Title: The Bell Tower of St. Barnabas
Author: Alice Keats
Cover Artist: Anne Cain
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Buy Link: Amazon.com;
Genre: romance, contemporary, fairy tale, young adult
Length: novella (132 pages)
Rating: 2.75 stars out of 5
A Guest Review by Larissa
Review Summary: A sweet, light story with a Dolly Parton like fairy god mother that had a lot of potential but failed in the execution.
At St. Barnabas Academy, there is a legend that if you stand by the bell tower and wish for true love as the midnight chimes ring in Valentine’s Day, your wish will come true. Every year, students test the legend, pinning their hopes on a romantic tale passed down through generations.
But not Caleb.
To Caleb, those stories are just part of a stupid superstition. He’s completely uninterested in romance and doesn’t want his lifelong best friend, Gabriel, depending on a myth to make his secret crush reciprocate his feelings. But the stories are a little truer than Caleb thought. When Gabriel takes his request to the bell, the result is pink, sparkly, and utterly unaware of the concept of personal space: the wishing fairy Emmeline, whose new mission in life is to fulfill Gabriel’s wish—by making Caleb fall in love with him.
The Bell Tower of St. Barnabas is one of those stories that has a lot of potential but has a few faults in its execution. It’s actually a hard review to write, because on a personal level I liked this book – despite the few faults – but objectively there were some points that didn’t hit its mark. Therefore I’m going to split this review up so as to be as fair as possible.
The plot of The Bell Tower of St. Barnabas has a fairy tale quality complete with a fairy godmother or in this case an annoying pink arrogant bitch with wings. The legend of the bell tower goes that if you wish for your true love just before the bells ring in Valentine’s Day you might just get your wish granted. Emmeline, the wishing fairy goes about granting the wishes – she can only grant the wish if the one you wish upon is your true love – in a rather unconventional and blunt way and as a result Gabriel has to work for his happy ever after.
I liked this plot. It provides with the best friends to lovers theme without instant love. The fairy tale aspect is jumbled and there even are raving fan girls. The legend of the bell tower is a central aspect of the story and it was well worked out. However, Emmeline – while providing both comic relief and a link between Caleb and Gabriel – is a little too blunt and underdeveloped. She practically blackmails Caleb into professing his love all too easily. While it works into throwing Caleb and Gabriel together in a romantic way, I thought this part of the story was not well thought out and could have used a little more work.
What bothered me also was Gabriel’s reaction. He’s been in love with Caleb for a long time, yet after Caleb’s confession he not once questions Caleb’s feelings. It was clear from the beginning that Gabriel was mooning over someone, but there was never a hint from Caleb. Gabriel understands his best friend and his need to come to term with his feelings, but there is a lack of question as to how Caleb could profess his love and then feel distinctly uncomfortable being near Gabriel.
The plot of the story is not an intricate one. This is alright. I find it refreshing to sometimes read stories without a lot of bells and whistles. Caleb and Gabriel meet with a few obstacles but basically the story sets around the friends to lovers theme (with the help of a miniature Sabrina the Witch erh… fairy).
The writing aspect of the story was what bothered me the most. Personally I have no trouble with head-hopping in stories so long as the writing is stable and clear from the beginning. The Bell Tower of St. Barnabas starts with a third person POV seen from Caleb. He’s our main narrator in this story. However, the story is interjected with random intervals of an omniscient narrator, telling the story from the outside and giving the reader the perspective of sometimes Gabriel or other characters. This gives the story even more of a fairy tale aspect, if not for the bad execution. Suddenly, halfway into the story the perspective changes at random. It gives the writing a sloppy air and frustrated the heck out of me.
Apart from the random omniscient interjection the writing is not all bad. It suffers from some spelling mistakes and some grammar mistakes and over descriptive writing that made me suspect that the author may not be a native English speaker. Not that is a problem (seeing as I am not a native speaker either), but the linguist in me did wonder.
Caleb and Gabriel are both intriguing characters, but Caleb is the one the reader learns the most about as the story is told mostly from his point of view. Both characters know each other very well and don’t fall for the obvious big misunderstandings.
It’s interesting to read how both Caleb and Gabriel present themselves to the outside world. Caleb is seen as the troublemaker, but he’s also a protector. He’s loud and has an opinion. Yet at the same time he’s also very insecure, hence the brash behavior.
Gabriel on the other hand is the school’s golden boy. He’s seen as perfect by the entire school. Yet, at the same time it’s a front to hide how nervous people really make him.
My main problem with Caleb and Gabriel as characters was how mature they acted. They act more as grownups than they do high school boys. For example, Caleb is a troublemaker, yet not once do we see him pulling a prank or get into one of his infamous fights. The most we see is him sleeping in past 10 on a Saturday.
There isn’t a big cast of characters. The story focusses for the most part on Gabriel, Caleb and Emmeline’s involvement. We see some of their friends, mainly Elliot and Jinx, but not enough to give them a real place in the story other than the lunch mates and friends.
As I said, this story is a little underdeveloped, but was nevertheless a sweet read. It’s one of this stories you will just enjoy or you won’t. I do look forward to seeing more worked out stories by this new author.