The year is 1978, and Kimi and Achak are two teens immersed not only in sibling rivalry, but struggles over their Native American heritage. Their bond broke the day Kimi fell from a tree and claimed it saved her. The difference between these teens and others isn't their shared rivalry; it's the fact that they are actually three-hundred-year reincarnated souls with supernatural powers who know how to travel through time. They have different purposes in mind for using their powers... and that's just the beginning of a story steeped in diverse elements ranging from Native American folklore to threatened twins and supernatural forces.
Totem will attract not just young adult readers, but adults who will find satisfyingly involving its complex twists of plot and time-travel events. Another plus: this is no formula plot, but elegantly synthesizes fantasy, mystery, Native American cultural insight and teen angst to create a multi-faceted story that doesn't handily fit into any single genre.
It's shades of Tony Hillerman's Native American mysteries but with the time-travel piece; it's parts of the best teen stories of sibling rivalry set against the backdrop of an epic quest; and it's steeped in local Massachusetts small-town culture.
Most of all, Totem is about spiritual connections to an evolving new world and the choices that confront four teens as they decide what kind of world they will influence and, ultimately, create. It's an epic story on a far grander scale than the usual coming-of-age saga, blending portions of this feel with the wider ambitious quest of a girl charged with finding the Totem that will heal all - including herself. And this first book in the trilogy focuses on a single day in this quest and battle, so be prepared for more.
Kimi's connections to the divine are anything but straightforward: "She prayed to The Great Spirit. She waited. Minutes passed. No voice. No vision. Nothing. She raised her head and opened her eye. She was on her own. No. That was not true. She felt as though she was on her own, but she knew that feelings most often were deceiving. This was simply the way it was between her and The Great Spirit. It was as elemental to her life as air was to breathing...No matter how long they were, or what form they took, Kimi's petitions had never once been answered with any sign or vision or voice. Still, she continued seeking The Great Spirit's guidance, always knowing that her petitions did not go unheard, always believing that The Great Spirit was there, guiding and sustaining her. She had no other choice but to be sure of that much. "
Adding a parallel line of scars and conflict in the form of teens Abby and Josh who struggle with both their relationship and family tragedy lends depth to a story line that successfully juxtaposes the concerns of supernaturally-influenced twins with those of a couple on the verge of breaking up (and breaking down). They, too, are unexpectedly given the keys to stopping an ancient evil force in their world, and so they find themselves on a far greater mission than healing their broken families and relationship.
Four teens, a host of scars carried forward through time, and forces of evil and good that all circle around the Totem, which creates a maelstrom of confusion and possibility in their lives...there's a lot of potential for confusion under a lesser hand, but C. Michael Lorion pulls it all together.
With rich events, a host of supporting characters, and plenty of drama, Totem succeeds in entertaining and engrossing mature teen (because of its moments of violence that range from disfigurement to suicide) through adult readers, and creates a lively adventure story with many vibrant moments: "Kimi ran. More accurately, she moved as fast as nature would allow her to with a boy slung over her shoulder, a broken wrist in a splint, and a bad ankle that was getting worse now that Kimi had to run for her life. She limped and stumbled and scampered, the branches parted for her, and she was grateful to The Great Spirit for that. Since that time when the tree had saved her life, Kimi had, in times of danger, whether from animal or man, been in similar situations when the forest acted as her friend. Her protector. When the forest acted as if...as if it were alive. And it did not matter which forest it was. Whenever Kimi's life had been threatened and she was close to a forest - it had never happened with a single tree - the forest acted on her behalf."
Readers who enjoy trilogies packed with strong characterization and vivid events with more than a touch of supernatural influence will find Totem a powerfully compelling pick.
Totem Book 1: Scars is a supernatural horror story written by C. Michael Lorion. The story is set during a wintry February in 1978 in Old Wachusett, a rural New England town. Josh blasts music in his room as he gets ready for an awkward day with his ex-girlfriend, Abby. He's promised to drive her to Albany to visit her mother's grave. First, he must face the family: a stop in his brother Julian's room lined with books and filled with memories, and then downstairs where an increasingly hostile and irascible mathematician father waits. Abby rushes out into the cold after giving her father one last chance to honor his promise to take her to visit her mother for her 16th birthday. Meanwhile, a late winter storm looms and will shortly blanket the town in snow, making all travel impossible.
I was pleasantly surprised when I settled down and began reading C. Michael Lorion's supernatural horror story, Totem. Lorion masterfully presents the stories of his characters and quickly has the reader involved and invested in Old Wachusett, a town whose ancient roots seem to be gathering for an assault on its modern-day inhabitants. His characters are flawed and human and their stories are the tapestry in which his tale of ancient horror is woven. There's a tantalizing mythological thread that begins with the first page and runs throughout the tale, lending an otherworldly air to this small town and its inhabitants. Totem is beautifully written and a joy to read.