By Miles Baker
I’ve never been to New York City, but after reading The New York Four I felt like I had been living there for five months. It’s more than just the “New York 101″ captions peppered throughout the book that explain locations and neighbourhoods. It’s the characters and the sense that none of them belong, but somehow they all do. It’s what I want New York to be like.
But, beyond what I want New york to be like, it’s what I wanted university to be like. The New York Four focuses on four first-year female students going to NYU. As someone who went to university, the book succeeds in reminding me of that time in my life — except that everyone here is way hotter and better dressed. Beyond that, the characters feel authentic, as do the experiences they go through. The Four do a lot of regular young adult stuff, like finding love, looking for an apartment, keeping their grades up, and trying to balance all of this with a dorm full of new friends.
My major quibble with this story is that we miss the climax. Kinda. We see it, but we miss the moments that lead up to it. Perhaps it’s better if those moments live in my mind, because in many ways they are inconsequential, but it might have made me feel a little better about the protagonist, Riley. Not that I dislike her — I’m quite fond of her — but I think the audience should have seen those moments, since they already saw so much of her.
One thing I’d like to see in the following books (this book ends on a soft cliffhanger with more books promised to follow) would be a focus on different members of The Four. I’ve read a lot of stories aimed at female readers where the lead female character is quiet, shy, introverted, and in love with someone they don’t really know. This book gives that in bucket loads with Riley. But the other characters each have something different they are doing that could be really interesting if explored in a full novel. Ren is enjoying relationships with men at least 15 years older than her, Lona seems obsessed with a professor, while Merissa is the opposite of the stereotypical main character. I would be really intetersted to read a book where the main character is loud and attractive. Why not, eh?
Ryan Kelly is fast becoming one of my most favourite artists. Apart from how cool everything looks, Kelly does a great job with backgrounds. Since New York is almost a character in this story, he smartly spends a lot of time realistically rendering many of the locations — only rarely will he drop a background to focus on characters. You know that when there isn’t a background that he’s doing it on purpose, he’s not just being lazy.
Brian Wood is climbing up my favourite writers list at a rate that should be illegal. With Demo, Local, DMZ, and, now, The New York Four, he’s proving himself able in writing well-rounded youth characters within very different contexts. And when he and Kelly team up you should take notice. If you don’t believe me now, believe my June pick of their final issue of Local as Book of the Month.