First, let me say I love this series by Rachel Vincent! It certainly has some of the most interesting, most flawed characters in YA fiction, and the storyline is developing well with lots of action and excitement. This entry is another good one, but there are a couple of issues that kept me from giving it the full 5 stars...nothing major, but still things that bugged me. But mostly Vincent's writing is growing and this series is going to be so hard to give up when the next (and final!) novel is out.
What I Loved: I LOVE Tod. He is the single best character, with his wit constantly shining and his utter, complete devotion to Kaylee a true heartwarming relationship. The way he tries to protect Kaylee, the way he works with her and values her, all make him probably one of my favorite YA characters ever. Also, Vincent handles their decision to go physical in an adult, responsible way that shows how deeply they care for one another. I also love that Kaylee's relationship with Nash isn't just resolved so quickly and that we can feel his pain. I love that her dad is still a dad, regardless of her dead status. And speaking of that issue, I love how Vincent is portraying Kaylee's abrupt adjustment into the land of the dead: it's a learning process, with both benefits and problems, all of which are overwhelming. Kaylee's a great character herself, but she is a conflicted one. I also like the central problem with Avari: he's found a way around the Netherworld Rules, and he's just pure evil, and right now, no one's sure how to deal with him. Great story telling amid all the fighting (both the relationship kind and the physical kind). I also like that hard decisions have to be made and there are consequences for those choices.
What Bugged Me: Surely someone, somewhere is going to notice all these deaths in a high school and in a community, most of which have some sort of tie to Kaylee. It's almost too much to believe, that the school is still open and operating with students and teachers dropping left and right. I know that shouldn't bug me, but it does. But what bugged me more was the idea that the group is so in peril that they must not go to school, must all sleep together and keep tabs on one another...but they go to the lake on an outing to celebrate Kaylee's non-birthday...in the woods...and the couples break up into pairs and disappear on their own. There is no logic whatsoever in any of it, other than to set up the fight with Avari, and it just bugged me too much that the over-protective adults make this move. It was a big "Huh?" moment in an otherwise well written, smartly plotted book.
Final Impressions: Before I Wake is another really good novel in the Soul Screamers series, and Vincent knows how to keep you on the edge. She definitely has a handle on her characters' reasons and personalities, and I'm still not able to figure out how Kaylee and Co. will defeat Avari ultimately. Definitely a great read and I'm ready for the final book!