By Hilari Bell
Available now from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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TRICKSTER'S GIRL begins with Kelsa Phillips at her father's funeral. Not only is she in mourning, but she and her mother are at odd since they had different ideas about how her father should have spent the last months of his terminal illness. Then Raven walks into her life, saying that she needs to restore the ley lines of North America to prevent the end of humanity. He claims to be the Raven of myth, and says that most of the others like him would prefer to let humans die and then fix the problem, caused by pollution and other ill-treatment of the environment. Oh yes, and this takes place one hundred years in the future.
Hilari Bell's world-building is slight but coherent. She manages to make her high-tech world slyly funny. Future USA is obsessed with security, but it does little to prevent drug-smuggling, border crossing, or other problems. Canada, conversely, does just fine while paying far less attention to the movements of its citizens. The magic is a bit shakier. The folkloric parts are fine, but it is a little weird that Kelsa can fix nodes by suddenly knowing what to say and sprinkling conveniently pre-prepared dust. At least Kelsa thinks it is somewhat odd too.
The story definitely picks up once Raven and Kelsa hit the road. The beginning does a good job of setting up Kelsa's emotional state and her own need for healing, but it just doesn't have much forward momentum. TRICKSTER'S GIRL is aimed at a slightly older audience than Bell's most famous books, so Kelsa does face sexual threats on her sometimes-solo journey.
In general, I enjoyed TRICKSTER'S GIRL but felt the ending was rather abrupt. Kelsa does complete a full emotional arc, but her task still ends rather suddenly. In addition, she spends much of the book thinking about Raven's attractiveness. That's not odd for a teenage girl on the road with a good-looking guy. At the same time, it feels kind of pointless when no romance develops. Raven and Kelsa are just friends, so she doesn't really need to dwell on his physical appearance.
If you like quest narratives, you'll probably enjoy TRICKSTER'S GIRL. Dystopia fans will probably enjoy it as well. This version of the future might not be a burned out wasteland, but it's certainly not a utopia. I do enjoy the blending of science fiction and fantasy, which is perfect for the YA market. (Yay genre busting!)