Vibes, by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Author: Amy Kathleen Ryan
Genre: YA Fiction
Call number: Y Ryan
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars (really liked it)

I finally read Vibes, after meeting the author at the Author Open House last April and having a wonderful talk about writing for teens and her new book. I picked it up because I wanted something short and funny to read to offset another novel I was reading (a 600-page tome).

Vibes is quite funny. And short. So it worked perfectly.

Summary poached from Goodreads:
Nothing is beyond Kristi Carmichael’s disdain—her hippie high school, her friend Jacob, her workaholic mom. Yet for all her attitude and her mind-reading abilities, Kristi has a vulnerable side. She can hear the thoughts of her fellow students, calling her fat and gross. She’s hot for Gusty Peterson, one of the most popular guys in school, but of course, she’s sure he thinks she is disgusting. And she’s still mad at her father, who walked out on them two years ago. Soon, a school project brings her together with Gusty, her father comes home and drops a bombshell, and a friend comes out of the closet, and suddenly she is left doubting that she can read people at all.

I wasn’t sure if my review contained spoilers, so I’m placing it behind a cut just in case, but I think the spoilers are minor.

Kristi is my kind of unlikable narrator. She isn’t one of the A-list mean girls, but no one would call her nice. She’s self-absorbed and has a nasty sense of humor. She incredibly judgmental, but she spends so much of her time noticing how much everyone else is judging her (for being fat; for dressing in unusual, home-made clothes; for having big boobs, or no father, etc.), she doesn’t notice how terrible she is herself. But she’s so funny and clever that I still liked reading from her POV. I understood where she was coming from, and that made her sympathetic even when I didn’t like her as a person.

The story itself involves typical teenage novel stuff: family, school, romance. Her dad comes back and turns out to be kind of a jerk, disappointing her when she had remembered him so fondly. She likes a boy and isn’t sure how he feels about her; meanwhile, another boy she doesn’t like that way makes his move and freaks her out. She’s still smarting over a previous friend’s betrayal. She and her mom don’t understand each other and they fight. It’s the strength of the character that carries this novel (well, and the strength of the first person narrative, which is very capably written), rather than the originality of the plot.

Kristi’s psychic powers are not mind reading so much as being hyper-aware of the negative things other people are thinking about her (or, as it turns out, what Kristi thinks they are thinking about her). Kristi is so sure she knows what everyone is thinking that she doesn’t pay attention to the clues that don’t fit. She misunderstands the simplest thoughts and behaviors, makes incorrect assumptions based on them, treats those assumptions as black-and-white Truth, and then has the gall to be surprised when someone finally calls her on it.

For some people, I think this story will succeed or fail based totally on how they feel about the psychic powers. It ended up not mattering to me whether Kristi was psychic or not — the point is, she believes she is, and it’s given her an excuse to think the worst of everyone and therefore not try to understand them, keeping herself “safe”.

I really, really feel that Ryan “gets” what it’s like to be a teenager and has written a smart, funny story about it. The happy ending is a bit fairy tale, but I also appreciated it nonetheless.


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