Book Review: Special by Chino Chakanga - YA, Science Fiction, Superhero

Book Review: Special by Chino Chakanga

Title: Special

Author: Chino Chakanga

Publisher: Self-published

Publication date: August 14, 2019

Genre: YA, Science fiction/Fantasy, Superhero

Summary: Everyone in the world has a special ability, from flying to weather manipulation. Everyone, that is, except Hope. Hope is perfectly normal. She has zero abilities and has spent years undergoing treatments in the hopes of developing one. But it’s this specialness that makes it possible for her to help save the world she loves despite being different.

Most people have, at one time or another, felt different from everyone else. As soon as the author contacted me for a review, I knew I had to read this one. It wasn’t quite what I had expected, wasn’t quite as polished as I would have liked, but I adored the message contained within the pages, and sincerely hope this book can make it’s way into the hands of those who need that message.

The Characters: So Many Incredible Special Abilities

I really liked the characters and I really loved how their special abilities were just a natural part of their lives, an extension of who they were. Hope’s family felt incredibly normal despite the teleporting and flying around going on, and I adored her grandmother, who was just so sweet and smart.

I did feel a little conflicted about Hope, though. As a teenager, I expected a bit more teenage angst, especially when it came to her treatments and how her schoolmates treated her. She seemed oddly well-adjusted and perfectly capable of coping, but her internal world revealed so much of her hurt that I wish it had been seen more in her outward behavior. In many ways she was just an average teen, but in other ways it felt like she was written a certain way for the sake of the story. Still, I found her to be interesting, noble, and quick on her feet.

Hope’s classmates felt achingly familiar. You have your popular kids who have everything and can do anything, and then you have your outcasts everyone teases and bullies. Despite all the special abilities, it was a very normal high school. Hope often felt like an oasis of calm and acceptance as she navigated the school hallways, but it just highlighted how very different she was from everyone else.

The Setting: Anywhere and Everywhere

The setting felt very non-specific, as though it could have been anywhere in the world. There were a few landmarks like a mill outside of town and some woods, but, otherwise, I thought it could have taken place anywhere. While I enjoy well-defined settings, I really think it was great that this book did not have one. It really highlighted the universal feeling of being different.

The one thing that really struck me was how organized the high school was in term of hierarchy. It was extremely well described and laid out and everyone fell neatly into a category. The culture of the school was defined and were both similar and different from my own experiences with high school. There were some things I could appreciate and others that felt a little new to me, but, then again, I enjoyed being different in high school and don’t normally read YA.

Usually, I enjoy a well-defined sense of place, but the author means for this to be a book for anyone in the world who has ever felt different, so the non-specificity works. There are some defined parameters, just enough to give a bit of atmosphere and enough to say there is a thriving civilization, but the majority of it is up to the reader, which can really personalize the experience.

The Plot: Focused on the High School Experience

As much as I liked the characters and enjoyed the ambiguity of the setting, the plot was a bit of a letdown to me. I expected a book about a girl who is different and takes matters into her own hands to save her home. Instead, it felt more like Hope was struggling with being different and happened to fall into a situation where she had to save the day. Instead of being more active in saving her community, she felt more like an unwitting player, a pawn in someone else’s plans.

There was more of a focus on the high school setting, of Hope and others similar to her being bullied and ostracized. It felt more like it was a book about high school than a book about how being different is a good thing and can actually save the day, so I was a little disappointed.

I did like that there seemed to be a continuous forward motion, that small events kept happening that would build up to the last quarter of the book. Though the focus felt more like it was on high school, there were still pieces that tied a bit more to what the book description had to say, so that last quarter really made me happy.

Overall: Tons of Potential With a Great Message

I do think this book has a lot of potential. The writing was a bit rough and felt a little too plain, but I liked the message it carries, that it’s good to be different and that being different is what makes us unique and interesting. As someone who thrives on being different, this book really gives me hope that adolescents can find this story and take its message to heart. Overall, this is a simple book with a good message.

How many cups of tea will you need?

3 cups should do nicely

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Thank you to the author, Chino Chakanga, for a free e-copy. All opinions expressed are my own.

Check out more of my book reviews over at the Bookshelf.

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