Review: The Passage (at long last!)

30 Jun

I swear to you, I have not forgotten about reviewing Justin Cronin’s The Passage. Though at this point, it seems almost needless, since everyone any one and their mother has reviewed this book. But for the three of you out there who read my blog exclusively (hi Mom and Dad! ::waves::), I’m posting my review.

As I mentioned, I got an autographed galley of The Passage at BEA and was hesitant about it to say the least. When you hear words thrown around a book like “vampire,” “Stephen King,” “The Stand,” “buzz-worthy,” “horror,” “post-apocalyptical” and the like. Now, I’m not one of those people that totally shuns books for being popular if they sound good for a reason, like the Millenium trilogy by Stieg Larrson. Granted, it took me quite a while to read the Twilight series and I eventually read The DaVinci Code, but I’d heard from more than a few people that these were not well written, so I wasn’t exactly jumping on the bandwagon. But bandwagons are not necessarily bad things — if that many people like something, people who I would normally trust for book recommendations and are telling me to read it, I listen. The same thing happened with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and The Help and I loved both of those books. But nevertheless, I was still hesitant about The Passage because it didn’t sound like a genre I would enjoy. I’ve never read Stephen King’s The Stand, and I hate anything Anne Rice-y.

But as Kate said, the book is “without genre” — totally uncategorizable. And she was right.

The initial premise of the book is that, sometime in the near future, a down-on-her-luck mother who turns tricks in a motel bathroom while her daughter Amy stays locked in the bathroom, murders a college kid who picked her up and in her panicked flight away from the motel, abandons Amy at a convent somewhere in Iowa. Sister Lacey, an African nun who has her own secretive and dark past, takes her in and understands that there is something special about Amy. Simultaneously, the military and scientific researchers are hacking their way through a South American jungle, seeking the victims/survivors of a virus. This is where the term “vampire” crops up, but it’s clear that the head scientist dislikes this description, since it conjures fantastical images, and this is a very real disease that has the potential of creating a super-human-like situation, healing broken bones in hours, preventing all types of illness, allowing people to live for centuries. You can see why the military would be interested. We also run into a couple of federal agents who are collecting murderers from death rows all over the country, people who won’t be missed, and shipping them off to a secret government location somewhere in Colorado. They get orders however to find and collect Amy — the first child they’ve been asked to take, let alone someone who’s not in prison — and it leads to some problems.

That’s the gist of the first, oh…150 pages. But this books clocks in at 764 pages. So that paragraph I just gave you gives away almost nothing. It’s a good place to start, and yet doesn’t at all convey the suspense of those first pages either. I can tell you over and over again that, on paper, this is not my type of book. But I was hooked, from the first paragraph, the first page, the first chapter, I was totally and completely hooked. It’s mostly Amy’s story that kept me moving through the book, but by the time I got to the later chapters, I was just as invested in the other characters as well, and I was totally in a “what happens next” mindset. Except it was more like “WHAT! HAPPENS! NEXT!!!”

I’ve heard and read a few reviews that it dragged in parts or that there are too many characters to keep track of or that Amy’s story isn’t enough for them to keep reading once you move past the first section of the book. I guess I can sort of see where that might have happened, but for me it just didn’t. To give you sense of what my reading process was like, I started reading on the train back from BEA, late, late on Friday, and then woke up mid-morning on Saturday, picked the book up and did not put it down again until close to midnight that night. Then on Sunday, I woke up early, because I’d been dreaming about it, and read it again all day. I finished it that evening. Granted I do read pretty fast, but no faster I think than a lot of you book bloggers out there. But it took me just over two days. For a nearly-800 page book. Length clearly wasn’t that much of a factor for me.

I see the criticism out there, but really what I want to say to those people that would read this blog and have read things I’ve recommended in the past, just TRUST me. My poor autographed galley is destroyed because I read it, and then gave it to my mom who kept asking in those first 150 pages, “What’s going to happen?” I refused to tell her and now she’s completely and totally immersed, and totes the book everywhere. Chunks of pages are falling out of it and I know I’ll want to read it again, so I’m planning on buying a hardcover copy as well. This is a book I’m going to want to keep for a long time, especially considering that this is the first in a planned trilogy.

Have you read The Passage? Do you plan to? What more can I tell you to convince you that the hype is for real reason?

FTC disclaimer: I got this galley from the publisher, but I’m going to buy it anyway!


18 Responses to “Review: The Passage (at long last!)”

  1. Biblibio July 2, 2010 at 8:02 am #

    I have not read “The Passage”, and I might. I also might not.

    I was reading a review recently where the reviewer felt the book was “good, not great” (and was consequently disappointed, having expected from the hype something excellent), and began to wonder that perhaps this book isn’t so genre-defying as it may appear. All summaries and descriptions of it seem to place it simply in the sci-fi category. Not pulp sci-fi, but science fiction nonetheless (definitely if you go based on official definitions…), of the good quality.

    I’d be curious to know why you feel it falls into no category. I’ve seen this description in quite a few places now, and as someone who hasn’t read it, I don’t really understand why…

    • Rachel July 2, 2010 at 8:40 am #

      It’s difficult to understand why I would say that it doesn’t fall into a category if you haven’t read it, and I can see how, with the plot synopses out there, why it would be easy to say it’s strictly sci-fi. The problem with that is that, yes, it does have elements of sci-fi or paranormal, but there are elements of literary fiction, romance, fantasy, scientific drama (think Michael Crichton), history, horror and many more. I think because Cronin’s background is in literary fiction, there’s depth to the writing and to the characters that’s unexpected and unusual for a straight sci-fi novel. There are things about it on the surface that would place it in sci-fi, but it bends that genre so drastically that it’s hard to keep it with two feet planted under just that umbrella.

      I understand that not every buzzy book is going to be a hit for everyone. But I caution people from staying away from a book just because of the buzz. Everyone will read the same book differently, and this is certainly outside my normal comfort realm, but for me, it paid off. Even going by the official definitions of sci-fi — good sci-fi — I still think it’s a good book. I loved it, and that doesn’t change just because of the genre it may or may not fall into.

  2. Life of a Doctor's Wife July 2, 2010 at 11:11 am #

    Well you certainly make this sound interesting!

    I too have been wary of overhyped books, although belonging to a book club sort of forces you to read books you might not normally pick up. (That’s how I read Dragon Tattoo, which I thought sounded utterly stupid and then fell madly in love with.) My fear of hype kept me away from Harry Potter until the fourth book came out, and I loved that series. So you are right to point out that sometimes the great masses are dead on with their preferences! I may have to look into this one…

    • Rachel July 6, 2010 at 9:17 am #

      I never got why hype was a bad thing! In a lot of ways, you could say that winning the Pulitzer in Fiction creates hype, or topping the NYT bestseller list. Why is it that we feel the need to reject things just because the masses like them? (This is also what I hate about hipsters and their music — but that’s a post for a different time ;))

  3. Jenny July 5, 2010 at 6:59 pm #

    Hi Rachel, I found your site through the recommendations at The New Dork Review of Books. This is a great review! I’ve been unsure if I should read it or not but your review has me convinced that I need to just give in and read it. I think my husband will like it too, and we have talked about it frequently asking each other if we think it’s worth the read and just not making that commitment yet, LOL!! I was at BEA as well but by 4:00 pm on that last day I was not in the mood to stand in that long line. We’ll definitely have to buy this though!

    • Rachel July 6, 2010 at 9:08 am #

      Thanks for stopping by. I’ve been telling people who are unsure if they want to read it, give it about a hundred pages. If you’re not into by then, put it down. But I say give it a go 🙂

  4. Becky (Page Turners) July 5, 2010 at 7:23 pm #

    How funny! I found your blog through the recommendation of The New Dork Review of Books as well and this is the first review I see! I purchased this book a couple of days ago because I had read that it was the Twilight equivalent for adults. I am not normally a vampire/paranormal reader or anything along those lines, but this seemed like a good intro into that genre. I have only read good reviews so I am trying to keep my expectations low. I don’t think there is anything much wrong with jumping on a bandwagon – there is usually a bandwagon for a reason!

    I love your blog, I will definitely be following it from now on 🙂

    • Rachel July 6, 2010 at 9:10 am #

      Glad you clicked over! I’m not really a vampire/paranormal reader either, and I admit that if it had been described to me as the adult equivalent of Twilight, I probably wouldn’t have read it. It’s so much better than that! Hope you enjoy, and I’d love to know what you think.

  5. Lisa July 5, 2010 at 8:08 pm #

    Hi, Rahcel–third one in a row that found your blog through Greg’s! I jump back on forth on this one–to read or not to read. I am always hesitant to jump on a bandwagon but my bigger problem with this one is the story line which just doesn’t seem like something I would like. And yet, you begin to convince me that I shouldn’t write it off for that reason.

    • Rachel July 6, 2010 at 9:15 am #

      Welcome! You should check out the debate on Biblibio’s blog and comments. She linked to it in the comments above, and I think it’s a pretty good synopsis of why you can’t always go by the story line blurbs that are out there. In a couple sentences, no one would think this concept is new and original or interesting, but in reading it, the book becomes something else entirely. At least read the beginning of the book, 100-150 pages, before writing it off. The book deserves to stand on it’s own merit, not anyone’s subjective opinion based on their own preferences. Not even mine 🙂

  6. Lauren July 6, 2010 at 7:33 pm #

    I am putting you on my blog roll asap! I didn’t read your full review because I haven’t read this book yet but it is at the top of my list. I have heard only good things about it. I am glad I have stumbled onto your blog (via The New Dork Review of Books), I will be back here often to read your reviews and weigh in! (:


    • Rachel July 7, 2010 at 12:07 am #

      I didn’t give away any details, I swear :). Thanks for coming over — I’m checking out your blog now.

  7. Kerry July 6, 2010 at 10:33 pm #

    I’m two days and 658 pages in to this at the moment and LOVING. IT. I am definitely with you on calling it “unclassifiable.” And now I actually have to go close the computer immediately so I can finish the book and still get a decent amount of sleep tonight…

    Great post!

    • Rachel July 7, 2010 at 12:05 am #

      I’m cheering you on!! Can’t wait to hear your final thoughts 🙂

  8. trish July 9, 2010 at 4:52 pm #

    I’m glad you mentioned that some folks thought it dragged in places. I can see why they’d say it, but I thought Cronin did such a good job of making everything relevant that it didn’t drag for me. In fact, I could have taken another 200 pages only to end at the exact same spot. It really made me interested in his other novels because I loved the character development. Great review, by the way. 🙂

  9. Lori L July 11, 2010 at 3:53 pm #

    I read it and I loved it. For me The Passage lived up to all the hype. Great review!

  10. Mom August 1, 2010 at 8:31 pm #

    Hi sweetie,
    I finally got a chance to read your review of my [so far] favorite book of the year (with exception to “the help”). A good comparison may be “I am Legend” meets “outbreak”. I can’t wait for 2012 to read the next one in the trilogy.

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