When I was in college with Brittni Chenelle, I overheard her occasionally talking with another student about a project she was working on. They would discuss how much writing they had accomplished over the course of the few days and whether or not that progress had been of any worth. Little did I know, two years later I would be given the chance to review this alluded to project.
Involuted: The Tale of The Red Ribbon Tree is a novel centered around two teenagers, Eliza and Milo, who are thrust into the world of Involutia in order to fulfill a destiny they don’t quite understand. Eliza is a varsity basketball star while Milo is an artsy goth kid, creating the perfect polar opposite magnetism that will guide them through the perils of dragons, burning buildings, and desolate landscape. While Eliza encompasses the sport star beauty of high school, her confidence meter still registers at the “Does my crush actually like me?” stage. Little does she know, Milo has been silently admiring her for most of their high school years. Milo may be an avid video gamer, but his true talent lies in art. Charcoal dust from his portfolio leaves its mark on his fingers after countless hours of drawing his dreams, Eliza, and even every day objects.
An English class book report leads both teenagers to a book where they find their individual stories are being written, transporting them to the alternate universe of Involutia. Involutia itself is an abandoned, borderline sci-fi universe where Chenelle transports her characters by way of more book portals. Each time Milo or Eliza step into a story, they must master a skill that has been silently lurking within their personalities or physical abilities in order to solve the mystery of what happened to Involutia and how they will return home.
Chenelle’s approach to character development was the first aspect to impress me. As readers, we often run up against teenage protagonists who are trying to deal with adult situations as if they already know what they are doing. Eliza and Milo deviate from that archetype by remaining unsure of where they stand with each other, with their regular lives, or even how to make it through the next day. Eliza occasionally attempts to recall how her mother has supported her despite doses of tough love just to make it day to day in Involutia. Milo sheds his self-identification as a video gamer in order to don the actual sword and armor to face his fears.
The true beauty of this novel comes when the landscape changes with the character strengthening. The Red Ribbon Tree is dead; Involutia is deserted, but Eliza, Milo, and their guide Professor Quigley impose their desire for knowledge and adventure upon the landscape. A forest filled with peril thwarts their advances at every turn until the trio learns to work together. Eliza’s book portal into a world of elves reveals a close-knit atmosphere where the aesthetic beauty of the elves reverberates back into Eliza’s confidence. Instead of running from the fire and brute force of a dragon, Milo summons the ancient warrior strength of his own book portal to save Eliza, the Professor and their hopes of understanding the secrets of the Red Ribbon Tree.
The Red Ribbon Tree itself is first presented to us as a symbol of desertion and loss of hope. Gone are the Red Ribbons that once bestowed upon their holders a destiny long awaited. Yet, the aura of a time past still lingers in the dead roots. Later in the novel, the tree is shown to us in its full potential. Generations of Involutians have gazed upon the Red Ribbon Tree to find answers, but only Eliza and Milo can harness the power of those generations to bring Involutia back to life.
If pressed to pick a complaint about this novel, my one point would be the shortness of chapters. While we see each character adapt, I found myself wanting to spend more time in their respective minds. I wanted to know more about how Eliza saw herself in the eyes of the elves. My curiosity continued to spin after Milo experienced true war brothership with a league of warriors. We briefly visited areas, sometimes hoping the characters would have to go back.
From start to finish, Involuted is an insightful novel, winding its way from self-discovery to wild imagination to fulfilling victory. Even characters such as the whining, scared Professor Quigley deliver performances that leave you wondering which small details will become significant later. Brittni Chenelle uses beautiful language to make each corner of her world feel alive and obtainable. I sincerely can’t wait to see what Brittni Chenelle will deliver next.
Need more convincing? Watch the trailer for the book below!
Lauren Mack: Co-founder of The Well Written Woman is an aspiring writer, blogger, and overall enthusiast of brainstorms. She is a graduate of Flagler College with a BA in English Literature and has no intentions to teach. Lauren spends a lot of time reading novels and hoping she can one day finish her own. She often wonders how they made blue cheese so delicious. Really, she is just imposing her elitist attitude on everyone. You can follow her on Twitter.