Thursday, March 8, 2012

Illuminate by Aimee Agresti

Illuminate by Aimee Agresti
Reviewed by:  Middle Sis Jenn
ARC received from Harcourt
Release Date: 3-6-2012
The Sisters Say: Fiery, Flirty, Fun

Haven Terra is the stereotypical high school girl who is constantly overlooked.  In fact, everything about her is ordinary—other than her name, “Haven” (which I love).  She is the smart girl in class who is afraid to give the correct answer because she hates being labeled the brainiac, but she doesn’t want to give the wrong answered and be labeled the dummy.  So, instead, she slinks down in her desk and tries her best not to be noticed.  However, when she (along with her best friend Dante and classmate Lance) are recruited into a prestigious internship at a fancy hotel in Chicago, this all changes. 

The Lexington Hotel—where it all begins.  It’s beautiful, adorned with eye-popping architecture, shimmering chandeliers, and gorgeous people (referred to as The Outfit).  In fact, every one that works there is drop-dead gorgeous.  (Emphasis on the ‘drop dead’).  Owned by the stunningly beautiful Aurelia Brown and managed by the you-take-my-breath-away Lucian Grove, the Lexington is the “hot” place in Chicago, but it will soon prove to be Haven’s hell.

To Haven, magic, angels, demons—these are just things in dreams—not real life.  But that dream is about to be ripped apart.  Haven is plucked from the safe environment of home, and thrust into a world full of lies, secrets, betrayal, and pain, where nothing is what it seems.  She soon finds herself falling for the mysterious Lucian (because who wouldn’t?), but Haven is about to find out that love can be even more dangerous than evil, for Lucian has secrets of his own. 

Caught between what she feels and what she knows, she finds herself slipping further into this dark world.  With the help of a strange book, Haven soon learns that to survive, she must not only unearth the secrets that Aurelia, Lucian, and The Outfit hold, but she must also dig into her own missing past.  Haven soon learns that she is the only hope to save a world that otherwise would burn.

Fear.  Danger.  Love.  Magic.  Secrets.  Rage.  Desire.  Hatred. 

In her fight to save her friends and the world she knows, will she lose herself?

As I was reading Illuminate, my favorite quote kept popping into my head:
"Are there, infinitely varying with each individual, inbred forces of Good and Evil in all of us, deep down below the reach of mortal encouragement and mortal repression--hidden Good and hidden Evil, both alike at the mercy of the liberating opportunity and the sufficient temptation?"" --No Name by Wilkie Collins

Which nature (good or evil) we choose to act on is what defines our past, our present, our future, and most importantly--our afterlife. Aimee Agresti shows us how each decision we make affects the beauty of our soul—each sin makes a small blemish to remind us of our vulnerable state of being, whereas each act of love or redemption casts a brightening light over our heads. In Illuminate, each character's soul is in the middle of a tug-o-war between good and evil.  Who will fight and who will fall when the "sufficient temptaiton" rolls around?
What did I like? The dichotomies...
Popular vs. Pariah

Coming from a small school where you can participate in everything and being a part of the popular crowd made me like the antagonists the best (don’t judge me, bad guys are awesome….kind of like I root for Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty or Draco in Harry Potter).  Full of corrupt power, Aurelia is the quintessential temptation for those who desire fame or fortune.  As you will find soon into the book, Aurelia and her band of glamorous followers are in the business of purchasing the souls of others.  While I wouldn’t dream of selling my soul for anything, you can definitely see the more negative desire of the human heart in her, and thus, on some level, relate to her.

On the other hand, Haven is the quiet, smart girl in school.  After teaching for a few years, I can unequivocally see how so many people would relate to her situation.  If you know what it’s like to be overlooked (and hey, we all do at some point), then you will relate to Haven.  Or, if like me, you sometimes live in a fantasy world where you wake up and it’s you who has the strange power or the magical destiny, then you will love how Haven goes from the insignificant student to the confident and power-wielding hero.

Good vs. Evil
My favorite part about the book is the internal struggle about what future to choose.  I loved to watch Haven struggle with her desire for Lucian, even after she knew the truth about him.  That’s human nature isn’t it?  We refuse to believe what we see with our eyes if it breaks our hearts.  What’s even more intriguing, though, is to see how Lucian struggles with his own choice for immortality, since he found himself at the “mercy of temptation,” and instead of choosing good, he faltered, falling into evil.   

Agresti paints a world of black and white, good and evil, weak and strong, fire and ice where everyone must make a choice, and once that’s made, there may be no going back.


I enjoyed this book, but it was not one that I would start texting friends and family to read right away.

The book is not without its flaws.  With a kind of Tolkien description, there are times when I felt I could have skipped a page or two and not missed anything.  I mean, the book is 531 pages and could have easily been 50-100 pages less.  Nonetheless, I still read it all in few days (which is good for me as I have an 8 month old who is constantly getting into things and stealing my attention—along with the attention of anyone who lays eyes on him!).  I do believe that this book will be more appealing to teenagers who can relate more to Haven’s current place in life.  I wish it would have had more of a romantic appeal to it.  There is the romance between Haven and Lucian, but it’s ill-fated from the start, so I couldn’t allow myself to really enjoy it. 

As for the content of the book, there are a few curse words, mainly the s-word, but they were not rampant.  I would say no more than 5 or 6 times in the book.  The thing that would bother me most (as a parent) is the underage drinking.  There is a night club, The Vault, that Haven and her friends are allowed in to, where there are a few scenes that highlight dancing and partying.  Haven, though, does make a point not to drink or party.  The most sexual content you’ll see is a hot and steamy kiss on the way to a night club.