Sunday, July 1, 2012

Dark Visions by L.J. Smith

by DionysusPsyche

Extraordinary people live among us, but you may not know it. You may just call them witches or freaks or losers. But they can read your mind. Or predict your future. Kaitlyn Fairchild lives in such a world—one where her gift of seeing the future is more of a curse. It manifests itself in her art, an itching she gets in her hands to draw. Yet, what she draws troubles her and others in her small town. She's an outcast left to a lonely existence. One where she has no friends, and her fellow students are afraid of her. All from a talent she can't control.

One day an outsider comes to her based on some nationwide testing she's done. A private company wants her for their research project. Then Kait discovers a life that she's always envied, and one that puts her in danger.

In this three part series by L.J. Smith, five teenagers are chosen by researchers for the Zetes Institute. They each have different gifts, but together, they are an unstoppable force. They are told it is to better hone their powers, because they are special. But what is the motive behind the head of the institute?

Contradictary Emotions
The book talks a lot about this topic. From the very first paragraph Kaitlyn, who is listening to other people plan a party, is torn—between disgust and desire. She wants to go to the party, but she hates the girls who are planning it for shutting her out. Not inviting her in. Not accepting her as one of them.

Throughout the novel, although Kaitlyn is increasingly accepted by her friends, she still seeks out acceptance. It could be because Kaitlyn wants to help people, or it could be that she worries about what will happen if she doesn't help.

Everyone has conflicting opinions and feelings about the people they meet. Teenagers more than most. Kait is drawn towards two characters in particular in the book, both for clear reasons. The first is the most positive, giving boy that Kait has ever had the pleasure of meeting. The second boy is described frequently as troubled and handsome. Kait aspires to be like Robb—the salt of the earth, the best of the best. Yet, Gabriel is the one she wants to save more than anyone—more than any of their friends. To most, he's just a screwed up boy with a broken and terrible past. Kait sees potential in Gabriel, and while everyone else is afraid of him, Kait sets out to help him. To rectify his soul. She sees good in him when no one else does and believes he's meant for something better.

Light and Dark/Fire and Ice
The colors described are very vivid, and all the kids are described like elements. Kait is fire with aquamarine eyes. Rob is always spoken of as full of light in a few ways. He's physically blonde with golden eyes, often naïve, and has an energy that flows into others that causes bright properties and feelings. Anna's last name is Whiteraven, describing her goodness, heritage, and connection with all living things. Gabriel Wolfe is dark, with dark actions and brooding moods. Lewis Chao is the only one who doesn't seem to match any of these.

Kait and Gabriel moreso than any of the others exhibit signs of fire and ice. Gabriel goes back and forth between angry outbursts and icy silence. Kait is strong, like fire, but also prone to occasional outbursts (wildfire?). Gabriel is especially torn between good and evil. Kait wants them all together, and she wants to bring out the best in Gabriel. One of her goals throughout the books seems to be to prove to him that you don't have to be perfect to be good.

When there is a harbinger of evil in the air, the group feels suddenly cold. They suddenly start getting cold for no reason, and then something weird happens. There are also warm feelings that are associated with tenderness, romance, and passion.
Sir Ian McKellan, sorry, I picture you as the villain...who is melting their brains!
Control: Good vs. Evil
Supernatural story telling is always about a struggle for control. There's always a villian who's trying to usurp the world's resources and use them for evil. Taking the innocent and turning them into monsters. An excellent example of this is Gabriel who seems to go back and forth between the two, between being a good guy and a bad boy.

Not unlike X-Men First Class, one of the challenges is learning to master talents. Wielding someone who's labeled an outcast and turning them into a threat or a powerhouse of either extreme. It is also up to each individual in the novel to decide whether or not they want to be good or bad.

There is also the aspect of mastering your talents and taking charge of your life. Regardless of intention, all the characters in this novel strive to take control of their life. Rob and Anna always do the best thing possible, Kait and Rob are the leaders, although Rob struggles with controlling the good in others more than Kait does.

Dance, Magic, Dance”
Emotional intelligence
Because they have extraordinary talents, the crew end up linked telepathically. This gives each character in the pentagon (not to be confused with a pentagram which is a pagan symbol) the ability to connect mentally with one another even if people who are not linked to them are physically present (the ordinary equivalent of passing messages during school). They learn how to block thoughts from coming in or out and how to direct messages at each other without the rest of the group knowing. This causes a heightened awareness that teens may not necessarily experience due to hormones and their brains being only mostly formed (not done forming until they're 25). Additionally, they bury feelings they don't even know they have to avoid being “heard” by other members of the group. Some members even alienate themselves from the group to avoid overloading themselves, because with distance comes freedom and stress relief.

They also become good at reading each other's feelings, and their own. By the end, the group seems to have mastered themselves in more than just their talents and are beginning to know what they want out of life or how to make the world a better place. The two main characters grow over the course of the three part story, and are better able to read others' intentions as evil or good.

Sexual Energy and Healing
Since this is primarily aimed at teenage girls, the author has to be careful regarding views upon physical encounters while continuing to appeal to a younger age set. The answer, of course, is psychic vampires. Vampires that are not your average blood sucking type, but the kind that are mentally energetic and can drain their victims of life.

It also gives certain individuals the power to heal each other spiritually. One way is through holding one another while kissing, another is touching an area (i.e., a knee or elbow) that is in pain. Yet, when the transfer of energy occurs, so does emotional attachment. Power draining can take a life, but giving energy to another is an incredibly bonding and dangerous action. It's beneficial to both parties, but also is causes side effects of varying extents.

Mythology and Religious Tradition and Folklore
The novel contains lots of history on legend and story telling. Anna, the Native American girl, is extremely tied to her past and her culture. The others are very well versed on the magical tendencies of other cultures. The book draws on these to add strength and pride in tradition and also a respect that comes with it. At the same time, the message that breaking tradition to make way for better things is stated. There's an emphasis on being neither passive nor aggressive but using resources to enforce good and destroy evil.

Below are the characters I picture in my mind when I read the book to go along with the description. Don't let the pictures fool you into thinking some amazing (or disappointing) movie is being made.

Anna Kendrick
Kaitlyn Fairchild
Spirited, beautiful, and intelligent, Kait discredits her power as it is initially uncontrollable. Through her mentors and friends, she is better able to hone her power and to use it to benefit the group. Unlike most of the group, Kait isn't afraid to go against expectation if it means bettering her friends and the people they meet along the way. She also grows as a woman as she discovers love and learns what it really means to love another.
Natalie Kelley
Anna Whiteraven
While she's a picture perfect sidekick, she doesn't overshadow Kait by any means. At times I felt frustrated, because she and Lewis weren't as well developed as some of the other characters, but Anna in and of herself is shy, sweet, and calming. She can't truly be the heroine like Kait; her traits that are better for supporting and nurturing. The force to be reckoned with and the mysterious sneaky side of Kait aren't things that would come naturally to Anna, although she does change over time to become bolder.

Ian Somerhalder
Prince Zuko from the animated tv series Avatar: The Last Airbender
Gabriel Wolfe
His very name is a contradiction. I actually did think of Prince Zuko's voice every time Gabriel speaks since his character is so conflicted and full of anger. Gabriel brings to mind the angel or Saint Gabriel who was the patron saint of messages (since Gabriel is a telepath, this works). The surname is also helpful for making one realize his/her spiritual destiny. His last name conjures fairy tales. A sheep in wolves' clothing or whether or not he is to be trusted. Of course, wolves also have a foreboding reputation that precede them, not unlike this one, and cannot be caged. Like Prince Zuko, Gabriel is also a contradiction, a boy with a dark past torn between good and evil.

Damian McGinty. Yes, I know he's from Glee. No, I don't know why I pictured him.
Rob Kessler
He has the ability to heal which is both convenient, extremely beneficial, and a main attraction for the ladies. He's morally just with a wholesome and optimistic outlook. He believes in a common good, would never do anything to hurt another, and he's very trusting. In many ways, he's the opposite of Gabriel—they're light and dark as the book says.

I never really connected with Rob's character after the first book. In some part, that's intential, but Rob didn't have the situation or circumstances to grow like the rest of them or wasn't able to due to his complete belief in what is "right." His friendship with Kait changes significantly over the three stories, but it's necessary. They do something to “tidy up” his character at one point that I disliked.
Wang Lee Hom
Lewis Chao
In a lot of ways, I felt like Lewis was just “there.” He's telekinetic, but I could count on half a hand, if that, the number of times he uses his powers. I'm not sure if there just wasn't an outlet for him, but I would've liked to see him more involved in the story—most of his character is laid out in the first half of the first book. He's described on several occasions as being “uplifting,” but his situational negativity seemed to surprise the others, while I was practically yelling at the book that Lewis wasn't mentally prepared for these things and that he was pessimistic given the situation.

I was pleasantly surprised by this find. It's not my usual genre of entertainment, but it was enjoyable nonetheless. I'm not normally interested in stories about vampires, psychic or otherwise, but the supernatural intrigues me.


  1. To probably nobody's surprise, I found that this reminded me of the movie, Chronicle, which is all about superpowers given to hormone-addled teenagers and how they balance their own high school drives with telekenetic powers that are foreign to them. I'd check it out if you haven't already.

    I like how you associated celebrity faces with the characters. :) I must admit that, from your review, it made me fear that the book is all about being 'emo' and the challenge of turning a rebellious, troubled boy into the man of your dreams (a common girl fantasy, from what I've heard). That made it feel comparable to the silliness of Twilight. But, on the other hand, I liked the concept of the characters being linked mentally, and the story possibilities within such a close connection.

    I'm not sure if I'll check this out because it admittedly sounds a little girly to me, but you did put me on the fence. =P

  2. Nice! No, I understand the genre invoking confusion. ;)

    Yeah, there were parts of it that were reminiscent of Twilight, but I really liked the character Gabriel a lot. There was more to him than met the eye, and that helped. I found depth and story in there that I definitely didn't get from Twilight. It was about as angsty as I could stand, which I don't think was as much as some of the teen novels project.