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Author: Lisa Ann O'Kane
Publication Date: June 3, 2014
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Synopsis: Autumn escaped a cult, but now she realizes she's fallen into another.
Growing up in San Francisco’s Centrist Movement, sixteen year-old Autumn Grace has always believed emotions—adrenaline, endorphins, even happiness—drain your Essence and lead to an early death. But her younger brother’s passing and a run-in with a group of Outsiders casts her faith into question.
Ryder Stone, the sexy, rebellious leader of the Outsiders, claims Essence drain is nothing more than a Centrist scare tactic -- and he can prove it.
Autumn follows Ryder to his Community of adrenaline junkies and free spirits in Yosemite National Park, and they introduce her to a life of adventure, romance, sex, drugs and freedom. But as she discovers dark secrets beneath the Community’s perfect exterior, she realizes the more she risks in search of the perfect rush, the further she has to fall.
Review: When I went into this book, I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. Cults, some romance, and a lot of adventure, sure. But what I got was SO much more than that. I wasn't prepared for the roller coaster that was this book, and I'm still trying to recover from it. I loved every second of Essence, and as soon as I finished it I wanted to start reading it all over again. And I still probably will.
Essence takes place in the not-so-distant future, after a series of earthquakes have destroyed quite a bit. The people have had to rebuild, and in doing so have taken up new religious beliefs. The Centrist Movement is really interesting, and not so far-fetched that I can't imagine people actually joining such a cult. We're given just enough information to understand the basics of the Centrists and a little bit of their inner workings, but since Autumn spends most of the book as an Outsider, it's enough to know why she would want to escape and why there are people who are protesting them.
Most of the excitement comes in once Autumn gets to the Community - they are adrenaline junkies, after all. I really enjoyed seeing both extremes of the spectrum; the Centrists who believe that anything but neutrality will kill you faster, and the Community members who believe that an abundance of emotions and feelings will help you lead a longer life. There's really no happy medium. One of my favorite parts of the Community was that it was located in Yosemite National Park, which lends itself to all sorts of ridiculous adventures. More than that though, Lisa Ann beautifully describes all of the places that Autumn and her friends go to throughout the park, and I felt like I was actually there.
Then there's a love triangle. It's a very lopsided triangle and it's obvious who Autumn will eventually pick, but I really enjoyed watching her struggle with her choice. There's the boy who is safe and reminds her of home, and then there's the boy that everyone warns her about who is always looking for the next thrill, the next activity that will lead to a spike in his adrenaline and heart rate. Watching the relationship change both Autumn and the boys was really fascinating, and I felt like it was very real. They get into fights and disagree over a lot of things, but they make up and are better people for it. There's quite a bit of growth all around, and all of the characters push each other in so many different ways. I was so impressed with how well rounded so many of the more minor characters were! I felt like I knew them all personally.
I could go on and on and on about this book for a while, but I think it's one of those books that you just read for yourself. I think it would be good for fans of YA distopias, especially if you're looking for something more realistic. There are cults, but this book is so much more than that. I couldn't put it down, and I really hope that there is a sequel (I've heard it's now most likely going to be a standalone, and it works as one, but I want more of Autumn and Ryder and their friends!). I am definitely looking forward to reading more of Lisa Ann's books and I hope there are many of them! Definitely a 5/5. Go read Essence ASAP!