Initial reaction: I liked this book far more than I thought I was going to, but it had a few issues that kept it from being more. Loved the attention to characterization and action/development of the story.
Color me pleasantly surprised with reading J.M. Miller's "Sever". This is one of the few NA books I've read this year that I've picked up and compulsively read all the way until the end because the characterization stood out to me and the plot and writing flowed very well, for the most part. The story revolves around Syn (Annisyn), a young woman tasked with a job that involves her breaking into a house for one final job with a lot on the line. But she ends up breaking into the house of Damian - childhood friend and former lover - in a set of harrowing set of circumstances and coincidences.
I'll admit that this book grabbed me in the beginning with Syn's circumstances and strongly asserted voice. The book trades between the present and the past with smooth transitions that never feel too out of place or context with the rolling action of the book and development of the characters. I'll admit what kept me reading was watching how Damian and Syn ended up in the predicament they did, and much of it had to do with Damian's very problematic older brother. I really liked Damian and found it interesting that he starts off as an overweight kid who ends up being protected by Syn (a girl who plays football and can hold her own in a fight). Though Syn has a bit of tragic circumstances in her past (mother's boyfriend was abusive, mom was accused of murder but cleared of charges because of self-defense), at least the book makes her circumstances palpable and realistic - she never feels too over the top with her emotions or reactions in the scheme of what happens through this book. Same thing with Damian, though I felt like there were certain things about his background that weren't entirely explored (and part of that might've been because he wasn't the focal character of the book - but I understood enough to know him and identify with his character).
My problem with the book came from the purported villain in this book - Damian's older brother Seth. At best he was a cartoonish villain with some palpable motivations, but largely still unexplored and quickly thrown in for the sake of the conflict. At worst - he reinforces many problematic stereotypes and storylines I've personally found in New Adult fiction (i.e. the rapish/sexually assaulting bully villain that the hero has to fight in order to save the heroine). While the events of the ending did surprise me, I still felt like there was something rushed in the events concluding "Sever" compared to the strong establishment and beginning of the book. It broke some stereotypes in places, but managed to regress to other stereotypes as the book went on and ultimately concluded.
Miller has a strong command of showing rolling dialogue and attention to body language and emotion in the narrative, which was part of the reason I enjoyed this novel as much as I did. No doubt I'd love to read more from her in the future, even if there were points that I didn't like in this book as much I'd have hoped.
Overall score: 3.5/5 stars
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher.