Book Spotlight: ESSENCE by Lisa Ann O’Kane

About the Book: YA Dystopian


Publisher: Strange Chemistry

Release Date: June 3, 2014

Blurb (from Goodreads):

Autumn escaped a cult, but now she realizes she’s fallen into another.

Growing up in San Francisco’s Centrist Movement, sixteen year-old Autumn Grace has always believed emotions—adrenaline, endorphins, even happiness—drain your Essence and lead to an early death. But her younger brother’s passing and a run-in with a group of Outsiders casts her faith into question.

Ryder Stone, the sexy, rebellious leader of the Outsiders, claims Essence drain is nothing more than a Centrist scare tactic — and he can prove it.

Autumn follows Ryder to his Community of adrenaline junkies and free spirits in Yosemite National Park, and they introduce her to a life of adventure, romance, sex, drugs and freedom. But as she discovers dark secrets beneath the Community’s perfect exterior, she realizes the more she risks in search of the perfect rush, the further she has to fall.

About the Author:

Lisa Ann O’Kane is a young adult author and former vagabond who once camped out in Yosemite National Park for an entire summer, an experience that inspired her debut novel ESSENCE.

Her background is in zookeeping and environmental education, and she has been kicked, cornered, bitten and chased by nearly every animal she has ever loved. She currently resides in Florida, and she is now a huge fan of shooting stars, indoor plumbing, and keeping both her feet planted firmly on the trail.

Represented by Hannah Bowman of Liza Dawson Associates.


Twitter: @lisaannokane

My Thoughts:

This is the kind of book that will leave your palms sweaty and your heart rate elevated while reading, especially if you’re afraid of heights. That cover alone makes me want to cling to my bed post and never step down. Highlining over hundreds of feet of just air?! I can’t even imagine. Highlining, for those of you who are not familiar with the term (like me, before I started this book) is a more dangerous form of slacklining (that’s my definition of it, anyway).

Slacklining is a practice in balance that typically uses nylon or polyesterwebbing tensioned between two anchor points. Many people suggest slacklining is distinct from tightrope walking in that the line is not held rigidly taut (although it is still under some tension); it is instead dynamic, stretching and bouncing like a long and narrow trampoline. (Source: Wikipedia)



Man highlining in Yosemite National Park Source: Wikimedia Commons


Scary, right? Just thinking about it makes your heart go crazed with fear and adrenaline? Getting back to the book, that’s exactly what the new Community that Autumn finds herself in is trying to do: get their heart rate and hormone readings elevated to disprove the Essence theory started by the Centrist movement. The Centrist movement is essentially a cult lead by a man named Cedar, who insists that every person has a quantifiable amount of Essence that can be drained if people let their emotions rule them. Hence the saying: Neutrality is the key to longevity. If one stays neutral–no happiness, no sadness, no fear, no extreme emotions–then they preserve their Essence and, in theory, acquire a long life.

It doesn’t take long for Autumn to start having doubts about the Centrist’s beliefs, especially when her little brother dies too soon. So when Ryder and his gang offers her an alternative, she jumps at the opportunity to get away.

I would have liked more world-building to get a real grip on this dystopian world and how the Centrist movement started after the Great Quake, or if it has somehow replaced the government, or if it’s just a localized community (it’s in San Francisco). There were mentions of Outsiders, and I would have liked to get a glimpse of the world beyond the cults (the Centrist, and the one Autumn falls into after running away).

The descriptions of Yosemite were spectacular, and I could tell that the author really knew what she was talking about. She has also captured what it’s like to be young and reckless and making bumbling mistakes–especially for a protagonist who has grown up in a sheltered, naive way of life. I feel like this book focuses more on the main protagonist’s self-awakening, rather than the dystopian aspect of the world she lives in. It is about Autumn’s journey and how she learns from herself and from her mistakes, how she finds someone to love and trust, how she tries to find an anchor within herself.

The ending does not satisfy a complete resolution, but that’s because there was supposed to be a sequel. Now that the publisher Strange Chemistry is no longer in business, I’m sad that we won’t get more of Autumn’s journey, or find out whatever happened to the other characters in the book.


One thought on “Book Spotlight: ESSENCE by Lisa Ann O’Kane

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