ARC Review – ‘Oasis’ by Katya de Becerra

Title: Oasis
Author: Katya de Becerra
Genre: YA thriller
Word/Page Count: 320 pages (paperback)
Publication Details: by Pan Macmillan AU on January 7th, 2020
RRP: $26.99 AUD (paperback)

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Blurb from Goodreads:

The oasis saved them. But who will save them from the oasis?

Alif had exciting summer plans: working on her father’s archaeological dig site in the desert with four close friends . . . and a very cute research assistant. Then the sandstorm hit.

With their camp wiped away, Alif and the others find themselves lost on the sands, seemingly doomed . . . until they find the oasis. It has everything they need: food, water, shade—and mysterious ruins that hide a deadly secret. As reality begins to shift around them, they question what’s real and what’s a mirage.

The answers turn Alif and her friends against one another, and they begin to wonder if they’ve truly been saved. And while it was easy to walk into the oasis, it may be impossible to leave . . .

Katya de Becerra’s new supernatural thriller hides a mystery in plain sight, and will keep you guessing right up to its terrifying conclusion.

I adored Katya de Becerra’s debut What The Woods Keep so I was thrilled to hear she had a second YA novel coming out. Although this is nothing like the plot of her first novel, what I’ve come to see as her signature style is an outrageously unique and imaginative genre-bending premise featuring a smart, level-headed female protagonist who has at least one close friendship depicted as well as a minor hint of romance set against a creepy mind-blowing background.

Oasis is told from the first-person perspective of Alif, a young woman of mixed heritage with an American father and Jordanian mother, who grew up in Melbourne after her parents met in Sydney while studying. I love the casual diversity and acknowledgment of the melting pot of cultures in Australian society, and the story of Alif’s background makes me smile because my mother is Samoan and my father is Fiji-Indian, and they met in Tasmania after winning scholarships to study in Australia! One of this author’s strengths is fantastic characterization as Alif feels like a real person in just the first several pages with her wry commentary on being a ‘foreigner’ in Australia and her reflections on the dynamics within the friendship group.

When the story begins, Alif is heading to her father’s archaeological dig east of Dubai accompanied by her four best friends. I found it easy to tell each of these characters apart as they were given clear individual personalities and different dynamics with each other, which is impressive given the size of the group. It would’ve been easy to simplify matters by perfunctorily establishing the five being friends on an equal playing field, but the author puts in the effort to draw a complex web of relationships between the teenagers.

However we don’t get to know the other four as well as Alif since they aren’t given their own POV chapters and we only see them through her eyes. Normally I prefer a single narrator, but this is the rare instance where I think having at least one other narrator would’ve enhanced the story. On one hand, I suppose this way the reader feels as isolated as Alif since we can’t be certain of anyone else’s motives, but on the other, it could’ve provided us with more clarity about the other characters and upped the spook factor to see through their eyes as well.

Once the chess pieces have been set up on the board, a sandstorm wipes out the camp and Alif, her friends and a research assistant she has a crush on wind up stranded in the middle of nowhere. Things look dire until they encounter the oasis, seemingly their salvation…or rather, as you’d know from the blurb, the start of their downfall!

A quarter into Oasis, the plot takes off at a break-neck speed with one odd occurrence after another taking place, leaving the reader unsettled and questioning the nature of reality in the oasis. Our once-solid group of friends starts to unravel as paranoia and self-interest chip away at their bonds to each other, elevating the tension of this heart-pounding page-turner. It doesn’t follow any of the usual tropes and zigs when I expected it to zag, remaining unpredictable all the way through to its enigmatic open ending.

If you’re not a fan of ambiguous endings, this may not satisfy your need for closure. Personally I would’ve liked an idea of how things continued after the last page, but it still felt like a natural conclusion that made sense in retrospect.

The writing style is smoothly flowing and effortless; similar to the author’s debut, it’s also studded with fascinating trivia and esoteric scientific references. These were incorporated organically without ever feeling like a lecture, and I really liked how much research was done to be able to drop these tidbits of information in such a convincing easy-to-read manner.

This is another thoroughly enthralling and immersive story with a fast-paced addictive plot from Katya de Becerra, and I am so eager to see what mind-bending madness she concocts for us next!

Personal Rating: 4 out of 5 kitties recommend this book.

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Disclaimer: Digital copy provided by publisher free for an unbiased review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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