Ever since I read 100 Days of Sunlight and started watching Abbie Emmon's writing videos on YouTube, I have been eagerly awaiting her next novel. I was honored (and so excited) to be a part of the ARC team for The Otherworld, but this book wasn't quite what I expected...
ABOUT THE BOOK
September 19, 2023
Orca Monroe wants only one thing for her eighteenth birthday: to experience the Otherworld-the mysterious "mainland" across the sea that her father has forbidden her from visiting.
Growing up in a lighthouse on a remote island, Orca has lived isolated from the world... until one day when she finds a cell phone washed up on the beach. Orca has her first conversation with Jack Stevenson, a young man whose older brother, Adam, has gone missing after crashing his seaplane off the coast. Orca becomes Jack's lifeline and his reason to hope that Adam is still alive. While her father is away, she scours the island for the missing pilot-determined to help Jack find his brother and prove to her father that she's strong enough to take on the world.
One stormy night, Orca finds Adam Stevenson collapsed on her doorstep. As she nurses him back to health, she finds herself spellbound by his inquiring mind and rugged good looks. Simultaneously, Adam is captivated by her wild beauty and pure heart. But with a ten-year age gap between them and her father's determination to keep Orca protected from outsiders-Adam knows they can never be together.
Resigned to give Orca up, Adam returns to the mainland-but Jack refuses to leave her trapped at the lighthouse. Blind to the fact that his brother is in love with her, Jack offers to show Orca the world she's always dreamed of. But when she leaves her island for the first time, Orca begins to realize that the mainland may hold more dark secrets than she ever imagined... and the two brothers she helped bring back together may be the very people she tears apart.
This is going to be a hard review to write because I love the author and have been excited about this novel for quite some time. I wanted to love this book. I really did. Through the first 30% of this novel, I was sure this was going to be a five-star review, but things started plummeting downhill from there.
THEMES & MESSAGES:
I loved how the themes were explored in this novel through the different characters' perspectives. It was very beautifully crafted and written overall, and I enjoyed the underlying metaphors and philosophy. I also love the idea of the butterfly effect and how that was woven throughout the narrative.
However, the main complaint I have with the themes is how families were portrayed. I was expecting to see heartwarming and wholesome family dynamics such as the ones in Emmon's debut novel 100 Days of Sunlight. While I realize that every family is different, none of the dynamics in this book were healthy. Jack idolizes his brother Adam to the point where it drives him to make poor decisions and shun responsibility. It also seems that conflict is never resolved between them. It sort of just... disappears so the story can end happily. It's also worth mentioning that conflict and confrontation are not handled well either. Characters blow up at one another. There's cussing, screaming, physical fighting, and so much manipulation. Yes, there's eventual reconciliation between parent/child relationships, but there was never true repentance or healing between them.
There's also an underlying message that says to "follow your heart", which I disagreed with. We should not be following our hearts for "the heart is deceitful above all things..." (Jeremiah 17:9). Instead we should be seeking after Christ and His wisdom (Galatians 5:25). Unfortunately, the characters in this novel do follow their hearts and are lead purely by their emotions and romantic attractions. This, I think, is what caused so many problems in The Otherworld.
ORCA: I felt I knew Orca well from the first page and understood her internal conflict. I loved how her personality was well established and how she was whimsical and poetic in her thinking and speaking. I related to her in that way. However, she seemed very immature to me in the way she insisted on exploring the mainland when, in reality, she had no experience or knowledge of the world whatsoever. Her mindset of "I'm strong enough to handle the world without help" felt prideful to me and proved that she wasn't in a place of humility or maturity to handle the world. Orca, to me, seemed presumptuous in her mindset and actions. While I understand why she was this way, due to her inner struggles, it did not make me like or trust her as a character. She seemed to me that she was also setting herself up for abuse in serious ways through her age-gap romance with Adam, the way she interacted with Jack, and her refusal to accept help or concern from others. Her character arc did not come full circle, nor did she end up gaining a heart of humility or understanding of her errors in the end. Yes, she did reconcile with her father, but it was very rushed and she only did so because she got what she wanted (a marriage proposal to the guy she's known for hardly a month). The way she fell for Adam also felt immature and unrealistic to me. Nobody falls that deeply in love within three days. That's not how love works. Orca made decisions purely on emotion and passionate feelings rather than maturity, wisdom, and logic. On a more positive note, Orca's emotions were well-written and raw. I always knew exactly what she was feeling and why, even if I disagreed with the majority of her choices.
ADAM: I liked Adam for the majority of the novel. However, I felt aside from his internal conflict related to his feelings for Orca, he lacked depth as a character. Don't get me wrong, I loved the philosophy and poetry woven in, but that and being more introverted than everyone else seemed to be Adam's only character traits. I also thought it quite immature the way Adam tried to get Orca to stop feeling for him. Instead of setting a healthy boundary and communicating with Orca, he pretended he wasn't in love with her, but then behind everyone's back, continued to make out with her and touch her in ways that were not appropriate for the context of the relationship or their age difference (Orca is still a teenager and Adam is almost thirty years old).
JACK: The main issue I had with Jack was how disrespectful he was to everyone in the novel (more specifically, his brother, authority figures, and girls). He was very inconsiderate and irresponsible, and, like Orca, seemed to be led solely by whatever felt good at the moment. Aside from the way he played with and used girls, I did like how Emmons completed his character arc and gave him a good ending. He made me laugh out loud quite a few times, and before he met Orca, he was my favorite character. I also love how Emmons wrote grief through Jack. It was very raw, realistic, and deep.
As far as side characters go, Orca's dad was a very interesting and complex character. I found myself both frustrated by and sympathizing with him. Though I did disagree with some of his actions, I felt for him and his motivations were understandable.
Emmon's prose is breathtaking. I adored her word choices and the lilting, colorful quality of her writing. It was perfect for the type of story this is — whimsical and fairytale-like. Especially in the first half of the novel, I was just soaking up all the beautiful language and literary tone carried throughout the story.
None that I noticed.
Violence is minimal. Adam and Jack get into a fistfight that doesn't end well. Adam is in a plane crash that, in other circumstances, would have killed him. He comes out severely bruised and with broken ribs.
SEXUAL CONTENT & ROMANCE:
I was aware of some of the sexual content before reading this novel since the author provided me with a content guide. However, it ended up being way more graphic and frequent than I was comfortable with.
I lost track of how many times Orca and Adam kissed, but it was at least ten times throughout the book, plus two lengthy make-outs. In one scene, Orca lies directly on top of Adam, and in another, she wraps her legs around his waist as they kiss. This all takes place in the context of only knowing each other for less than two weeks.
Orca idolizes Adam and obsesses over him. In one part of the book Orca outright states that she will never be complete without Adam's love. This is not the dynamic of a Godly, healthy relationship. It's just the opposite. Orca's infatuation with Adam felt very immature to me, especially considering that he was the first boy she's ever seen.
When Orca brings an injured Adam into her lighthouse, she takes off his wet clothes to give him the medical attention he needs, thus seeing him naked and staring with curiosity at his body. While it wasn't graphic, this scene still bothered me quite a bit. It was about this point of the book that I considered not finishing.
Orca tells Adam that she wants to make babies with him and the two are discussing marriage after knowing one another for a maximum of three weeks. Adam tells Orca a Greek myth about two lovers who would swim across the ocean to make love every night, which he likened to their own romance.
Orca and Jack almost kiss a few times and Jack kisses her once without permission. There is frequent touching between these two, and it's clear that Jack is very much interested in Orca. Unbeknownst to Jack, Orca, and Adam are already together. Orca, however, doesn't even bat an eyelash at Jack's continual displays of affection. This really really bothered me. If she was so in love with Adam, why was she willfully messing around with his brother?
Jack has Orca buy and wear a bikini that barely covers her when they go out in the boat, saying she'll look sexy and otherworldly in it. At that point in the book, the romance began to feel dirty and repetitive instead of innocent and beautiful because of how physical the characters were with one another so soon. There was no natural progression of the romance, nor were there any stakes because for all of the characters, it was "love at first sight".
LANGUAGE & PROFANITY:
The profanity was the one thing I wasn't fond of in 100 Days of Sunlight, so I was hoping it wouldn't be present in The Otherworld. The language ended up being much worse.
Sh**, a**, d**n, h**l, and frick were used frequently. I lost count of how many times God's name was used in vain, though I counted thirty instances in only 50% of the book (including the misuse of Jesus' name and God's name coupled with d**n). It was very offensive and unnecessary, distracting me from the story.
DRUG & ALCOHOL CONTENT:
Jack, when angry, leaves for the night and comes home with a hangover. It's mentioned how he used to drink and party back in high school. Adam recalls having to pull over and let Jack throw up after getting drunk.
I hesitated to write a negative review and dock as many stars as I did since I love Abbie Emmons and her previous books. I believe this story had potential, and I do feel that with a few more revisions, this novel could have been five stars for me. The literary writing blew me away and loved the concept, but the content and the way romance was portrayed were disappointing. Especially for a YA novel that's marketed as age appropriate.
"Perhaps we are all butterflies and the world is our hurricane."
“You will learn one day that there are two kinds of loss. The kind you can see... and the kind you can feel.”
“He embraces me with a feircer love than I have ever felt before. And I don't need to hear what he says in reply to my desperate apologies. There is forgiveness in his arms - a fountain of it, pouring from his heart and into mine.”
― Abbie Emmons, The Otherworld
DISCLAIMER: I received an advanced reader copy from the author via Netgalley and was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this by the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Abbie Emmons has been writing stories ever since she could hold a pencil.
What started out as an intrinsic love for storytelling has turned into her lifelong passion. There’s nothing she likes better than writing (and reading) stories that are both heartrending and humorous, with a touch of cute romance and a poignant streak of truth running through them. Abbie is also a YouTuber, singer/songwriter, blogger, traveler, filmmaker, big dreamer, and professional waffle-eater. When she’s not writing or dreaming up new stories, you can find her road-tripping to national parks or binge-watching BBC Masterpiece dramas in her cozy Vermont home with a cup of tea and her fluffy white lap dog, Pearl. If you want to see Abbie in her element (ranting about stories) check out her YouTube channel.
What are YOUR thoughts on The Otherworld? Do you enjoy love triangles in books? Have you ever been to the ocean? And isn't that cover gorgeous? (It seriously belongs in an art museum. 🥰) I'd love to hear from you in the comments!