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Raven

by Allison Van Diepen

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: pretty, smart, thoughtful girl meets older, beautiful, preternaturally graceful boy. Cue sparks and adolescent sexual tension. Then the boy reveals The Secret: he’s actually immortal. Cue internal conflict as girl wrestles with her desire to be with boy …  forever.

With a broad-stroke summary such as this, it’s easy to be cynical about Raven, the new novel from Ottawa writer and teacher Allison Van Diepen (author of Snitch and Street Pharm). Raven, however, is far from being a lame Twilight cash-in (despite the cover design). It’s a thoughtful, well-written, unusually compelling novel – one that, yes, will appeal to fans of Stephenie Meyer.

Nicole lives with her mom and dad in Brooklyn. She’s a good student who works a couple of nights a week at Evermore, a club in Manhattan. She also dances with a squad, engaging in hip-hop break battles with other dance crews. Zin, the leader of her squad, is  brooding, mysterious, and beautiful. After he rescues Nicole from a mugger, Zin reveals his secret: he was brought back from the brink of death 200 years earlier by an ancient spell wielded by Carlos, who owns Evermore. There are several drawbacks to immortality, not the least of which is the fact that Zin’s immortal “family” is being hunted.

Despite the high-concept and potentially histrionic conceit, Raven is actually a thoughtful, skilled work, drawing readers in with its careful attention to characters and the weighty moral questions they face. Diepen writes with a light touch, even when dealing with the novel’s more difficult material, such as the fate of Nicole’s older brother, a promising student who developed a drug addiction during his first year of college. Diepen masters both the realistic side of Nicole’s domestic life and her involvement with the family at Evermore, and is comfortable with both the patois of urban youth and deeper philosophical conversations. Raven is a more-than-worthwhile read, and a solid answer to the inevitable question, “What should I read after Twilight?”