Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

Welcome To The Slipstream, by Natalka Burian | extreme mixed feelings toward this unique contemporary

32164715Bright lights, big trouble.

Fans of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak and Judy Gregerson’s Bad Girls Club will relate to this story about a girl traumatized by her brilliant mother’s serious mental illness.

Like a grown-up Eloise from the picture book, the main character, Van, lives in an upscale casino in glitzy Las Vegas, giving readers entree into a crazy world that few ever get to see. Based on real life events witnessed by the author, a harrowing look at the dangers of self-help cults that promise insight and instead deliver destruction.

With her mother, a brilliant businesswoman with fragile mental health, Van arrives in Las Vegas at the Silver Saddle casino, where Alex, a college student, is assigned to “babysit” her. Van is used to having to land on her feet, because her mother and her surrogate grandmother move from city to city all the time like corporate gypsies, but Alex introduces Van, a talented musician, to a group where her guitar skills may shine. But just as she’s about to play her first gig, her mother is lured in by a con man promising a “vision quest” in Arizona, and Van must go on the road to find and save her mom.

3 stars

Judging by its long synopsis, Welcome To The Slipstream sounds really random, messy, and sometimes unintentionally funny (all of them combined at certain points), which it is, but not on the incredibly large scale you want it to be on. The novel is actually quite short, at only 272 pages, and despite its promise of snazzy hotels, big cities, punk-rock vibes, and weird-ass cults, it still manages to cram everything in very tidily, exploring each aspect but always coming short somehow. I was actually enjoying the first half of the book and if I had continued to enjoy it all the way, it would have been at least a 3.5 star book. However, the second half had to come along and take away all my hopes of enjoying a contemporary fully for once. I am once again in a state of conflict. *deep sigh*

The story takes place in two areas: the fancy Silver Saddle hotel and casino in Las Vegas and the Arizona desert. The entire first half is set in Vegas, before Van goes to find her mother, and I definitely liked the descriptions and the vibe of the hotel/casino and its everyday routine. I do which that setting was more explored on a larger scale, and I could say the same for most of the aspects of this book. I definitely thought the same for the musical, punk-rock feel of the book, while it was there I did like it, but I wanted to feel more of that vibe. This book clearly contains a lot of random and unique elements that set it apart from most contemporaries, and if only those elements had been told in a bigger and bolder manner on a larger scale, Welcome To The Slipstream would have been a lot more memorable. The prose is very straight-forward and easy to understand, but I do wish the same kind of narration was kept constant throughout. The second half was entirely set in Arizona, where Van finally meets the creepy cult her mother had become entangled in, and it’s really, really boring. I was just gaining some interest for this mystery ‘vision quest’ by that time, but Van’s narration through the desert was so draggy and uninteresting, I honestly skimmed through most of it.

The characters were surprisingly more interesting and layered than I had initially expected them to be. Van herself is a quite relatable heroine that has gone through her fair share of pain, guilt, and emotional conflict concerning her mother’s behavior and their frequent moves. I loved Ida, she was such a force of nature with her vibrant personality and hilarious one-liners. I did feel as though Alex was a tad one-dimensional, and that Joanna, Carol, Marcos were only added to stir up unnecessary drama, but I appreciated their much-needed diversion from Van, Ida, and Sofia.

I am disappointed in lack of directness involved with Sofia’s mental stability, because it’s clear that she has trouble with mental illness, and in this case it happens to be bipolar disorder. I thought we would at least hear the words ‘bipolar’ or ‘mental illness’ in the story, but it was never went over or even directly insinuated. There is plenty amount of depth to match the funnier sides of this novel, but I was expecting something more concrete, considering they had plenty to work with.

There is a romance involved that does a perfect job of not overtaking the story, but I do feel as though it was added in unnecessarily. Alex seems to be interested in Van almost immediately, and while their relationship is slow burn, there wasn’t enough information to truly make their mutual attraction pop out. I did like how Van was still at center stage and that her insecurities and doubts affected her motivation to further her relationship with Alex, but I still think the book would have been better if the romance was reduced a tad.

Welcome To The Slipstream was a fairly engaging novel, but it could have been something much more than ‘average’ if it utilized its unique themes, and crafted itself to be bigger and bolder. I would recommend if you’re looking for something short, weird, and different from typical YA contemporary.

-Haven