I was hesitant about The Dark Divine by Bree Despain. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t love the cover all that much, and I’m still questioning what the heck it has to do with the story it was supposed to sell. Plus, I’ve been feeling a little burnt out on YA lit lately. I read a long line of books I pretty much hated, and so I had to take a little break for a while. Dark Divine was just what I needed to break that streak.
The book tells the story of Grace Divine, daughter of the local Pastor (and not just any local pastor – the guy everyone counts on to fix their problems and their lives). Her life seems cookie-cutter perfect – the perfect, popular older brother, his cute “triple threat” friend who’s into her, her best friend, her good grades, and her art. But there’s something missing, and that something shows up unexpectedly after a three-year absence. His name is Daniel, and he shows up to send Grace’s world into total chaos. Of course, Daniel has a secret, a secret dark enough to unravel everything Grace knows.
What I loved the most about Dark Divine was Grace. She didn’t feel preachy. She didn’t seem weak. She was smart and together and willing to change her mind. She actually took the time to consider her actions. She stands up for herself and for others, and she does it in a way that is straight-forward and refreshingly honest. She wants to be a good kid – but she wants to help everyone else too. So often in YA books we’re told a lot about a character being self-sacrificial, and it was nice to see a girl who actually was – who had the strength to know her own mind and follow her own heart and make hard choices for herself. A likable protagonist was something I’d really been missing in the more recent YA books I’ve read, and Grace was the perfect remedy for that.
The other thing that works so well in this book is Daniel. Too often the hero is brooding and handsome and mysterious, but also pretty much a total jerk to our heroine. Not so here. Daniel seems conflicted. He wants to protect and help Grace, but he also knows that she can protect and help herself. He has his foibles, but they’re relatable – they’re things any teenager might have done themselves when they like someone. But most importantly, I could see why Grace loved him. They had a history. There was a fleshed out back-story. We see he and Grace interacting in a variety of ways and can feel their connection; its existence is shown to us, not told to us.
That’s not to say the book was perfect. My biggest disappointment was Grace’s relationship with her best friend, April. I was sad when April did all the things Grace originally loved her for not doing. And I was sadder that there wasn’t any kind of resolution to the rift that had formed in their friendship. In some ways it was very true to real life – boys show up and friendships change. But I would have liked to see that talked about, for that to be a concern for Grace. I would have liked there to be something more to the ending than the resolution between boy and girl.
But, like most YA novels now, the story was fundamentally about our Heroine finding herself a hero. The ending, though, paved the way for an interesting twist on that. I don’t want to spoil anything because I want you all to go read the book. All I’ll say is that I really, REALLY want there to be a sequel. Or several.