Oh, Goodreads recommendations, I love you so much and yet you recommend such crap at times.
Wake Unto Me starts off with an unnecessary prologue (aren't they all unnecessary?) so overwritten that I almost put it down right then. A lot of witches are gathered around a photo of the heroine, fifteen-year-old Caitlyn Monahan, discussing whether she is the Dark One who will fulfill an obscure prophesy that is presented in rhyming couplets. I made it to chapter one, and Caitlyn mopes around and wonders why she doesn't like the guys in her Oregon small-town high school, and decides that she's waiting on her soul mate.
The book almost lost me there too. I hate the notion of soul mates, especially in YA fiction. Look, there are seven freaking billion people in the world; I think there's a possibility more than one of them might be a good match for any given person.
But I was reading for the ghost, and despite the horrible, gushy writing I was interested to see what happened next. Caitlyn is offered a full scholarship to an exclusive girls' French boarding school--because the witches who run the school want to scope her out and see if she's the Dark One, but she doesn't know that because she never reads prologues. She leaves her dreary Oregon days behind and flies to France, where her roommate turns out to be a princess and the school is in a thousand-year-old castle. But Caitlyn has always had trouble with bad dreams, and she doesn't leave the nightmares behind the way she hopes. On the other hand, she dreams also of a handsome young Italian man named Raphael who once lived in the castle--dreams so compelling that Caitlyn wishes she could stay in them.
The book gets into its stride after a few chapters and settles into a less overblown style. Caitlyn is bland but not repellent. She likes to draw and has small triumphs and miseries as part of school--nothing compelling, but it's not precisely dull either. I'd have liked to get a better feel for what it's like to go to a boarding school where all the students are from different countries, but let's face it: the story is all about Raphael. Everything else is background.
Unfortunately, the scenes with Raphael are the weakest in the book. Caitlyn is smitten, but I found Raphael not much more interesting than she is. There's a confusing mystery about a heart as the main part of the book and Caitlyn and Raphael work to solve it while they're together in Caitlyn's dreams (there's a not-at-all-explained timeslip going on and she's visiting Raphael in his own time rather than him being a ghost in her time). He is, of course, her soul mate. Never mind that they don't know each other at all, never mind that Caitlyn's mooning over Raphael focuses entirely on his physical looks: they're soul mates!
I want to see Caitlyn's take on soul mates when she's an adult, rather than a sheltered fifteen-year-old.
I'm probably being too harsh; the book kept me interested, if not riveted. It has a nifty take on ghosts, even if the explanation is so convoluted that it makes no sense at all. I saw the ending coming a mile away and all I can say is, good thing that other guy turned out to be handsome. If he hadn't, I wonder how Caitlyn's ideas about soul mates would change.
There are some real problems with the book beyond the goofiness and confusion of its plot, though. The school-and-nightmares plot is geared toward younger YA or tweens. The Raphael-in-Caitlyn's-dreams plot has a much more mature feel--not just the content, where Caitlyn and Raphael make out a little in very romance-paperbacky style, but the characterizations. Nothing about Caitlyn's personality (such as it is) suggests that she can flirt with any sophistication, but she can when she's with Raphael. For that matter, the first two chapters feel like they were written by a fifteen-year-old--I may not love those chapters, but they do feel authentically teenagery, Mary Sue content and overblown prose included. The rest of the book does not. Also, Caitlyn doesn't have any real problems adjusting to her new school; there's one girl who's kind of bitchy, but not really mean, and Caitlyn embarrasses herself at her first riding lesson and doesn't do well in French, but if you took the timeslip dreaming out of the story, there wouldn't be much left. There's very little tension in the book, too much exposition, and wildly uneven writing.
Oh, and I was promised a ghost. I did not get a ghost. I feel cheated.