THE CANDIDATES (Delcroix Academy #1)
Paranormal Young Adult
Dancia Lewis has a gift that terrifies her. If she finds herself in a stressful situation, any outcome she consciously thinks about comes to be. When a crazy man pulls a gun and waves it about a hospital waiting room, her ability comes in handy, but whenever she uses it, someone ends up hurt. No one can no what she can do, and she doesn't want anyone else to be hurt because of her.
Shortly after the hospital incident, a recruiter and a student from Delcroix Academy show up at the house where Dancia lives with her grandmother, informing her they are willing to provide her with a full scholarship to the school even though her grades aren't that high and she has few other talents outside of her gift. The recruiter insists, however, that Dancia has everything they are looking for in a Delcroix student.
So, Dancia packs up and heads to Delcroix where she's reunited with both Cam, the beautiful boy who came to help recruit her, and Jack, a strange young man she saved a few days earlier using her abilities. Jack is convinced there's more to Delcroix than they would have the students believe, and as much as Dancia wants to discount him as a conspiracy theorist, she can't deny something feels off. She begins to think Jack's on to something, and starts to hope the truth about her abilities can be found at Delcroix. What she doesn't know is the truth about her gift may be more frightening than the gift itself.
A quick, enjoyable read, The Candidates is a story where we have every intention of merely reading a couple chapters only to find ourselves chanting "just one more" over and over again until we reach the conclusion. Though it's undeniably an interesting tale, there a few elements barring it from being overly memorable. The title and prologue brace us for a tale of students with supernatural abilities, however, the paranormal aspect really doesn't come into crisp focus until almost three quarters of the way through the book. Instead, we are distracted by the social ineptitude and awkwardness of Dancia as she struggles with not only the desire to fit in, but also the instinct to survive by remaining distanced–seen but not noticed and heard but never remembered. Though her fears, affections, and interactions with the other students are entertaining, the preternatural element surrounding the idea of candidacy is almost entirely forgotten until the end, clearly preparing us for a second book but at the same time denying us some explanation and understanding in the first.
Dancia is sweet and cute, her self-inflicted social isolation and her intense fear of her own capabilities making us instantly defensive and protective of her as we hope her experiences at Delcroix will bring her a sense of belonging noticeably absent for her life thus far. Her reactions to Cam, some impressive swooning and a general inability to string together coherent sentences, are a bit dramatic at times and it would have been far more interesting to read of a teenage girl able to maintain her wits in the presence of a handsome boy. That being said, the fairly drastic extent of her reactions to him, and not to Jack who is equally attractive, suggests Cam's individual gifts as a Delcroix student are perhaps influencing her when she's in close proximity. Though merely conjecture at this point, it will certainly be intriguing to see if, as the story progresses in the next book, the utter breakdown of Dancia's independent nature around Cam is in fact the result of her youthful attraction or if there is a supernatural manipulation involved.
Though Cam is a paragon of young adult male perfection, Jack is a far more fascinating character. There is a darkness to him, the markers of a difficult life draped around him like a thick curtain through which he only allows certain people to pass. His troubled history is evidenced in his air of perceived nonchalance, his rebellion against the intangible confines of rules as well as the physical enclosures of the iron gates surrounding the school, and the preference for solitude despite having the interest and affections of those around him. Dancia's treatment of him is often frustrating given she's one of the few with access to the man beneath the defensive shields; the intensity she sees in him causing her to abandon him out of fear, only to return to him when she's in need of comfort or consolation. Despite her sporadic support and friendship, Jack's loyalty to her remains unwavering, and his refusal to accept the academy's word at face value mirrors our own suspicions as to the purpose of the candidate program. Though a life on the streets has endowed him with a skin of unparalleled thickness, we have the sense that Dancia is capable of puncturing it with relative ease, making him a superb blend of strength and vulnerability, grown man and young boy, and virtue and vice.
We are left with Dancia's autonomous nature flickering to life though she remains susceptible to Cam's impressive charms, and the secrets swirling around the academy and its students having been only fractionally illuminated. Now that the silence has been broken and the right questions are being asked, the story can truly begin and I look forward to continuing the journey in the next installment.