ARC Review: The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare by M.G. Buehrlen


title:  The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare

author:  M.G. Buehrlen

pages: 368

format: Kindle ARC

isbn/asin: 978-1908844934

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

rating: 4/5 [in the genre] or 6/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  Fans of Backward Glass by David Lomax, Doctor Who, and young adult that verges a little more towards the middle grade.  

would i read this author again?:  Yes.
will i continue the series?:  Probably.

My Ratings Explained

For as long as 17-year-old Alex Wayfare can remember, she has had visions of the past. Visions that make her feel like she’s really on a ship bound for America, living in Jamestown during the Starving Time, or riding the original Ferris wheel at the World’s Fair.

But these brushes with history pull her from her daily life without warning, sometimes leaving her with strange lasting effects and wounds she can’t explain. Trying to excuse away the aftereffects has booked her more time in the principal’s office than in any of her classes and a permanent place at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Alex is desperate to find out what her visions mean and get rid of them.

It isn’t until she meets Porter, a stranger who knows more than should be possible about her, that she learns the truth: Her visions aren’t really visions. Alex is a Descender – capable of traveling back in time by accessing Limbo, the space between Life and Afterlife. Alex is one soul with fifty-six past lives, fifty-six histories.

Fifty-six lifetimes to explore: the prospect is irresistible to Alex, especially when the same mysterious boy with soulful blue eyes keeps showing up in each of them. But the more she descends, the more it becomes apparent that someone doesn’t want Alex to travel again. Ever.

And will stop at nothing to make this life her last.

take home message
Wayfare makes a great light read for someone looking for fun, adventure, and pure entertainment value.  However, the plot holes and inconsistencies will be a nuisance to more critically-minded readers.  

the basics
This wasn't a fantastically written book.  It was riddled with plot holes and inconsistencies.  It was also amazingly entertaining.  The kind of book where I don't dwell as violently over the obvious literary foibles because I'm just so enthralled with the plot and the characters.  Alex is a feisty, clever heroine with an impulsivity problem.  Her character feels a little inconsistent at first, but becomes clearer as we go on.  The most consistent character was Blue, easily endearing with his quiet manner and easy smile.  There are also layers to the plot I hadn't expected.  On one level, you have Alex struggling with her visions, only to discover that these visions are actually timeslips into her past selves.  That someone wants to use her for her powers, and that by entering into her pasts, she can fight back.  On the other level, there's Alex's sister, weakened by leukemia.  Alex's guilt and sadness towards the situation humanizes and grounds her.  But in the end, she's a typical teenager.  She makes dumb mistakes, falls in love, and eventually, takes charge of hero own life.  There's plenty to complain about, but it's just so fast-paced and cute and fun that I forgave a lot of flaws.  Honestly, I gave this a 4 and not a 3 just because it's pure entertainment, and I liked it for that.  

plot . 4/5
If plot holes and deus ex machina really bring you to tears, you should probably avoid this one.  There are plenty of points where my literary mind went, "Um.  No."  Like how Alex slipped into some lives with no knowledge of that life and some where she could let the body take over.  How skills would survive with Alex into the real world, from gunslinging to fast running.  Alex's sudden knowledge and expertise at the end.  It's not exactly tightly-constructed stuff.  On the other hand, suspending disbelief, you have a pretty compelling jaunt through history with constant turmoil: Chicago mafia, Old West gunslingers, pilgrims and paintings.  Yes, some of the plot verges on ridiculous.  (Shooter Delaney?  Gag.)  However, it's just fun.  Watching Alex fall into various unknown situations and grapple with new challenges is exciting, because there's always the tension of what if she gives herself away?  Add in a little sweet teenage romance and you have a nice mix of adventure and character.  The ending is relatively explosive with a couple unexpected twists, and it's rare to encounter a dull moment.   My biggest regret:  there was an amazing, perfect opportunity for a twist that would bring a particular character full circle, and Buehrlen totally ignored it.  Rage. 

concept . 3/5
It's a nifty take on time travel.  Souls leave paths in Limbo.  Special travelers can use these paths to jump back in time.  Some people have been reincarnated many times, and they can jump between their lives as often as they'd like.  All this is under the auspices of a massive biomedical company who first used their abilities to discover lost scientific knowledge in the past.  But with power comes greed, and a schism that left half the team on the lamb and the other half glory-hungry for million-dollar lost paintings and decadent trips into past lives.  Very cool.  What dogs it down is the details.  How was this done?  Why is the head of it such a torturous douchebag?  Why do you get to keep skills from lives into which you've jumped?  How did they reincarnate Alex and her peers into the past?  There's also the issue of Alex's sister and her cancer.  It's a super compelling element that humanizes Alex and gives her a purpose and a motivation, but the sister is so seldom a speaking character in the story that I never felt as close to her as I should have.  In fact, bratty younger sister was a much stronger element.  Buehrlen could have squeezed a lot more power out of that plot element if she'd paid it more attention.  

characters . 4/5
I love Alex, even when she's an idiot.  (Or especially?)  She's a teenager.  She gets in trouble for pranking her hated teacher.  She worries about boys and her sister and her reputation.  She's an exceptional fixer of things--as in, she has a little workshop in her room to make electronic gadgets, she works on old cars, and she wears safety goggles.  A refreshing past time for a heroine and one that adds some plausibility to later actions.  What I didn't buy was some of the continuity in her character.  Why was she super smartsy as a younger kid but now she sucks at English?  Why did she feel the need to cloister herself from other kids?  I know the "I have visions therefore freak" thing is a trope now, but I find it implausible that other people call her freak and Wayspaz just because she disappears into her head on occasion.  

Now to the others.  I had a special affection for Jensen.  He's a popular boy who first met Alex in Sunday school and despite accidentally sparking her nickname "Wayspaz", has always been a sweetie.  His kindness to Alex despite the crowd is endearing without a hint of saccharine.  He also just feels like a teenager.  Blue/Nick is a little too sweet and wonderful, but it's hard not to melt over him.  A pianist who works dirty jobs to support his Depression-era family who froths with teenager awkwardness and snarky banter?  Yes please.  I also appreciated that Alex's family plays a role (see above comment about sister), despite being underdeveloped.  Then there's Porter.  For a mentor kind of guy, he's surprisingly flat.  I didn't feel much connection with him in any direction.  

style . 3/5
I had a pretty neutral response towards the writing.  Some books melt off the page and encourage copious amounts of highlighting and gushing over lush phrasing and gorgeous prose.  Wayfare suffers in comparison to these favorites, but it's by no means badly written.  It's average.  The prose is fairly tight and straightforward.  There are a smattering of truly profound lines that begged a highlight.  Alex's voice could have been ripped out of someone's teenage journals--for better or worse, given her occasional stubborn whining.  It makes for a fast, clean read.  

mechanics .3/5
Let's have a talk about C.J.'s rabid Chicago pride.  (1) The original Ferris wheel was at the Chicago World's Fair, not St. Louis.  Although I suppose you could count it, given that the original wheel was transported to St. Louis temporarily.  (2) There is no "5th Street" in Chicago for there to be a 5th Street Gang.  Our streets have numbers starting at State and Madison (0 point), but they are primarily given names until you get into the 20s and 30s.  If anyone were to refer to a number, it would be the fifth hundredth block, specify direction.  Chicago is also very neighborhoody, so you'd be much more likely to name your gang for your neighborhood; streets are long and heterogeneous.  

Basically, I'd like a little extra historical authenticity here.  I can forgive a lot, but treating Chicago like New York is not one of them.   

Note: I received this copy in exchange for a review.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.

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