3 stars? 2.5? 3.5? 4? 2? It's up to you. I am at a loss.
After roughly five months, I've finally finished Room. And, well, this review is going to be a...more3 stars? 2.5? 3.5? 4? 2? It's up to you. I am at a loss.
After roughly five months, I've finally finished Room. And, well, this review is going to be a mess, because I have literally never had so many mixed feelings about a novel in all my reading life. Some people call this brilliant, an incredibly moving portrayal of survival, adaptation and the mother-child bond. Others call this a saccharine, exploitative, manipulative little journey, all horrible things packaged up for the Oprah's book club audience (no offence, Oprah viewers). And I...am exactly in the middle.
I loved Ma. I love a good mother, I must admit, I'm a total sucker. Good mothers are rare to find in literature - for obvious reasons, writers prefer their mothers emotionally distant if not downright abusive, fraught with terrible back stories, cruel to their offspring, deluded and undermining. I thought Donoghue handled Ma perfectly: she'd been through absolute hell, and she really was doing her best all the way through. Ma is an intensely sympathetic character, and, thankfully, not just because of the horrors she's been through. She adores Jack (when she says to one character, "he is the world to me", you know she absolutely means it, and Donoghue totally earned the intense love that there is between Jack and Ma) and it made me almost tear up a couple of times. Theirs was a really deep relationship from her side, a great centerpiece for the novel, as Ma understandably struggles with being Jack's mother and being her own person.
I thought that Donoghue handled the first half, where Jack and Ma are trapped in Room, really, really well. I loved Ma too much to watch her be raped and beaten but, when my Goodreads friends had mentioned the obliqueness with which Donoghue handles the subject, I feared that it would be all very British, where the horrors are shuffled off-screen to allow us to continue with our cosy lives. Thankfully, it wasn't. Donoghue actually does the thing that many people who talk about writing on such icky subjects as rape/murder/abduction claim to do, which is to focus on the emotional aftermath as a substitute for the nasty details. I was also fascinated by the original and surprising way that Donoghue depicts their life in Room, where Jack thinks that nothing is real except what's in Room, they do Physical Education with their very limited furniture, and read The Runaway Bunny over and over.
Then...Jack. Okay, warning: here be a minor spoiler that is revealed at exactly 50% of the way on my Kindle. It's (view spoiler)[Jack and his mother's escape from Room (hide spoiler)]. That's where the novel kind of falters for me, even though it couldn't have either concluded in Room or with their (view spoiler)[escape (hide spoiler)]. It needed this section but I found it easily the most unconvincing, with a lot of loose ends. For example, Ma's relationship with her own father just sort of tailed off - for a writer that had put so much thought into showing Ma's thought processes and feelings even when Jack himself (who narrates) wasn't aware of them. It seemed weird that Donoghue would forget about, for instance, Ma's father, or never really explore what drove her to do what she did at the 3/4 mark ((view spoiler)[her suicide attempt, of course (hide spoiler)]), which sounds stupid, because the poor woman had been through so much, damn it, but I wanted more coherence and specificity about it. As it was, it felt more of a contrivance (!) to separate Jack and his ma.
Jack's voice also got pretty irritating in part two. I agree with some reviewers that it might've been more convincing for Jack to be 8-10 rather than five. It's a difficult balancing act and, unlike the wonderful development of Ma through Jack's eyes, Donoghue doesn't quite pull it off. The little guy confuses brought/brung continuously, among other things, and can't understand the most basic idioms (some of which I'm surprised wouldn't come up in the conversations between Jack and Ma in Room), yet comes out with poetic noble-idiot (forgive the phrase) observations on real life, such as:
I guess the time gets spread very thin like butter all over the world, the roads and houses and playgrounds and stores, so there's only a little smear of time on each place, then everyone has to hurry on to the next bit, or:
In Room we knowed what everything was called but in the world there's so much, persons don't even know the names.
It felt a lot like the Oscar-baity jokes about the noble character who is also challenged, stunted, deprived or childlike in some way but teaches the shallow and materialistic people around them the true meaning of life. Donoghue satirised the way that the media coverage called Jack an angel or a saint, but I thought she really fell into this gross and annoying archetype later in the novel. Also, people have been complimenting Donoghue on her originality and, yes, the first section especially was very, very unique (it's literally just Ma and Jack in a tiny room, and they build an entire world within it, in a way that is interesting, surprising and hopeful), but this gradually slipped away in the second part, which became much more about an unusual child adjusting to a world which seems alien to them, a far duller and less imaginative endeavour.
With that said, it comes to a pretty emotional end. My overall impression was of a book that's not perfect, with both extreme highs and eye-rolling lows. Room is an experiment, not one that always works - neither an unqualified success nor failure. I'll say this, though: I wanted Jack and his ma to be happy. I'd like a sequel where they did nothing but go to the beach, eat chocolate and live happily ever after. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
"I did not write this book to sensationalise or shock. I intended Dell's story to serve as a window into her soul - the soul of a broken human being....more"I did not write this book to sensationalise or shock. I intended Dell's story to serve as a window into her soul - the soul of a broken human being. I wanted you, precious reader, to feel the pain of the bullied, the neglected, the heartbroken and the humiliated. I wanted you to experience the absolute power of words - whether said or typed online. Words count." - Author's Note, K.M. Walton, Empty
Those few short lines summarise all my feelings about Empty, both good and bad. The pain at the centre of this novel is bleak and total: Dell's parents have split up, her father has revealed himself to be a selfish asshole who won't pay child support or give any attention to either of his daughters, they are stuck in a grim hovel while Dell's mother spends all their money on pills, Dell eats her feelings, she's cut from the softball team, she has one friend, who is on the brink of ditching her for The Popular Girls. It sounds like a lot, but it is credit to Walton's clear talent that she interlinks the cause and effect to make it an almost unbearably realistic picture.
Dell is a good heroine. She's very well-depicted, full of loneliness and despair, but a preciously optimistic person. She's not perfect, but she is highly likeable, sympathetic and realistic. I really couldn't put this book down, and it's thanks to Walton's good, fluid writing, Dell's engaging voice and the compelling awfulness of the picture she paints. Warning: it's not a book you can enjoy reading, but that doesn't mean it's not a good one.
But then comes the plot. I am going to reveal a lot of it here, but I'm keeping the ending a secret, which is why I'm not covering my review with spoiler tags. If you wanted to read Empty and you feel like you have been spoiled by my review, fear not, because this is much more of an inward than outward focused book. The plot is not all that important.
If you read a reasonable selection of contemporary YA, you will be familiar with Empty. I hate typing this because it's obvious from the Author's Note that this is a book that Walton considers very Important (and I don't mean that in a pretentious way), and I suppose it is, but I couldn't really feel any of it.
Excuse me for my coldness, though, because there was literally nothing original about the plot of Empty. Dell is date-raped by the most popular and handsome guy in school, whom she thinks she likes. (Hello, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, imagine seeing you around these parts...) Dell binge-eats and struggles with her body image and weight gain, especially against her totally unsympathetic family. (I'm getting a little bit of déjà vu from The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler...which also features rape as a significant plot point...) Her parents have divorced and her dad is behaving like a total asshole. (Try Just As Long as We're Together by Judy Blume or Mice...) Dell's best friend is on the brink of ditching her for the popular girls (try every YA book ever, but since I'm currently pulling these from my own reading history, let's go with Pretty Twisted by Gina Blaxill...and Speak again...). And that message about how much "words count" was much more darkly, intensely and meaningfully imparted by What Happened to Cass McBride?
Quite frankly, though, the book that I couldn't help thinking of as I was turning the pages would be Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers. Popular girl is very almost raped by her best friend's boyfriend and, when said "best friends" find out, they make her life a living hell in very similar ways to what the totally cardboard popular girls do: cruel comments about her on social networking sites, public humiliation and bitchy notes. Some Girls Are has a very similar bent but, frankly, it's far better. I understand that nothing is original, but in Empty, nothing is even slightly original. By being so obviously connected to other YA novels, Empty shows up its own shortcomings, and it's not a flattering comparison.
I did feel strongly connected to Walton's attack on the in-built concept in society that rape victims are always pretty and skinny. As much as anybody who's ever been to a Health class can recite to you: "rape is about power not sex, rapeisaboutpowernotsex" but it doesn't change the fact that even shows like Law & Order or Veronica Mars always suggest that rape victims are conventionally attractive. Well, that's why they get raped, right? Of course not, but it doesn't stop that portrayal of rape and rape victims becoming embedded in pop culture. Howeverrrr...I've also read that message before, in Amanda Davis's Wonder When You'll Miss Me which, like Empty, features a teenage girl who is raped by a guy she has a crush on. It's just so goddamn familiar, and that stops it from being truly meaningful.
This is only highlighted by the ending, which I predict will cause controversy. It's quite a wham, unexpected by me, but I found it manipulative and totally unearned. One of the problems with how Empty leans on such familiar YA tropes is that you can't help comparing them to others. As awful as the bullying Dell undergoes is, it's nothing in comparison to the crazily intense cyber, mental and physical torture of Regina Afton in Some Girls Are. As terrible as the rape is, her feelings about it are nowhere near as intense and tear-jerking as Melinda Sordino's in Speak. As emotionally involving as her struggles with her body are, they're not as interesting as Virginia's in The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things. Walton is definitely an author to watch, but I'd recommend this more to people who haven't read a great amount of YA literature, because it can just feel hackneyed to someone who has. As horrible as this is, I found myself thinking, "c'mon, girl, it could always be worse...what are a few bitchy comments in a private Facebook session in comparison to a hate site which the entire school joins?" (especially when you've read worse in better novels).
If this book changes the opinion or the outlook of just one person, it's worth it. But it didn't change mine.(less)
I went backwards and forwards on the rating. I originally rated it 4 stars because I don't like the "sitting on the fence" tone of a 3-star r...more3.5 stars
I went backwards and forwards on the rating. I originally rated it 4 stars because I don't like the "sitting on the fence" tone of a 3-star review. I am glad that my Goodreads friends liked this, and I'm not surprised that they did, but "What's Left of Me" is not the kind of book I would ever normally read: a dystopian thriller with a truly interesting premise, but I feel conflicted because I truly do think that Zhang is an amazing writer and the right kind of reader will love this. Because I think one of the main reasons I didn't like this book was the series nature ~ I promised myself I would stay away from series novels because I just don't like that half-finished, incomplete nature of them. Zhang was good at this, but the book still felt kind of like treading water - setting up and getting ready for the good stuff to happen in Book 2.
Zhang is a truly superb writer. I'm a twin, and the Hybrid novels have this fantastic and deeply resonant subtext with me, as Eva and Addie are like twins sharing one body. When Eva talked about the push and pull of their relationship, the wall that would come down between them and their intricate bond is beautiful. Eva and Addie are the most important person in each other's lives, and that never changes, not even as their romantic subplots develop. How amazing - a dystopian novel where two characters manage to share one brain yet keep control of it. They need it each other, they love each other and it is perfectly written. My heart ached with the beautiful description of their bond and their shared strength. This one hurt, but so beautifully.
The beauty of the writing made me wish I could nod my head to the beats of the plot a little more easily.
I am not a fussy one for world-building in YA dystopian. I was always terrible at biology/chemistry/general how-the-world-works, and I can never apply any of my physics knowledge to a fictional setting. I have no problem accepting the Game of Thrones world, with its extended seasons and bizarre logic. When reading, I am one of those, "if you write it, I will believe it" readers. Yet something felt fundamentally impossible at the heart of the Hybrid chronicles. Hybrids are separate souls in one body. They have hopes, dreams and emotions that are entirely separate from one another. Eva cannot control Addie's body at will, but the other Hybrids are able to take control of one another as they wish. As Eva notes, she and Addie can barely agree on anything, and that's when she's weak enough to remain the recessive soul in the body with no true power. So what is so horrendous about trying to get rid of one soul?
That might sound fundamentally horrible. But, seriously, my sister and I once had a total vicious physical fight because I thought she'd hidden my towel (turns out it was under my bed...oops). If we were in one body, it would be the craziest, most inconsistent and self-destructive body ever. The emotional impact must be horrendous but, to me, it seemed like a necessary evil. An evil, but an unavoidable one to maintain a stable society. But, even then, what was so wrong with hybrids? Is it a racism metaphor? After all, colour is only skin deep - but it didn't stop the repeated discrimination against them for such a long time. Perhaps, but it still felt seriously shaky and both elements undermined the impact of the general, overarching plot for me.
Also, unfortunately, the blurb on Edelweiss compares "What's Left of Me" to "Northern Lights" (yes, shut up, I'm English and it's not The Golden Compass). It is an apt comparison - perhaps a little too apt. The latter half of the novel felt very...heavily "inspired" by "Northern Lights." On its own, the Hybrid Chronicles has a great and unique plot. However, when Addie and Eva is shipped to a mysterious hospital (like the hospital for children with daemons in "Northern Lights") where children undergo invasive and brutal surgery at the hands of shadowy doctors and nurses. It's a small complaint, but it nagged at the back of my mind while reading, especially as Addie and Eva's proposed escape from the hospital reminded me a lot of Lyra's in "Northern Lights", and it spoiled my enjoyment.
The other big thing that bugged me even though it perhaps shouldn't was the Hero Syndrome that afflicted Eva throughout the last segment of the novel. It was a faucet of her personality that hadn't been explored really at all up until it became necessary for the plot but...it just felt very necessary to the plot. It was like, as soon as Addie and Eva found a way that they were going to get out of their situation, Eva had to go and dig a bigger hole for herself. Of course, YA protaganists are frequently kick-ass, deeply noble and caring in a perhaps excessive way. Yet it seemed to occur too often in "What's Left of Me", to the point where Eva's own nobility seemed to pad out the plot in a slightly idiotic manner. (less)
I was so excited for "Shift." So excited. I love psychological thrillers and horror novels, a...more1.5 stars
Easily my biggest disappointment of 2012 so far.
I was so excited for "Shift." So excited. I love psychological thrillers and horror novels, and "Shift" sounded like it had a nice combination of both. Besides, look at that amazing cover! It's beautiful and so evocative and creepy.
I read it quickly. I'll give Bailey that. But, in all fairness, I was on a five-hour flight home from Turkey.
The only thing that saved it from a one-star rating was a twist at the halfway point that I totally didn't see coming, which was amazing because it is nowhere near a new twist, and I was totally impressed at how well Bailey managed to hide it from me.
Everything else I despised.
It's made even worse by the fact that, on paper, I should love this novel. I should be giving it 5 stars and applauding its brilliance, imagination and creepy factor. All of those things are totally absent.
It's a shape-shifter novel where a kind of emotional vampirism from the teenage girl villain, Miranda, is a metaphor for an eating disorder (she literally wastes away Olive's ex-best friend, Katie), bullying (she does this mostly through psychological takeover) and teenage-girl cliques, where Miranda spends the first half of the novel moving into Katie's life, driving away all her other friends, playing on Katie, an aspiring model's, insecurity and body image issues in order to trigger severe anorexia, until Katie has an emotional breakdown and Miranda, who has blossomed from a drab nobody (literally - she seems to have no physical form) to a magnetic and charming beauty queen, finishes her off by betraying Katie and seducing her boyfriend multiple times.
That is not going under spoiler tags because a) it's about 30% of the novel and b) it's totally, blindingly obvious.
Now, I know what you guys are thinking, because I'm psychic and awesome like that.
Doesn't Katie sound like she should be the main character?
Well, I hear you. (Even if that's not what you were saying...shhh!). There are books in which having an otherwise secondary character as an observer should work well, like The Secret History. "Shift" is not at all like that, given that Olive and Katie rarely to never interact, and when they do, it's in cliches and trophes - "no-please-you-have-to-believe-me", "I-just-want-to-be-beautiful", "God, Olive, why don't you lose some weight and stop being so crazy?!" - so that it's impossible to care about what will happen to Katie. Not only that, but the writing in "Shift" is among some of the clumsiest I've ever read (yes, I'm aware that this review is clumsily-written, too). Bailey really needs a lesson in "show don't tell", because there are walls of text that simply seem to go like:
"Katie let Miranda borrow her headphones. Miranda started wearing the headphones all the time. Katie stopped hanging out with her other friends. It was just her and her boyfriend and Miranda. Miranda was starting to look blonder. She kind of looked like Katie. Katie started to look pale. Katie was losing weight and I was worried about her."
There's no deduction, no room for the reader to engage his/her brain, we're just led along by the hand and told how each thing happened. The foregone-conclusion aspect of this could have been creepy, but it wasn't because of the wooden and drab writing, and the fact that it's not just foregone, it's unbelievably obvious. Everything about Miranda is weird and evil from day one. There is also bizarre overuse of the word "lush", which seems to show up on every page.
It was as if Bailey had a checklist of things that she wanted to write in the novel and she was just putting them down on the page without really thinking about whether they would be interesting or enjoyable, because she really wanted to get to the end, damn it! At some points, it feels almost like reading an outline for a scene that Bailey wanted to write later.
Never fear if you think the novel should have been told from Katie's perspective, though. After half the novel has been wasted spent on Olive drably observing Katie's breakdown from the outside, (view spoiler)[Katie dies, (hide spoiler)] which also has a foregone-conclusion air to it.
Bailey then rinses, shakes and repeats the whole plot.
Yes, seriously. Miranda moves on from Katie and onto Olive, deciding that she will use her magic magneticism to seduce a singer that Olive loves and take her to clothes stores to show off how much better-looking Miranda is than Olive, in the hopes that this will also drive Olive into a similar suicidal and sick state.
And, for some reason, it works.
The second half of this novel is one of the weirdest and trippiest things I've ever read. There's absolutely no psychological consistency. Olive has spent 50% of the book convinced that Miranda is some kind of succubus, sucking the life out of Katie and ultimately responsible for her death. Olive even sees her yawn at Katie's memorial service (this is presented as though it is a heinous thing so it's not just like Miranda got a bit uncontrollably tired, it's obviously done with malice).
Yet when Miranda bubbles up to Olive and starts talking about Olive's favourite band, Olive doesn't tell Miranda to piss off. She plays along eagerly, a totally random and inexplicable shfit in character that does not seem remotely intentional on Bailey's part. It's like Olive hit her head and forgot all about Miranda's supposed eeeeevil, because apparently Olive trusts Miranda enough to sneak out of her house to go see a band with her and buddies up with her to such an extent that they are sharing clothes and Olive feels sorry for her when Miranda burbles about her parents' death. There's no sense that Olive is being forced or manipulated to feel the way she does - she just does. But, since Miranda is blatantly evil from her first appearance to her last, it's impossible for the reader to feel anywhere near as swept up in Miranda's "charm" as we're supposed to believe Olive is.
Plus, for a murderous succubus, Miranda's methods seem to be kind of weak. Even worse, though, was that this book didn't even seem to be trying to deliver the creepy factor. As part of Miranda's quest to take over Katie's life, she takes away Katie's one treat - a choc-ice at the cinema - and gives her a bottle of water instead. Katie is apparently so psychologically dominated by Miranda that this one wordless action is enough to make her take the water and go away. Olive is so incensed that she goes into the cinema to give Katie the choc-ice - and finds Katie's boyfriend with his arm around Miranda! *gasp* And then Miranda smiles. We're in thriller cliche area here, and Bailey can't even deliver the thrills.
How is it possible for a novel to feel formulaic of itself? I don't know, and I know how confusing that sounds, but that's how I felt with "Shift." It's 300ish pages, but when Miranda started flirting with the band member that she thought Olive loved, I was like "oh, it's Katie all over again...standard "Shift" format..." which is crazy! It's insanely predictable, too, especially when it becomes clear (to everyone except Miranda) that Olive loves the band member's "hero type" half-brother, instead of the band-member himself.
Something that made me laugh because I'm a horrible person: the "incident" is (view spoiler)[Olive's suicide attempt because she is convinced that she was responsible for her parents' divorce. (hide spoiler)] She spends a disproportionate period of time trying to hide this from the reader, which made me scoff because it seemed immediately obvious to me what was going on. The logistics of what happened really are a something amazingly awful to behold, illogical and random, bordering on unintentional humour: (view spoiler)[Olive tries to commit suicide by RUNNING INTO THE WAVES. She doesn't leave a note, doesn't try to weigh herself down, doesn't tell anyone that her intention is to commit suicide. SHE JUST RUNS INTO THE WATER. I've been in the sea quite a lot throughout my life and I'm sure you can all figure out why this doesn't work. Olive gets washed straight back up. Yet someone sees her sitting in the shallow water and somehow...assumes that it's a suicide attempt? How? Why? Just..WHAT? (hide spoiler)]
Also, the ending is horrendous, and it shows how utterly generic and unoriginal the entire novel was. (view spoiler)[MIRANDA HAS KILLED KATIE THROUGH HER EMOTIONAL MANIPULATIONS, POSSIBLY DESTROYED A TEACHER, GOT A PROMISING YOUNG MUSICIAN ADDICTED TO DRUGS/ALCOHOL AND ALMOST KILLED OLIVE. If Miranda gets away with everything and runs off into the sunset to steal someone else’s life, it’s not a bittersweet ending. It’s not okay for Olive to say, “oh, I wonder where Miranda is?” with only nostalgic curiosity when Miranda has been responsible for so much pain and hurt and could be responsible for so much more. (hide spoiler)] It’s a depressing ending, but Bailey is so tone-deaf that she appears unable to see that.
The summing up word for this book has to be disappointment. So much potential and such a great premise, totally wasted. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I almost shelved this under "disappointment." Almost. Also, I almost (almost) rated this 3.5 stars, but if I were being pernickety, I'd rate it 3.75 s...moreI almost shelved this under "disappointment." Almost. Also, I almost (almost) rated this 3.5 stars, but if I were being pernickety, I'd rate it 3.75 stars, but there really is a limit on how many pieces you can cut the Goodreads star system into before it just becomes ridiculous.
Upfront: I had ridiculously high expectations for I Hunt Killers. I've been stalking it since I added it on Goodreads (which, according to my feed, was an ancient 30th April 2011). So I couldn't shelve it under "disappointment", partly because Jazz and his dad might kill me there was no way it could ever live up to my sky-high expectations. Just know that I'm coming it from the angle of someone who was very, very pumped for this novel.
I had two major nitpicks with I Hunt Killers, and I'm going to get them out of the way right here and now so that I don't have to end the review on a downer when I am still highly recommending it.
My major nitpick lies in Jazz, the main character.
Here's what I'm not complaining about: 1) his bloodlust; 2) his 'likeability factor'; 3) what a dark and disturbing character he is.
I actually love all those things. But I didn't like Jazz. At all.
AND NOW EVERYBODY IS GIVING ME SIDE-EYE.
People who haven't read I Hunt Killers: "You don't like Jazz? Well, obviously you don't like Jazz, you dummy, he's the son of a serial killer and he's struggling with his own demons and urge to kill and he may or may not have inherited his father's psychotic nature and he has creepy insight into the minds of serial killers...you clearly were looking at this the wrong way, because how are you supposed to like a character like that?"
People who have read I Hunt Killers: "What do you mean, you don't like Jazz? B-BUT...he's funny! He's so handsome! He's so charming! He's like Dexter: The Teen Years! He can literally charm the pants off anything. See, I'm not wearing pants! Why did you think I wasn't wearing pants? BECAUSE OF JAZZ. THAT'S IT. Get off our love train. Right now. Loving Jazz is a dealbreaker. GO."
Or something like that.
Now, everybody has been comparing I Hunt Killers to Dexter. And in a lot of ways, it's a fair comparison. Like Dexter, Jazz has a charismatic, domineering father to whom he was 'apprenticed' at a young age, who attempted to mould his son in his own image. Jazz himself is ostensibly very much like Dexter, a charming, handsome, intelligent lead character. Unlike Dexter, there is some debate over whether Jazz is actually, fundamentally a socioopath, but he's at least 85% sociopath.
But what's that word I mentioned up in my review...charming. We keep hearing about how charming Jazz is. (Just like Dexter!)
In many ways, I found myself thinking that a character like Jazz would work so much better in TV or first-person narrative. But, as it is, in third person, I just couldn't believe in the apparently magical levels of charisma that boy had. In between his intelligence, supposedly magnetic good looks and dark and tragic past, I felt that we were almost slipping into Mary-Sue territory, which sounds like such an odd thing to think about such a twisted character. But - I don't know. Either Jazz had some magic beans when he was younger or everybody in Lobo's Nod is a total moron (or both!). Because Jazz can charm anything. Within two minutes of SMILING at somebody, he has them wound around his little finger. So apparently he can gain the trust of anybody in 0.2 seconds just by looking at them, even though they know that his dad was the most prolific serial killer in United States history and Jazz grew up with him for 13+ years and may have inherited/been taught some of Daddy Dearest's techniques (which have been extensively publicised). Also, a lot of these people are women - but more about that in a second.
The thing is, in TV or first-person, you can believe that people are that charming, because you see or hear it. I have no trouble believing that Michael C. Hall as Dexter could fool everybody for so long because he pulls off Dexter's Acting Face perfectly. I have no trouble believing that Book!Dexter is just as charming, because Jeff Lindsay has pulled off one hell of a writing coup and made Dexter's first-person voice just as funny and irresistible as the man himself. That's not to say that I Hunt Killers is badly written, just that's it hard to feel what so many others apparently do about Jazz when you can't share it with them.
So, alas, Jazz's charm was totally lost on me. And I'm sure that we can all see what is coming now...A FEMINIST RANT!
Crime fiction is, of all the genres, probably the one that is most dominated by misogyny. I know everybody bitches about paranormal romance, but come on, crime fiction is all "men kicking ass! women getting raped/captured/tortured/murdered/ALL OF THE ABOVE! men are serial killers! men who see women as prey! tortured male detective and his sexy sexy love interest!" (most of the time). Since I Hunt Killers raised lots of interesting questions about nature vs. nurture, fame and the behaviour of serial killers, I hoped that it might also get rid of that really irritating trope of nameless (always female) victims who get horribly tortured, murdered and then promptly disappear from the story because THE SERIAL KILLERS ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT/INTERESTING ASPECT OF THIS STORY, GODDAMN IT! And I Hunt Killers really didn't. I have no objections to violence and disturbing content in YA, but the segments from the killer's point of view just felt gratuitous. If anything, they weakened the mystery because they confirmed a lot of elements I wasn't 100% sure of and they were just unnecessary and unoriginal.(I wondered if Jazz's mother might have been involved in the murders somehow?)
But I'm not holding too much of this against Lyga because Jazz is right: most serial killers are male and most victims are female. It's just a fact (if an unfortunate one). The one thing that I feel really dragged down I Hunt Killers is Jazz's relationship with Connie. Seriously, was there a Sassy Black Woman cliché that Connie didn't use at some point? I was really happy when Lyga made it obvious that she was black, because how many interracial relationships are there in YA (especially where interracial relationships are not The Issue Of The Day)? Not many. And yet I found myself wincing at a lot of Connie's dialogue ("thy shall not touch thy black girlfriend's hair", anyone? because she has cornrows), but one detail made me cringe so hard I almost cocooned back into myself. She employs something called her "Sassy Stance." Yep, that's what she calls it. And yet for a girl who is allegedly so 'strong', she sure as hell is weak and slightly ridiculous when it comes to Jazz at times. For instance, they have this big romantic scene (or that's what Lyga wants you to think), where Jazz tells Connie that he could kill her right that minute if he wanted to because he's such a dark and dangerous beast, and her reaction is to hang around, start crying and tell him she doesn't care BECAUSE SHE LOVES HIM!!111
I don't know about you guys, but to me, there's love and then there's "yeah I'm gonna hang around in a tiny isolated space for my serial-killer-offspring boyfriend to decide that he's not a monster because he can feel The Power of Love."
It's not quite as bad as I'm making it sound, because Connie is not much of a character for most of the book and this is one isolated scene, but it doesn't really bode well for Jazz and Connie's relationship that every other scene between those guys had me grinding my teeth over one thing or another.
And yet there is so much I loved about I Hunt Killers. Top of that list, ironically, given that I was bitching about "serial killers being more interesting than their victims in crime fiction", is Billy Dent, Jazz's father. The best scene in the entire novel is, fittingly, the jail scene when Jazz and Billy finally come face-to-face after so many years. It's freaking brilliant, a scene that heightens the tension between father and son - who's bluffing who? Who's double-bluffing who? How much of this does Billy mean? How much of this does Jazz mean? Will Billy let something slip? Will Jazz let something slip? What the hell happened to Jazz's mother all those years ago? Billy really is full of the creepy charm that I felt Jazz was mostly devoid of, and their complex and extremely dark relationship, shown mostly through short flashbacks to Jazz's childhood, is deeply fascinating and well-written, honestly one of my favourites in all the YA books I've ever read.
It's also so intelligent. I can't help it: whenever I read mystery/crime fiction, I try to second-guess the author. I can't help it. There's this little switch in my head that I can't turn off, that documents all the little red herrings and possible twists. The most surprising thing happened during I Hunt Killers, though: Lyga knew what I was doing. Whenever I picked up on something and made a mental note of it, Jazz did too - immediately jumping to the conclusion that I'd already come to, and it was so refreshing and exciting.
Not only that, but I didn't see I Hunt Killers' big three twists coming. I had no idea who the killer was and I loved the revelation, so clever and chilling. The book is just so full of gory, clever details - the twist with the fingers and the names of the victims both totally blindsided me, but none more so than the revelation of what really happened to Jazz's mother. For most of the novel, I was convinced that she (view spoiler)[wasn't actually dead and would return at the end of the novel (hide spoiler)], and I possibly guessed that (view spoiler)[Billy had killed her (hide spoiler)] but I never would have guessed what happened...if that is indeed what happened. The best thing about the book and the reading experience is how willing Lyga is to push boundaries and test the reader. Yes, be warned: there is some content that some readers might find disturbing, but, if you're prepared to watch crime shows, there shouldn't be too much here that is overly horrifying, and it adds a whole new layer of freshness to the novel becaus I simply didn't know where Lyga was going next.
Amid all the gore and gloominess, though, it's funny and fluid and extremely well-paced. Howie, Jazz's best friend, is full of witticisms and circular talking which is such a nice change of pace from icy-cold Jazz, and their deep and meaningful friendship is so fascinating in the context of the novel because I constantly found myself wondering if Howie was going to be able to pull Jazz back from the brink, because Lyga pulls off this kind of dorky humour in Howie while simultaneously showing how much he and Jazz care for each other, which is a delicate and really engrossing balance to strike. In a lot of ways, though, the most well-written supporting character is G. William, the sherriff who sometimes supports, sometimes restrains and sometimes misinterprets Jazz, who caught his father at great personal cost and doesn't want to see Jazz going the same way. This is a somewhat familiar character from adult crime fiction, but I was amazed by how well Lyga pulled it off. G. William is a great character, sometimes short-sighted, sometimes dead-on, but always totally comprehensible and realistic and multi-layered. It's rare to find adult characters that layered in YA, especially in a few short appearances, but I really did love Jazz's good-cop foil.
There is so much darkness running through I Hunt Killers, but I desperately hope that a sequel sees the light of day. And I never want to meet Barry Lyga in a dark alley. No particular reason...just, you know, a girl can never be too careful. Unless I get to grill him about a Jazz sequel. Then it would totally be worth it.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)