2 out of 4 stars
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I was very excited about reading a YA novel because I've been devoted almost entirely to domestic noir thrillers lately. Unfortunately, Melissa & Kasho is not a novel I enjoyed.
The premise of the plot is promising and original: Melissa, an Australian teenager who is living in an Italian finishing school, tries to escape society's expectations and boundaries through a transdimensional love and an unexpected friendship. However, the execution left much to be desired.
Character development is extremely important, in my opinion, especially in personal narratives, such as coming of age stories. If an author doesn't manage to create realistic characters, the reader won't get involved in the story, won't root for the characters and, ultimately, won't care. The characters in this novel are flat and in black and white. They're either saints or demons. Melissa, the main character, is "oh-so-nice" and naïve she can come across as annoying and not quite believable. I can't think of a single teenager that would be able to relate to flawless Melissa, and that's a huge problem when your target audience are teens. Most male characters in the novel are self-centered and sex-driven inconveniences or menaces. Melissa's parents are so evil that they could easily be the villains in a fairy tale. Adding nuances and dimensions to the characters would enrich the novel very much.
The pacing of the plot was uneven, and it was hard to keep me interested in turning the pages. The main problem, that young Melissa feels horribly dissatisfied with what her family and society expects of her, gets solved in the last few pages without almost any previous development whatsoever. The rest of the book consists either of spiritual experiences, philosophical dissertations or episodes that end up being meaningless to the plot buildup. Some incidents that could've been exciting, which I won't mention to avoid spoilers, are left underdeveloped. The author neither builds previous tension that leads to the situation nor elaborates on the consequences or the aftermath of these events. I would've liked to see a deeper evolution of the romantic aspect of the novel. There are also poems, songs, and a play interspersed throughout the book, which could be enjoyable for some readers.
Melissa & Kasho is set in the 1950s, but even for the time, I found the dialogues to be forced and with a much more elevated vocabulary than teenagers would use. There are words and phrases in Italian and a few in French. Although most of the meanings can be inferred by the context or with a basic knowledge of Romance languages, I would've liked to have a footnote translation or maybe a glossary.
The salvageable aspect of this novel is the positive life message. I have to recognize that the author tried very hard to get the point across of the importance of kindness, authenticity, and peace between humans, and that's commendable.
The execution of this novel was especially disappointing because I think the premise is very relatable for young adults. Teen years are often about exploring what you really want and questioning society's expectations. Unfortunately, the book failed to exploit this aspect.
The book seems to be professionally edited, albeit not perfectly. Most of the mistakes are misplaced commas and don't interfere with the reading comprehension. When converted to read on the Kindle app, there are problems with the hyphenation of some words and the italicization of thoughts and poetry extracts. These mistakes don't appear in the PDF version. It's something minor and probably easy to fix, but worth noticing.
I recommend this novel for readers who enjoy philosophical dissertations about human nature, readers who like exploring spiritual concepts or who are interested in the idea of soulmates. Readers who enjoy page-turners, traditional romances or YA novels in the Rainbow Rowell or John Green style, for example, won't enjoy this book. Although they're not graphic, the book does have mentions of sexual violence, so people who are especially sensitive to this topic might want to avoid the novel.
I rate Melissa & Kasho by Camilla Chance with 2 out of 4 stars because of the positive message and original plot premise. I subtracted two stars because of the lack of character depth, uneven pacing, unbelievable dialogues, and shortcomings in the plot development.
Melissa & Kasho
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