October 28, 2010

The Tension of Opposites: Review

It happened two years ago, but Tessa's been living a shadow of a life ever since. Her best friend — kidnapped. No dead body found, no clues, nothing. And Tessa's withdrawn from everyone else, her photography being one of the only things she still enjoys. Until Max comes into her life. He's also into photography, he keeps trying to strike up a conversation, and Tessa finds herself drawn to him.

And then...Noelle comes back. It turns out she's been alive this whole time. Tessa reaches out to her, wanting to bridge the gap between them that the last two years have created. But Noelle's changed — she looks different and she doesn't want to talk about what happened. And in doing her utmost to bring back the friendship she treasures, Tessa may put in jeopardy the new relationship growing between her and Max...

The Tension of Opposites by Kristina McBride


I sympathized with Tessa in the beginning, as she's very defensive, shutting everybody out and not allowing herself to be truly happy now that Noelle is gone. When Noelle returns as "Elle," though, Tessa starts trying to protect her from everything and doing just about anything she can to try to regain Elle's friendship. This kind of turns into a drop-everything-to-help-Elle obsession that is unhealthy, and I started to get very irritated with Tessa's character. I didn't blame Max at all for finally putting his foot down when she kept blowing him off to "support" Elle. In the end, Tessa realizes on some level that she's been ignoring her needs (and Max) for Elle, but I don't know if she ever figured out that her "help" sometimes hindered Elle's progression. Even at the end I don't think she's totally clued in.

Elle intrigued me when she first appeared, because she's been through so much that she refuses to discuss, instead lashing out in bitterness. But when she started trying to split up the "perfect couple" of the school for no good reason, her behaviour started to frustrate me. I totally did not understand why she felt the need to "steal" the guy away from the head cheerleader, it seemed really spiteful on her end. Then we are told she actually falls in love with the guy, but I never actually saw much of evidence of this (except for some slightly stalker-ish behaviour). Of course, she had been through things no one should ever have to go through (spoiler, highlight to read: she was drugged and raped among other things), so at least her reactions are somewhat excusable. I got the impression, though, that she was a "drama queen" before she ever got kidnapped, and even towards the end of the book she still seems so self-focused.

I was surprised that Elle didn't show more classic signs of PTSD — she is reluctant to discuss her experiences, and there's the whole "acting out" thing she does, but I would have expected more obvious symptoms. Perhaps it's because we see her through Tessa's eyes that we don't get this so much. I found that the two journal entries of Elle's we get to see worked well to get the reader into her head, because Tessa really has no idea what Elle is thinking and her attempts to imagine it didn't really work for me.

Max was definitely my favorite character here. I admired that he didn't give up on Tessa when she brushed him off at first, and he was really sweet while at the same time challenging her about certain things. I think Max helped Tessa open up a lot, and it was great to see that happen. Also, I appreciated that Max didn't put up with how Tessa put their relationship and her own life on hold whenever she thought Elle needed her help (which was VERY often). He always had the most sensible viewpoint, but he did seem a little too good to be true at some points...it kind of felt like he was being used for the "voice of reason" in the book, if that makes sense.

The side characters Jessie (the cheerleader) and her boyfriend Chip didn't get fleshed out, and I never really understood their motives. Jessie seemed rather gullible — she totally believes her on-again off-again boyfriend even after he leaves her for Elle at one point —but I felt like there was all this unreasonable hatred coming from Tessa and Elle directed at Jessie. I couldn't figure out if it was because she was a cheerleader, because she was a member of the "it" couple, or because she was supposed to be totally b*tchy (or all three). But honestly I usually felt sorry for her more than anything else, and we get told that she's really mean more than we ever get shown it.


All right, the inside flap calls this "a haunting psychological thriller"...that is rather misleading. It's not a thriller so much as the aftermath of a thriller. The plot isn't really gripping, as the book is more about the characters and their interpersonal relationships than an action-packed storyline. If you're looking for that, you won't get it here. As I'm thinking back on it, I can't really picture the plot sequence or pick out any scenes that really stuck in my head...it all kind of blends together.

Overall I wish it had focused more on the reaction of Elle to her traumatic experiences, and the problems this caused in rekindling her friendship with Tessa (which I thought still happened too easily), rather than on Elle's annoying "drama queen" behaviour with Chip and Jessie. Really I feel like more could have been done looking at the psychological damage that sort of event could have, both on the individual, and the friends and family around her.

Writing style:

Despite all my complaints about the characters, the book was actually quite readable and didn't take me very long at all. The pacing is quite slow, and I thought some scenes were dragged out longer than necessary, but I never really felt I was struggling to make it to the end.

Final verdict: 3 shooting stars. It's an interesting and dark topic, and the relationship development between Max and Tessa is cute, but the characters and their choices will likely start to frustrate even a forgiving reader after a little while.

Note: This one's really for the older YA reader, as there is some mature content (both sexual and violent).


  1. i really like how thoughtful this review is. i read this one recently too and gave it three stars on goodreads. i was a little disappointed considering i had seen a lot of 5 star reviews. i guess i was expecting something a little more deeper or something - still it's prob a great read for teens.

  2. I also gave this novel three stars and agree completely with your review. And this might sound petty, but the overuse of the word "lips" bugged me! I have never read a book that described lips so much. It got on my nerves.


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