Rant and Rave: Voices in the Theater

A.S. Santos’ debut novel Voices in the Theater, the first book in her SPRG (Student Paranormal Research Group) trilogy, is a breath of fresh air from the hundreds of hugot-inducing, boy-meets-girl, online-fic-turned-publication books out there today. With a creatively thought out plot, a complex heroine, and for Lasallians, an oh-so-familiar setting, this book definitely has the basics down. Additionally, Santos has a few surprises up her sleeve, which she fluently transitions into the storyline to great effect.

Image courtesy of Shepherd’s Voice Publications

At first glance, the novel’s heroine Sam Davidson is your average college freshman–to those around her, the only exceptional thing about her is that she’s “not from around here,” fresh from living in the United States all her life before attending De La Salle University. But Sam has a secret, and something else that makes her special–a unique ability to hear people’s thoughts. It’s kind of like mind reading (though it’s never explicitly called as such), only the difference is she can hear the voices of both the living… and the dead.

Not your everyday org stuff

The novel starts off with a suspenseful prologue before flashing forward to Sam’s first day in the SPRG–a DLSU org that studies paranormal research. As the story progresses, Sam’s life becomes a mix of the ordinary and the supernatural as she makes new friends, juggles her academics with her family life, and hangs out with boys, all while fulfilling her duties to the SPRG with tasks like transcribing paranormal frequencies, trapping ghosts, and investigating suicides (not exactly your average, everyday org stuff).

At the same time, the voices in her head have gotten louder, angrier, and scarier. This prompts Sam to get help from her Psychology professor-slash-club adviser, and she reluctantly considers speaking to the school chaplain upon his request. What then follows for Sam is a journey of learning to pray, acknowledging when she needs help, and discovering a newfound faith, none of which she ever thought about prior to arriving in the country. However, it’s those very things that eventually save lives by the end of the book.

A familiar setting

For Lasallians, there is an added charm in the fact that the story is actually set in De La Salle University itself. Finding settings like the Little Theater, the PGP Chapel, or the LS building is like finding gems all throughout the book, helping readers–especially Lasallian readers–connect more with the story itself.

However, for a story that is purposely set in an actual and existing setting as opposed to a fictional one, there are some inconsistencies and inaccuracies in the author’s facts. An example is when she describes the William Shaw Little Theater to be “in the same old building [LS Building] where we had our first SPRG meeting. In fact, it turned out that the whole 7th floor was the Little Theater.” Unfortunately, Lasallians who know the school’s layout well may have some issues with inaccurate descriptions such as this one.

Hits and misses

With unexpected twists, a tearjerker of a back story, and a depth that takes you by surprise, this book has a good number of hits. However, it also has quite a few misses. The story is fast-paced, and each page makes you want to find out more, but the overall plot–and many of the turns–feel a bit forced. On the other hand, while some might claim that the “God, prayer, and religion” angle is a tricky one, A.S. Santos has written her novel in a way that keeps you interested regardless of what or how strong your faith is.

One of the things I personally felt the book lacked was a certainty about the people surrounding Sam, in particular, her family and friends. At times, it seems the author simply dictates the roles that the minor characters play, without showing how the characters would actually portray said roles in real situations. This resulted to these characters coming off as a collection of stereotypes. Finally, the novel is ready and willing to deal with more “mature” matters than what you might expect from a book about finding God, but like the rest of the book, that goes both ways–some issues are dealt with very well, with humility, forgiveness, and purity being exemplified. On the other hand, other developments in this paranormal romance may turn out a little awkward, questionable, or confusing for those who aren’t familiar with this kind of faith.

Overall, this book has its strengths and weaknesses. It has its charms, and while it has some minor blunders, they don’t interfere too much with the message being conveyed. While not everyone may be able to relate to its characters, in the end, it’s a story of hope, faith, and forgiveness–three things that anyone anywhere can understand and appreciate. It ends strong, with a promise of even bigger things to come in the sequel (and, I presume, the rest of the trilogy), and A.S. Santos certainly knows how to keep her audience interested for more.

Rating: 2.5/4

Belle Justiniani

By Belle Justiniani

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