Self-Published Spotlight: Alora by Tamie Dearen

I have a prejudice. I will watch cell phone videos of a person in a dirty bedroom playing a guitar with interest. I supported Radiohead when they released In Rainbows sans record label. I love the forefathers of contemporary art because they thumbed their noses at the institutionalized rules. Recently, Youtube serial dramas have filled the void in my life created when I stopped watching TV seven years ago.

But books? No. There are just too many reckless users of the English language out there and I am not going to bother wasting my time unless it has the official stamp of approval. And a professional editing job.

After reading an article about how the book industry is the last snobbish holdout against the internet-fueled creative revolution, I decided to confront my prejudice. How could I say I disapproved of self-published books if I had never read one?

Alora, by Tamie Dearen, was my first introduction. It’s a YA fantasy romance – can anyone really be all that harsh on such a story, anyways? As long as we are being all judgey here, a look in the mirror says that I am not going to tell strangers that I read this stuff. I can justify it because I am doing it to become a better person.

Here’s a play-by-play of my thought process as I read, divided into three parts [SPOILER ALERT]:

Part I, or I Am Determined to Be Open-minded

This is surprisingly good. A little clunky in some areas, but so were the first couple Harry Potter books, let’s be honest.

Part II, or I Am Glad I Am Reading This

Halfway through, I like the fast paced and well-timed jumps between multiple storylines. Clever writing has the characters doing mirrored actions of each other at the same time in different places. I like the budding (yet predictable) romance.

Alora's best friend, a self-assured and faithful sidekick who I sort of wish was the main character, has words of wisdom that speak beyond the pages of the book. When Alora has doubts about her emotionally manipulative and abusive father, Beth responds with, "I'm not saying he doesn't deserve a chance, but I'm telling you not to risk your life for it. It's not your responsibility to fix him." I honestly hope that readers apply her advice.

Part III, or Where I Stopped Being Pleased

The main character, Alora, and Loverboy are soulmates. In this fantasy story, that means they can’t do things without kissing each other all the time. No really. They will die. And because they are teenagers, they can’t do that OTHER THING which soulmates usually do… you know… that THING. So because they have to kiss each other all the time, you have to read about it. All. The. Time. The second half of the book can be divided into three categories:
- Kissing
- Adults talking about how it’s impossible for teenagers to be soulmates and frowning at all the kissing action (BUT CAN YOU BLAME THEM.)
- Characters over-narrating because we readers are too stupid to understand them or lack the ability to figure it out.

For example:
“I understand duty. I’m a Marine. I know that doesn’t mean anything to you, but a Marine is willing to fight or die for his country.”
An older reader could have inferred that last sentence, especially since the previous paragraph was talking about that.

Or when explaining that the bad guy Voldemort/Vader (his name is actually Vindrake… what’s with bad guy names starting with a V?) wants to kill Alora, mentioning this desire once or twice in this slim book is not enough. It is explicitly spelled out seven times. I believe that it doesn’t even need to be said once. And when you put this book in the context of the first in a planned series, we have a lot more road to cover with very few surprises left. This style of writing brings the maturity level of the book down to an 11-12 year-old level. It also makes the characters watered-down and one-dimensional.

The last problem I had with the book is its anglocentrism (1). Half of the story is set in Montana, and while I understand there isn’t a whole lot of diversity there (2), the other half of the story is set in a fictional land. A land where, since anything can happen, you would think there could be a good non-white character. What actually happens is that in the fictional land, people marry other people only if they have the same eye color.

Because I read this with a Kindle app, allow me a quick word search: When the word “black” is used in descriptions of people, it refers to an evil character 100% of the time. Only one nameless good character has “dark” hair. Who are the “beautiful” people? Alora is beautiful according to Loverboy. She has long, brown hair and blue-green eyes. Loverboy has “beautiful” green eyes. And a girl who nearly always gets that adjective tacked on to her has long, blond hair. Judge this book by its cover.

Alora by Tamie Dearen

A shallow, entertaining teen romance is permissible. But stories are a way to break outside of our normal way of seeing the world. For teenagers in small-town white America, one of the only ways to empathize with people who are outside of their clan of common experience is through stories. It is through stories that we allow our minds to dwell in new places, to explore, for better or for worse, questions that are discouraged from being asked. If a story doesn’t do that for me, regardless of how amazing the editing may be, I have to say that it’s not really worth my time.

1. For a definition of anglocentrism, see this excerpt from Labeling the Mentally Retarded: Clinical and Social System Perspectives on Mental Retardation by Jane R. Mercer:
2. It’s about 10% non-white. US Census Bureau demographic information on Montana from 2013:
(note: I did receive this copy for free from the author, but my review is 100% my true opinion)

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