Open Minds by Susan Kay Quinn has been on my “to read” list for many years. I bought the ebook in March of 2013, but hadn’t gotten around to reading it and was excited to get the audio on discount with the kindle whisper or whatever it’s called. I guess there’s a reason it’s taken so long to get around to reading this book. The concept of Open Minds is what attracted me to the story first and foremost and I was also excited to know that Susan Kay Quinn is an independent author and now she’s a well published one.
As I intimated, this is another book that I listened to and I have mixed feelings about the audio itself and the actual story. The narrator was all right and when you read many of the reviews on audible about the narrator they all complain about how terrible she is, but the problem is not entirely the narrator. She’s just reading what’s on the page and the author doesn’t practice much variation in sentence structure or rhythm, which could be missed by a reader if you’re simply skimming the story. My main thought while listening to the story was “Wow! You don’t have to be a great writer to be a successful author.”
A WriterAlina Book Review
Open Minds is Susan Kay Quinn’s first published novel (October 2011) and it’s quite obvious that this is the case. But I’m interested in reading one of her more recent novels just to get an idea of how or if her writing style has evolved/improved over the years.
The concept of the story is an interesting one. After only two generations the world is full of mind-readers and it’s more common to be a mind-reader than it is to be a Zero (one who can’t read minds at all). And even more rare are those who can go into someone else’s mind and hijack it. Kira thinks that she’s destined to be a zero and dreads going to high school where she’ll never fit in because society now caters to those who can read minds. That is until one day she accidentally “mind-jacks” her best friend and realizes that she’s something else entirely. She feels dangerous and doesn’t know who to trust with her secret of being able to control minds in a society of mind-readers.
The Story and It’s Delivery
Open Minds is told from Kira’s first person point-of-view, which is nice for voice and feeling close to the main character, but a little too much teen angst for me. I don’t even think I would have identified with Kira even as a teen. I must admit that I definitely would have enjoyed the concept of her struggles with her mind powers, but her actions would have turned me off.
My biggest problem with Open Minds was that I felt the author’s hands manipulating and pushing Kira into situations that were important to the plot versus feeling that what Kira was going through a natural progression of struggle and growth.
For example, the “love triangle” was totally forced. Kira’s main attraction with Raff felt natural enough, I had crushes on boys when I was a tee, but when “bad boy” Simon comes into the picture it’s obvious that the author only wanted Kira to be attracted to Simon so that he can lead her toward the dangerous plot she’s meant to fall into. I’m sorry by “good girl” being attracted to “bad boy” isn’t natural, normal, or simply understood to be a fact. There’s no real motivation for her contrived feelings of attraction toward Simon. So what if he’s supposed to be a good looking guy, Raff is also supposed to be a good looking guy, so does that mean a girl is supposed to fall in love with every good looking guy she meets or is willing to talk to her? It’s one thing to say that she need Simon to help her understand her powers and knowingly use him for his knowledge, but that’s not what happens. She allows herself to be pulled into things she knows is wrong and continually says, “I didn’t trust Simon, but…” and goes through with whatever she feels wrong about anyway. I never really understood why Kira would continue with Simon even though she always felt bad being around him. Usually when people stay in a bad situation they have reasons for it and if I’m supposed to be in Kira’s head I’d like a better excuse than he’s a good kisser or he’s my only hope for understanding my powers (especially after it’s obvious that he’s not).
There are many more examples of the author’s heavy hand, but I won’t go into it here. Perhaps I’ll do a detailed analysis of Open Minds at a later date because it will be a good exercise to improve my own writing. Especially I recognize some of my own mistakes within Quinn’s. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the story in concept it’s just that “as a reader” I shouldn’t feel the heavy hand of the author.
Even though Kira was kind of annoying, she did have a pretty decent character arc through the story. She goes from feeling like a recluse and helpless to finding confidence in herself and her abilities by the end of the story. She also learns that she should trust her instincts on who to trust and who not to. All good things for a teen to learn during the course of a story.
Simon was the only other character who got enough screen time to have a character to glean. And it was too bad that we didn’t really learn much more about him; perhaps if we had, it would have given better justification for why Kira would agree to date him. But even his motivations weren’t transparent enough to understand why he was so serious about Kira. Even without Kira’s suspicions you wonder why Simon does what he does and the reader never really gets an answer so can only make the assumption that he’s selfish and self-centered, only interested in his own survival. And I don’t exactly think that was the author’s intention.
The rest of the characters were okay. Raff had enough personality that I understood why Kira liked him and had only a mild understanding of his attraction to Kira (I guess having history should be enough — sometimes it is in real life).
Everyone else was pretty cardboard though, which was a bit disappointing. The bad guy was the bad guy, but because we’re in Kira’s POV his motivations are completely unknown so he just comes off as generic. Mom had an interesting quirk that was explained by the end of the novel, but was kind of just there. Dad and Seamus (Kira’s older brother) were just fixtures as well.
A Word Or Two About World Building
Even though Open Minds is supposed to take place in future America and the landscapes look much like what we seen in America today, the society itself and its technology has completely changed due to the fact that most people in this world can read minds. Quinn is very consistent about the abilities that are experienced in the world that she’s created, which is great because some authors just go all out and then trap themselves. And she’s also consistent and imaginative about the types of technology that people use due to this new ability. She even goes to lengths to state that learning Latin is having a comeback as a universal language, which is kind of interesting.
Kids are kids in this world and don’t develop their “abilities” until puberty (seems to be a useful trend in stories these days — Thanks X-Men).
The only drawback I have is the fact that Kira is so abnormally powerful in her abilities and that she seems to get the knack of using them pretty quickly. I guess she’s much stronger in the Force than she thought she was. Her smugness about her abilities is understandable, but I wonder why she needs to be so powerful. I am happy that at least there are limits to her power, even if they are a bit higher than others, and that there is a believable idea of why she came out the way that she did (and this could tied to a potential future conflict). I don’t want to say too much because I don’t want to spoil any interesting plot points for you.
Death in Stories
I was very disappointed that there were many deaths in this novel and none of them really mattered, even the ones that were supposed to. It was like watching red shirts die or watching a war film where you know that half the people on the screen were going to die and you don’t really care. The problem is, the reader should care and the surviving characters should care. And I didn’t really feel that Kira’s feelings of remorse were effectively expressed. Even though Quinn wanted us to know that Kira “respects life” it doesn’t really come across in a meaningful way and how certain deaths effect Kira don’t feel genuine. I found this disappointing.
I recommend Open Minds for concept, but I wouldn’t put it at the top of your “to read” list. Perhaps my opinion will change for one of Susan Kay Quinn future novels, but it could be a while before I get around to reviewing another one.
If you are interesting in a more unique take on a mindreading society and if you enjoy teen taking on the government stories then Open Minds could be for you.
Have you ever read Open Minds? Have you ever read any of Susan Kay Quinn’s other books? Did I inspire you to pick up Open Minds yourself? I would love to hear from you; feel free to leave a comment below.
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