Emily McKay – The Farm

emilymckay-thefarmFor Lily and her twin sister Mel there is only the Farm. . .

It’s a prison, a blood bank, a death camp — where fear and paranoia rule. But it’s also home, of sorts. Because beyond the electric fence awaits a fate much, much worse.

But Lily has a plan.

She and Mel are going to escape — into the ravaged land outside, a place of freedom and chaos and horrors, Except Lily hasn’t reckoned on two things: firstly, her sister’s ability to control the horrors; and, secondly, those out there who desperately want to find and control Mel.

Mel’s growing power might save the world, or utterly end it. But only Lily can protect Mel from what is to come . . .

When I received my review copy for The Farm I’d already seen some buzz and reviews around the blogosphere and those while quite positive didn’t do the book justice at all. They made the book out to be a bit of fluff reading, with vampires, teenaged protagonists, and the obligatory romance. So while I planned to read and review the book, I went into it with medium expectations thinking I’d probably like the story well enough, but my overall reaction would be meh. Honestly, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Instead I found a well-written, well-developed world, with three interesting main characters, and a really exciting plot. The Farm utterly won me over, despite my expectations.

To start off with, there is the excellent characterizations. The Farm is told from three different perspectives: Lily, her twin sister Mel, and Carter, past-crush and would-be-saviour. I really liked the three very different voices McKay created for these characters, especially that of Mel. McKay switches point of view at the start of chapters, not every other chapter, but each chapter is told from one perspective. Lily’s chapters are told in first person past simple, while Mel’s are first person present, and Carter’s is told from third person limited past simple. This doesn’t just make it easy to distinguish between view points, but it also helps build the way we see the characters. We get really close to Lily, because we are literally in her head, while Carter is kept at a bit of a remove. Mel’s viewpoint was brilliantly done. Mel suffers from Autistic Spectrum Disorder, and while quite high-functioning in the Before as they call it, she’s regressed quite a bit into herself. Her chapters reflect that, by showing us how Mel interprets the world around her through a musical lens and how in her own circuitous way she’s actually quite often spot on in her observations. McKay keeps Mel’s chapters few in number though, so they don’t lose their impact, both on the story and as a device.

Beyond the writing aspect of the characterizations, there is the excellent character development. The character we spent most of our time with is Lily. She’s very protective of her sister and quite distrustful of the world in general and Carter in particular, something which manifests in an extremely prickly and antagonistic attitude. Over the course of the story, she softens and she comes to realise that Mel is not just a burden; she’s also what’s kept her going on the Farm. I loved this arc, though its eventual consequences at the end of the book, took me completely by surprise. The development of her relationship with Carter was fascinating as well, both because of their interactions based on their belief that she is an abductura – a person who can control other people through their emotions – and their history together. I really enjoyed the push-pull of their attraction. Carter is a lovely lead, trying to balance both his feelings for Lily and his need to get her to safety because of the role she could play in the rebellion against the forces behind the Tick-manifestation. These three are joined by three others on their flight from the Farm: Sebastian, Carter’s vampire ally, Stoner Joe, and McKenna, who were both at school with Lily, Mel, and Carter. Each of these has their own character arc and role to play in Lily’s development and I found them all to be interesting in their own right.

Beyond the characters, what surprised me most was the wonderful world McKay created. Not that the world is such a happy place, far from it, but it was well-thought out and quite frightening. I was glad of the fact that there weren’t many info dumps beyond the initial set up at all. We got more information as it came up and was relevant to the story, in other words this was showing not telling, which I really appreciated. The events after the Tick outbreak and the way government reacted are frightening, even more so when you think about its plausibility. Not so much the Tick outbreak, as I don’t expect there to be a mass vampiric creature manifestation any time soon, but the rules and regulations and the ‘protective’ incarceration of teens in camps might not be as far-fetched as one would like.

The Farm was an engrossing read, and while fun and thrilling, it’s very much not just a bit of YA fluff. The Farm is a thoughtful exploration of what it means to love a sibling with special needs, how it’s not just a burden, but can be a gift as well. It examines why some people choose to fight and others choose flight instead of cooperation. It’s a surprising book and one that cleverly mixes dystopia, horror and vampires into a story that is as compelling as it is touching. The Farm, thus far, is the surprise of the year for me and I’m looking forward to reading the sequel The Lair hopefully later this year.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.

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