[Review] The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare – M.G. Buehrlen

Book Title:      The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare (Alex Wayfare Series #01)
Author:              M.G. Buehrlen
Number of pages:
  416

Synopsis:57livesofalexwayfare_bookcover

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.

(re: Goodreads @ 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare by M.G. Buehrlen)

Should this book be picked up? the tl;dr spoiler-less review:

– Integrates various historical periods (western, prohibition era, etc.) in the time-travels.

– Character depth of protagonist is generally fleshed out well although she follows-through with questionable actions void of real caution or consequence. There is little development in minor characters and relationships.

– Plot twists can be easily identifiable as pacing is concerned but is otherwise a well-written engaging read.

Initial Thoughts

As listed on a previous Top Ten Tuesday (TTT: Debuts I’m Excited For), I was excited for a new time travel, speculative fiction-esqe novel and then this came along. With buzzwords like limbo in the synopsis, it isn’t hard to imagine the potential this book carries to be great. And while I’m not a time-travelling connoisseur, I do appreciate a good time-travel read here and there.

But my feels for this book are on neither extremes of the spectrum; seemingly stuck in its own feels-driven limbo, if you will. It’s neither here or there, positive or negative.

Let me elaborate.

Disclaimer: There may be spoilers inherent to this review from this point onward.

Afterthoughts:

[This is the way my story begins. Not with a bang but a whimper. Nothing more than a calm voice, a careful smile, and a pair of spectacles perched on the tip of a thin nose. But don’t let that deter you. You’ll be happy to know a bang comes in the end. Literally.]

A page out of Easy A it seems. But as exciting as some narrative elements are, this statement does hold a shred of truth. The majority of this first installment focuses on Alex Wayfare understanding the depth of her déjà-vu-like visions and the meaning behind them. At first, the glimpses of the past don’t hold much meaning until she carries remnants of these visions (i.e. pain experienced) to her base life (in present day). Needing answers to the unexplained, Alex is approached by Porter, an older gentleman who explains that these sporadic and uncontrollable déjà-vu-like lapses are in-fact moments of her past fifty-six lives. As a Descender, she is able to access limbo and travel to past lives by entering a soul. What’s more is that Alex is in-fact a Transcender, a reincarnated Descender and the only one of her kind. The jarring thing is that she doesn’t remember any of it; her past lives, her abilities, or her past relationships. Alex is only able to travel linearly to the age which she exists in base-life. But the gimmicks of time-travelling back to your past lives aren’t as cracked up to be; especially when someone’s hunting your soul(s).

[We think we’re so important that if we go back in time and move a pebble in the street in 1943, we’ll send the world toppling off its axis. It’s simply not true. What can change the course of the world, however, is the impact we make on individual lives.]

That being said, The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare doesn’t have an immediate, clear-cut focus in plot development until the end of the novel. It is quite the double-edged sword predicament. Initially, these visions are erratic and hold little meaning to her. But as she continues to delve into each past life and sees the same boy with the Blue eyes (she calls him Blue), Alex experiences a myriad of emotions that drive her need for answers. Although readers only get a glimpse of her previous lives (entering three of fifty-six), the choice in time periods are quite deliberate in line with her gradual character development. Moreover, there are rules paramount to descending back in time that highlight the importance of never creating an impact: a death, falling in love, or anything that can cause an adverse implication on history. So what does this all amount to? Potential confusion. There are times when you may have to backtrack and revaluate the information dumps in order to clearly understand the importance of each element toward the world being built.

[“Remember, you’re just a spectator. Do not make an impact. An easy rule of thumb is this: No Acts of God. No floods. No forest fires. Don’t destroy anything. Do not take a life, do not make a life.”]

The premise is fundamentally based around a power and corruption induced good-versus-evil predicament that doesn’t truly develop until the end and is presented as segue to the sequel than anything else. However, one can certainly argue that the romance drives the plot and Alex’s outward actions. Yet as much as it is about her falling in love (in the past, mind you), the relationship runs much deeper into the actual plot than just a run-of-the-mill girl-meets-boy scenario. From the era of Chicago-style prohibition to horseback-riding and gun-toting Old West cowboy-ish gangs, each trip is a unique reminder of past skills and knowledge that becomes accessible to Alex as she revisits them – kind of like how one never truly forgets how to ride a bike (assuming you’ve learned how to ride a bike in the past. #nojudgment). While these missions into the past don’t necessarily drive the plot, they’re necessary in world-building for both the reader and Alex as both parties are experiencing the time-traveling for the first time. But as much credit I can give towards the world-building and speculative time-traveling abilities, I was (for all intents and purposes) questioning the realism of skills transference from soul to base life to another soul (etc). What ends up resulting are dire situations being resolved neatly and always in favour for Alex — and that’s one of the only things that stood out to be a strike against her character development. With limited chance of consequence or tension, her behaviour absentmindedly returns full circle to delving head-first into the unknown without discernible care or warning and certainly provokes a face-palm worthy reaction.

[I stand and go through the motions of the fight. I can feel the grubby hands of the thugs on me. I kick and spin and slice and punch until I’m sweaty, not even caring if I bring on an asthma attack. But when I open my eyes, I’m still in the garage. The pigeons are staring at me. And I feel like a complete idiot.]

Unknown variables inevitably set things back and stagnates growth. Yet throughout the lives Alex (re)experiences, she becomes increasingly fleshed out; emotionally and mentally, as she continues to grasp at straws to understand who she was and what she’s made her life to be. In the present, she’s awkwardly quirky and judgmental to those around her, often making snap judgments and scrutinizing people for her variance in perception. This especially rings true for her outward opinions on females her age. There’s this one notable line that basically suggests that all girls are indeed shallow creatures. Is your anger rising? Irrespective to what you think, it’s a fair statement to make because her viewpoint is in a vacuum to those she’s interacted with: countable with just the fingers on your hand. But with all that is questionable with her perception on individuals or how she acts before thinking, Alex remains a strong and silent protagonist readers can still root for with a set of skills honed over time not simply out-of-thin-air abilities.

[“If you’re looking for answers, I’ve got a few. Come have a chat with me. I’ll be the old codger in the Orioles cap, eating a cannoli. (They have really good cannoli here.)”]

There isn’t much need to delve into the underdeveloped minor characters or relationships as this narrative is primarily Alex-centric. It is worthy to mention that Alex comes from a complete family, mom/dad still in-tact, two sisters (one with cancer), and grandparents that live with them. So kudos to a young adult novel with a relatively normal family. Moreover, the only minor characters worthy of mentioning include: Porter, Blue, and Jensen. Porter is a middle-aged man acting like a mentor to Alex, letting on far less than he knows about the behind-the-scenes time-travelling abilities. Blue is a boy she becomes romantically involved with on her first time-travel while Jensen is the safe and “at-home” popular boy who receives flak for being her friend. Although she becomes involved with Blue (in a past life) the present is very much different and there is no concrete one-true-pairing in this first book. And just to put it out there, although this is a young-adult novel, Alex arguably spends most of her time with Porter (he’s like…old). So maybe this book takes on contemporary “forbidden” love between older-younger relationships. I’m just saying – the possibility is there and more power to you if you favour this.

There are plot twists in this novel that are both predictable and ones that certain pique interest. Though this may be as a result of deliberate pacing, there is seamless integration and balance between the past and present as the narrative chugs along. One disconcerting thought I did have about Buehrlen’s 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare was that I felt like this book was around 50 pages too long. Though it read quite quickly, it felt longer than it had to be. The ending is more-so a nod to readers who have been enamoured by Blue, one of the apparent love-interests. There’s wishful thinking in the finality of this installment but there are very many loose ends that have yet to be resolved for this novel to be considered remotely finished.

[There are no straight lines. Alternate timelines are created every day. Every hour. A country decides to go to war. A pregnant mother loses her child. A man is late for work and causes a pileup on the freeway. What might have been is lost forever. The new timeline begins.

That is the only rigid thing about Destiny.

It changes.]

//Review ends here.

Goodness my procrastination is amazing. Now I trek onward to the next read. Tomorrow.

Cheers,
Joey

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