Monday, April 13, 2015

Reader's Review: "Becoming Nikki" by Ashley Elliott

Synopsis from Amazon:

What would you do if you were given the opportunity to rebuild a broken relationship?

Alec and Nikki Scott are the perfect ice dancing duo, executing flawless technique and brilliant performance abilities each time they compete. No one doubts their camaraderie, not even their closest friends.

But looks can be deceiving. Off the ice, their relationship is in shambles. Ice dancing is the only thing they have in common anymore... and Alec wants to quit.

Just as Nikki feels like their relationship can't get any worse, an unexpected tragedy crashes into her life. She's left struggling with a difficult choice as her opinion of her brother slowly starts to change.

Whatever she decides, she knows her life will never be the same.


My Review:

This book was especially exciting to read because I was actually one of the first ones to see the rough draft of this novel in its first stages. The author and I happened to be in the same writing group, so when she started posting snippets of some of the scenes of this ice dancing brother and sister team, I and the other members of the group did not hesitate to encourage the pursuit of the tale in our efforts to foster the development of quality literature.

I decided to use the "5-point system" for this review. The scores for "Becoming Nikki" are as follows:

Premise +1
Brother and sister ice dancing team with dreams of competing on a national and Olympic scale find these dreams shattered when the brother has a diving accident which incurs amnesia. Where do they go from here?
The premise gets full marks because the issues it deals with are very real and pertinent to the target age group, the young tweeners who are still trying to figure out who they are, much less how they should fit in with the people around them, particularly their own siblings.

Characters +1

A book rises and falls by its characters. I have seen books with a great premise and a fantastic setting... But all of this was rendered flat and monochromatic by the cardboard-cutout characters. If one can go to any one page in a book and only read the dialogue, and someone who has never read the book can still picture the kind of person speaking, then the characters are strong. 
That being said, I couldn't help noticing that all the girls on the "cast" of "Becoming Nikki" tended to sound alike, and all the boys sounded alike, which might have been detrimental, but Elliott makes it work by developing people with differing tastes. They may talk alike, but the difference in the sorts of things they talk about helps the reader be able to tell them apart. So, full marks for characters. (Except Bennett was kind of cheesy... Based on a friend of the author's, perhaps?)

Dialogue +0.5

Not only does the dialogue need to be strong, but it also needs to be realistic. A fourteen-year-old will discuss things that interest or concern someone with the responsibilities of a fourteen-year-old, and she won't use a lot of multi-syllabic words or complicated terms to do it. 
While the dialogue in "Becoming Nikki" is fairly realistic, there were times that I felt it a little bit over-cliched. But maybe that's just me; and maybe it is how teens behave, somewhat, but overplayed and repeated to the point of cheapness, at least when put in a novel. Maybe I'm complaining too much.
I will say that the dialogue was strongest between two characters; the weakest was Nikki's inner monologues. I felt like the way Nikki talked to herself showed probably more ignorance stretched over a longer period than the author perhaps intended. But as a writer myself, I understand the difficulty of such things, so I don't discount it as a total loss. Elliott makes a valiant effort to make her point, and it certainly shows.
Also I am docking for the repetitive cheesiness of Bennett. I mean, there are cheesy pickup lines that actually manage to be clever, and there are proper times to use them. Unfortunately, the character apparently missed the clever ones and used the ultra-cheesy ones far too often. Cute, but not quite.

Plotline +0.5

I have docked for plotline for the clumsiness of the characters. Not to spoil anything, but using concussions as a vehicle for reconciliation is a bit much. I could understand using the first concussion as the "Inciting Moment".... But then to basically repeat it when all should have been said and done in the denouement seemed like a cheap way out.
Additionally, I felt that there was sort of a disconnect between the blurb and the title of the story. I mean, sure it's from Nikki's perspective, but I never quite got the sense of "becoming" as one might expect from a book with this title. Also, (*minor spoilers*) I didn't ever feel like the situation was quite as dire or "revolutionary paradigm shift" as the blurb made it out to be. Just an observation--and yes, it did influence the scoring. Yes, Nikki has a choice to make, but it never really came off as totally earth-shattering.
Other than that—and the strangeness over the amnesia (but again, that just might be me personally; who knows but the author is writing from experience?)—the plotline of the book did progress at a reasonable pace as the characters worked through their issues.

Resolution +1

I will say, the resolution is good. It wasn't Mary-Sue-ish, in that the main characters overcome the challenge to become the undisputed champions of everything (as Mary Sues are wont to do) but it leaves the reader with the satisfaction of knowing that the characters are going to be all right, and better people for having gone through this experience. (Though Bennett's pickup lines never got any better...)

Overall, "Becoming Nikki" is a solid read, and four stars is a pretty great debut for Miss Ashley Elliott! I look forward to more from her in the future!