Ever since she watched her stepfather die on their kitchen floor, Zara has been an empty, heartbroken shell of her former self - a problem only exacerbated when her mother exiles her to the unforgiving tundra of Bedford, Maine to live with her grandma Betty. As if the pain of mourning isn't enough for the troubled teen, Zara is also beginning to wonder if she's hallucinating - imagining the pale, mysterious man who seems to be haunting her footsteps. In the face of a potential stalker or a nervous breakdown, high school drama seems anticlimactic, but Zara has already made some enemies at her new school: the cold, blond it-girl Megan and her clones, and it doesn't help that two of the school's most eligible bachelors seem to be vying for the new girl's attention. Nick and Ian couldn't be more opposite; Nick is warm and fierce, Ian cool and haughty. These petty dramas are unceremoniously pushed aside, however, when Zara realizes that her only friends in Maine, Devyn and Issie, can see the man following her too - and Devyn develops some inhuman theories that Zara simply refuses to believe. But as the evidence becomes more bizarre and inexplicable, and both Nick and Ian become increasingly territorial, Zara must come to terms with the realization that she isn't the only one with secrets in this small, frigid town.
Need by Carrie Jones possesses an intriguing premise, but is lacking in its execution. There are a few pleasing moments in the first two-thirds of the book, but it doesn't become truly engaging until the last 100 pages. Curiosity and hope for something more kept me reading for most of the novel, rather than an investment in the characters or plot development. The novel does possess a few quirks that are entertaining and unusual. Zara has a great deal of potential as a character; her pain over the loss of her stepfather is a dark cloud lurking over the entire novel, setting the tone and shaping Zara's character. Readers will empathize with her heartbreakingly realistic pain.
Zara is also a bit of a flower child, wearing peace signs and quoting John Lennon (she even names her car Yoko), a fun and unique aspect of her character. She obsessed with naming phobias -- philophobia (fear of falling in love), merinthophobia (fear of being bound up or tied) -- and her somewhat OCD recitations help set the fearful tone of the novel. Jones endows Zara with a distinct voice, crucial in shaping any heroine; Zara comes to life from the very first page through her individual style of narration. However, the young heroine is frequently frustrating, acting stereotypically insecure and naive, and behaving recklessly. Yet, her reaction to the supernatural revelations is quite realistic, as opposed to many other paranormal heroines who take it all in stride, never blinking as the rational world they knew crumbles around them.
Unfortunately, the rest of the characters feel flat, and many of them flit in and out of the narrative so quickly that they are easy to forget. Jones sets up a promising group of protagonists alongside Zara -- Devyn, Issie and Nick -- but they seem more like plot devices than truly rounded characters. Even Nick is hard to see as more than just a pretty face, as well as being rather cliche: dangerous, distant and potentially paranormal, coming along to sweep the heroine off her feet. Zara wouldn't need rescuing if she would exert herself, but she seems content to sit back and let Nick take the reigns in spite of her many asides about not being a damsel-in-distress. Issie is a refreshing sight; finally, a true female friend for the paranormal heroine, and the only thing to wish is that readers be shown more of her interactions with Zara.
The paranormal aspect of the novel is intriguing. The supernatural creatures are sick, sadistic and twisted -- potentially frightening and definitely mysterious. Yet, the novel fails to build the suspense and construct the lore in a cogent way. At times, the development of the cryptic plot was hard to follow and explanations were given in a jumbled order. Fortunately, the novel ends better than it begins. When the creatures haunting Zara come out of the woodwork, the horror the entire novel has been trying to create finally crystallizes. Jones creatively reveals the paranormal world to the dubious Zara in the dramatic and action-packed conclusion, and the backstory that the beginning of the novel was missing is finally explained.