Sunday, September 7, 2014


First paragraph: "I would like to call forth Ms. Winters. Please state your full name and occupation."

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Halls of Ivy by Roland Nunez is the first book in the series of the same name.


Cheyenne Winters is a Student Affairs professional. Her job is to aid university students during their time at college. In order to achieve her PhD, she has come to Sun Valley University in Florida to carry out an ethnographic study on its students. For four months she will watch, listen and discover everything about her assigned students- those in Dr. Garcia's class. Twenty-one students, one big secret.

Because Sun Valley has had a rash of suicides. Lynn Sawyer is the detective in charge of the case, but it isn't going well. Cheyenne is hoping to do better. The day she arrives is the day of the third suicide. As she gets to know the campus and its students better, she discovers darker aspects. There are rumours that the victims were forced into suicide. Rumours of a cult. The university claims they were a result of depression. But in a school full of thousands of students, gossip is everywhere. The longer Cheyenne stays, the more obsessed she becomes with helping the students she has become close to. 


The story begins in January, when Cheyenne arrives, and is told through a series of flashbacks to the start of the school year in August, continuing to the end of the year in May. The writing is interspersed with biographies of the twenty-one students Cheyenne is studying, and told from many different points of view. With so many different peoples voices, it can dissolve into mindless chatter sometimes, and gets quite confused. Especially as a lot of the characters are irrelevant to the plot.

The story starts off as a jumbled mass of events, with no clear direction. There is a thin thread of plot we have to go on- the mystery of the suicides- but it's not really addressed much. Instead the book focuses on random events, occasionally recounting those surrounding the suicides. 

Now and then, the story will mention problems that a lot of students encounter when going to university for the first time. Money, workload, peer pressure, problems assimilating, identity, depression, but each topic is only glanced over, so can seem quite superficial. Depression, in particular, is a large part of this book, but it's never really addressed. Not the symptoms (bar a couple), not the dangers and not 'treatments'. It's depression without the depression. It's more like depression from somebody else's point of view. 

This book is an enormous jigsaw puzzle. I almost felt the need to create mind maps to process all the information we are bombarded with. A lot of this turns out to be irrelevant, but as this is supposedly a mystery, you never know what could be integral. Turns out practically. It was like doing a 3000 piece puzzle without the box. I just had to try to make connections, find pieces that fit together, and hope that everything would become clear by the end. Continuing the puzzle metaphor, the big picture in this case is rather like an endless sky of blue (all the exact same blue) with one piece devoted to a red balloon. All the other 2999 pieces that you tried to fit into place are just background noise. Static that has no relevance. 

The story is stretched thin, and the book drags because of it. Most of the time it felt like absolutely nothing was happening. One of the main reasons for this is that the book is too focused on aspects of university life. I appreciate an author setting the scene, but I don't need all the details about the administration, etc that goes into this fictional university. It adds nothing, and bogs down the story. 

There is no real conclusion to this story. In fact, there's not much of an ending at all. The 'culprit' is found, but the story trails off. It feels like the writer wrote the entire series as one big story, then chopped it up into individual books of the desired length. That is not how good writing works. The ending was safe and unexciting. 300 pages of 'clues' led to about five for the 'big reveal'. 

I expected an increase in pace at some point during this story, I expected payoff, I expected more that I got. I trudged through it. There is so much information thrown at you that it becomes a chore to try and process. When you get to the end and find you didn't need the majority of it, it's like a slap to the face. Why should I put this much effort into reading a book, if the book isn't going to put effort into itself. If this is supposed to be a thriller it does not achieve that. There is no pace, and everything is bogged down by inconsequential details. A thriller, by definition, should thrill. 

Some students are mentioned and never heard from again. For one student in particular, I felt this was a huge oversight. Whether or not their fate will be revisited in the next book is irrelevant. If you want your readers to care about the characters, don't ignore their stories. Don't leave an ambiguous comment that reveals nothing about their ending. 

I can see what this book was trying to accomplish, but (in my opinion) it failed. If it was trying to describe university life it went overboard. Yes, university has its problems, as do the students- anybody could tell you that, but the story puts heavy focus on depression and corruption without ever really focusing on the good aspects of university life. I'm sure there are universities that have corruption within them, but that is not the majority. Not to mention that for a book that focuses on depression, it doesn't really go into it. Some students are depressed. Here's a couple symptoms. Now I can just say 'depressed' and that's enough, right? No. If you are going to touch on hard issues like depression, suicide and rape you need to do them right. It has to be more than a glancing comment. You need to invest time into them. All of them. Don't just say that 'rape is bad and it hurts people', actually go deeper. You cannot include topics like that on a superficial level and expect it to work. 

For a book whose main character cares so strongly for the students, this book tells us surprisingly little about them. Yes I know there is a second book, but what's my incentive to read that if I don't care about the characters? 'Oh, so and so has a problem. Isn't that bad? Shouldn't we do something? We should do something.' And that's it. It's never revisited. We have no idea what happens to the student. Whether or not they got the help they needed is as ambiguous as everything else in this book.  This book does exactly what it claims the 'corrupt officials' of its story does- not care about its students. 

The characters weren't so bad, but they are nothing special, and certainly nothing that could save this book for me. I got nothing out of this story. I wish I could say that I did. I diligently followed what little plot there was, connected the dots- all that jazz- and I got nothing out of it but a weak, slapdash ending that was supposed to shock me into a realization that i just didn't care about. The best bit about this book was when it finished.

Perhaps this just wasn't my story, but the whole thing had me apathetic till the end. There may be redeeming features, but they're overpowered by everything else. Everyone is different, and I'm sure someone will enjoy this book, but it's not me. 

Disclaimer: I received this book in a giveaway. This is not a sponsored review. All opinions are 100% my own.

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