Series: Essence #1
Published by Strange Chemistry on June 3, 2014
Genres: Dystopian, Romance, Thriller, Young Adult
Autumn escaped a cult, but now she realizes she's fallen into another.
Growing up in San Francisco’s Centrist Movement, sixteen year-old Autumn Grace has always believed emotions—adrenaline, endorphins, even happiness—drain your Essence and lead to an early death. But her younger brother’s passing and a run-in with a group of Outsiders casts her faith into question.
Ryder Stone, the sexy, rebellious leader of the Outsiders, claims Essence drain is nothing more than a Centrist scare tactic -- and he can prove it.
Autumn follows Ryder to his Community of adrenaline junkies and free spirits in Yosemite National Park, and they introduce her to a life of adventure, romance, sex, drugs and freedom. But as she discovers dark secrets beneath the Community’s perfect exterior, she realizes the more she risks in search of the perfect rush, the further she has to fall.
Here’s the thing with ESSENCE: the summary gives away most of the story. Because when Autumn runs away from the Centrists, she doesn’t realize she’s in another cult until the end of the book. However, thanks to the summary, and basic common sense on the part of the reader, it’s easy to see the Community is no better (and maybe even worse) than what Autumn left behind.
Autumn grew up in the Centrist movement, which believes that feeling emotions drains your Essence. As it’s impossible to know how much Essence each person is born with, Centrists live by the mantra “Neutrality is the key to longevity.” Doing anything to expend Essence, from being happy to sad, to even sweating, drains your Essence. Once you run out, you die.
But after her baby brother choked to death, Autumn started to question what she was brought up to believe. After a chance meeting with Outsiders, she runs away and joins a new Community, one that’s determined to show Essence drain is bull. It’s her chance to know for sure if her brother died because his Essence ran out, or because he choked.
Establishing all of that — the beginning of the book — that was interesting. The Centrist movement and their thoughts on Essence and not feeling emotions is what originally drew me to the book. I wish I’d learned more about it; there were a couple of hints as to how the Centrists came about, but not as much worldbuilding as I would have liked. But then, I’m a reader who likes a lot of worldbuilding.
Once Autumn joined the Community in Yosemite, the book took a downturn for me. ESSENCE basically becomes an adrenaline ride, as people in the Community are encouraged to do dangerous things like jumping from cliffs. Anything to raise their heartbeat, to prove Essence loss has nothing to do with life span. Although hesitant at first, Autumn soon jumps in with both feet, falling for both the bad boy of the community and adrenaline highs.
Yosemite itself was a great character in the book, a perfect place for Autumn to explore herself. I thought the author did a good job of describing it. But that was the best part of the book for me. Otherwise… I don’t quite know. I thought ESSENCE was a one book deal, but because nothing big happened until the last couple of pages, I wonder if it’s going to be a series to tie up all the loose ends.
I wanted to know more about the Community, just like I wanted to know more about the Centrists. But instead of learning about her new Community, Autumn dives into a romance with Ryder, the son of the Community’s leader, and starts trying to push her Essence to the fullest by doing dangerous stuff. I didn’t mind that she experimented with sex, drinking, and drugs — teens do that, and I did like that there was a mention for safe sex. It was pretty clear to me that Autumn traded one cult for another, so I spent the rest of the book waiting for her to wake up and smell the piney air. I don’t think that’s a spoiler, because as I said, I think any reader will figure that out pretty quickly.
In the end, I guess I just expected more from this book than was there. ESSENCE felt like set up for a showdown to come in another book.
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