The Rise of Renegade X is, without a doubt, one of my feel-good books. If I'm feeling down, I'll reread it and it just puts a smile on my face. The Trials of Renegade X, however, was a bit angsty - BUT most definitely in a "hurts so good" kind of way.
Campbell has a gift: she wrote one of the most awesome YA protagonists to have appeared in print. There are plenty of sarcastic main characters, always with a quip at the ready, but Damien never, ever!, fails to be hilarious! So while other characters like this eventually just devolve into annoying static caricatures, Campbell lets us see the consequences to everything Damien says or does and - surprise, surprise - they're seldom positive. But what I love most about it is that Damien learns from his mistakes and evolves as a character.
There are some pretty big issues tackled in this book, as in the previous one in the series, on the nature of good and evil, and while they're masterfully dealt with I would be ruining the plot to expound on that particular part of the plot.
One thing I absolutely love about these books: family. In YA, parents are almost always absent (tragically dead, or in need of rescuing, or just conveniently gone with no explanation). That is weird, family is important throughout your whole life and it's always a missed opportunity to not include it in YA books - a genre aimed at a public who are most likely to identify with the struggles portrayed in this book.
Damien was kicked out by his mother, who raised him by herself for 16 years, because he turned out not to be the son she expected him to be. The whole situation is complicated, she may have kicked him out but that doesn't mean either one of them stopped loving and caring for the other.
Then there's Gordon, Damien's father, who Damien has trouble trusting - this guy only found out about his son 6 months ago, what's keeping him from washing his hands clean of the whole thing and sending Damien on his way? It's complicated, and real, and awesome.
Campbell's ability to write family dynamics - not just parents, but sibling relationships as well - is amazing. I wish we'd get more of that in YA.
But don't think this book is some kind of downer, which I suppose my review is making it out to be, it's extremely funny! Campbell's dialogues - you read them and they just spark, they feel real, they are fresh and witty! I absolutely love them! Sometimes there are books that just attempt to sidetrack the reader with a lot of flowery descriptions to try and make up for the fact that the dialogue is sub-par, I prefer it when things are straight forward with no flourishes but the dialogue just zings - that's enough for me. Campbell, however, is talented enough to balance description with dialogue, a rarity among writers.
I just saw that there will be a 3rd Renegade X book and, quite honestly, I cannot wait, because I know Chelsea Campbell will not disappoint!