystery story, it takes off in an entirely different direction with Luna's father giving her a vintage camera and her relationship with Oliver breaking up. Luna's work with the camera eventually leads her to Europe where she reunites with Oliver.

Instead of Luna uncovering information about the accident and her mother's secret life, she learns most of what she wanted to know through two people - her father and her Uncle Richard who lives in Tuscany, Italy. Along the way, Lewis works in numerous references to well known Hollywood stars such as Drew Barrymore and Orlando Bloom.

Readers expecting a mystery will be disappointed, as was I. Although the initial premise of the book was promising, it never really succeeds for me. You Have Seven Messages is one of those books that is difficult to make work. It is a difficult task to craft messages that are both clues, and yet not outside the realm of ordinary.

A strange aspect of this book is that the main character is referred to by FOUR different names; Malia (her mother), Moon (by her father), Luna (by her friends) and Fifteen (by Oliver)! Although initially I liked the character of Luna, as time went on, this changed. Luna seems spoiled and insular, appearing to have few close friends. She is opinionated and at times even creepy.

When Luna confides in a classmate about her budding romance with Oliver, Luna goes on to criticize the choice of abstinence and identifies those who choose abstinence as prudes.
"There are girls at my school who wear these silly bracelets and preach about abstinence. Even our Health Ed teacher tells us that it's our choice, that whatever we choose to do sexually, we just have to make sure we're safe and responsible. Aside from them, most everyone has experimented in my grade...I just got sidetracked and kind of gypped out of last year because of Mom dying."

Luna's view that she wasn't able to experiment sexually in the past year because of her mother's death makes her seem shallow and self-centered. Her parroting of her Health Ed teacher's words demonstrate a character who doesn't really think much for herself.

Other times Luna seems creepy as when she mentions having watched a porn movie with one of her friends. When she thinks about how innocent her friend Oliver is she wonders, "Suddenly, I want him to be mine to corrupt, forever." It's a chilling, sad statement from a fifteen year old girl.

I'd love to be able to recommend this book, but I think there are plenty of more interesting young adult novels to read these days. Pass on this one.

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