Different. And there it was.
All her life Barrie had been on the receiving end of different.
Even once she’d learned to disguise the Watson gift, she’d still been the daughter of a woman who stood at the window and glared at people on the street from behind a curtain. The goddaughter of the drag-queen who went to parent-teacher conferences dressed in vintage suits and designer shoes.
This book is 448 pages long, and this is what happens in it:
A girl moves to South Carolina after her mother's death. She finds out that there may be a family curse, and some family members may hate her for it. There is a mystery involving her mother. She falls into a Romeo & Juliet style of love with a boy. The end.
This book is 448 pages long.
It is simultaneously dull while being excruciatingly ludicrous. This book makes the characters of a soap opera like Passions seem reasonable in comparison, and mind you, Passions is a show with a dwarf, a witch, evil twins, amnesia, and a trip to The Wizard of Oz (I'm not kidding). The difference is that the plot of Passions is at least entertaining. This book's became a parody of itself. If it had not given to me as an ARC, I would not have finished it, and I would have abandoned it within the first 50 pages.
There is a multitude of problems. I'm not going to summarize the book because the plot is peppered with
- Bafflingly strange characters
- A vague Romeo-and-Juliet family feud thing
- Sprinkled with a dash of family curses, Native American magic and slave Voodoo from out of nowhere with no sense
- A story so full of telling-not-showing that I found myself going "What the HECK? How did she came to THAT conclusion?!" multiple times throughout the book
The TRAGIC PAST:
“Lula was the kind of mother who locked herself in her room and surfed online auctions for designer clothes no one would ever see her wear because she hadn’t left the house in seventeen years. The kind who didn’t let anyone, not even me, see her scars. Who didn’t tell her twin sister she was still alive. Who dropped dead of a heart attack when her best friend—her only friend—told her he was dying of cancer, so she wasn’t there for him the one time he really needed her.”
I'm not a cruel person, really, I'm not. I want to empathize with the main character, I want to feel something for them, but throwing the kitchen sink at the main character and giving her a past to rival any Greek tragedy is not the way to do it. Barrie's life is a parody of a tragedy. It got to the point where I just rolled my eyes, saying, what next? Are they going to give her a kitten and then have it be mutilated by a pack of wild wolves?
There is a way of making a character sympathetic without throwing the whole world at her in order to elicit sympathy. The main character in this book had a Tragic Past that is so much so that it ends up being a caricature of itself.
- A father who was hated by her mother, burned to death before she was even born
- A mother who hates her husband (and by extension, her daughter) so much that she names her after a "crooked street"
it was only Barrie’s first name, her real name—Lombard—that served as a reminder of Lula’s bitterness.
Lombard, after San Francisco’s crooked street, and in memory of Wade, Barrie’s crooked father
- A mother almost burned to death, running away to live as a horribly scarred recluse finally dropping dead of a heart attack
- A cross-dressing, red-lipstick-wearing, high-heel-sporting black drag queen godfather in the final stages of pancreatic cancer
- A Romeo-and-Juliet family curse
- A crazy aunt who's barely capable of doing anything without bursting into tears, much less run a tea house in a broken-down plantation home
- A crazy alcoholic uncle and cousin who's out to get her
In order for me to sympathize with a character, she has to be believable. She has to seem like a realistic character, with a believable past, and there is no such thing in this book. Her past and her present is a soap opera on the grand scale of mind-boggling lunacy.
The background: Chock full of holes. Let's focus on the biggest hole: Barrie's mother's death. This is what we know of it:
- Lula (the mother) escaped from a fire that left her horribly scarred and burned and in pain for the rest of her life
- She lets everyone thinks that she is dead, running away to San Francisco to give birth to, and eventually raise her daughter (Barrie)
Here's what I don't get:
- How the FUCK did a woman who has been burned so badly that she is beyond recognition manage to escape from a fire and fake her own death?
- How the FUCK did a woman who has been so damaged in a fire manage to get all the way to San Francisco, into a hospital, give birth to a daughter without anyone at the hospital questioning what the fuck happened to her?!
- How the FUCK did a woman who has been burned so badly in a fire without a husband, without friends, manage to heal up and find a friend (Mark) to take care of her
- How the FUCK did a woman who has been burned so badly in a fire, without knowing anyone, manage to establish a new identity in a new town with a new child?
- How the FUCK did a woman who has been burned so badly in a fire manage to find a place to live, pay the rent, buy designer clothes online, AND pay someone to take care of her and her child?
We eventually learn that she was given money by someone. It still doesn't make sense because:
- It can't have been a huge sum, because said person's family is broke, their home broken-down, their family fortune run dry
- It certainly can't be enough for Lula to live on in extravagance for two decades
Barrie: Is an incomplete character. Barrie (short for Lombard?!) For me, she has no personality, she has no motivation. I didn't understand her choices, her train of thoughts just make no sense:
- I don't know why she would choose to ship in a bunch of furniture all the way from San Francisco to South Carolina because the house in South Carolina had broken-down furniture. Wouldn't it be cheaper just to, you know, sell the furniture, get the freaking money, and buy some furniture IN SOUTH CAROLINA?
- I don't know why she would hate a boy for no freaking reason at all, and trust me, I KNOW WHEN I SHOULD HATE A BOY IN A YA PARANORMAL. I'm the freaking expert at hating stupid boys, and trust me when I say that there's nothing about Eight that I should hate. He's a pretentious little preppie, that's all.
- I don't know why she is so fucking incompetent at doing something simple like locating a freaking bottle of aspirin in her purse WHEN HER SPECIAL POWER IS LOCATING THINGS. Her powers are haphazard, largely useless, and unexplained since she can't even find her freaking phone when she loses it.
Barrie is completely faceless and nameless as a character to me. I cannot pick out any memorable quotes from her, because everything she says feels utterly banal and meaningless.
The love interest: I don't know why the main character hates him. I think his name, "Eight," is ridiculous (for Charles Beaufort the Eighth," being the 8th said holder of his actual family name--his father is Seven). He, like the main character, is completely lackluster in character, and devoid of personality.
The Paranormal: Random and nonsensical. Barrie's powers are hardly used, hardly mentioned, and largely useless. She has a skill for locating things, and most of the book doesn't even mention it.
There is the use of Cherokee and slave Voodoo in the book that feels completely random and out of place. It clashed with the setting, for some reason, on a Southern plantation setting, we have Cherokee Fire Carrier spirits and ghosts, and Voodoo plat-eyes. They are just there to make pretty pretty fires that attract Barrie and pull her into the dark woods in the middle of the night; I didn't feel like they were a realistic and compelling element in the setting.
Mark’s room had always looked like the Moulin Rouge had thrown up, pink and black satin, a throwback to his drag show days when he’d been going to be the next RuPaul, the next José Sarria.
The most clichéd dying RuPaul crossdressing wannabe in the whole world. He may be dying, but his character makes me want to laugh because he is so outrageously portrayed.
What makes it worse is that the book mentioned this cliché.
People had always judged Mark. For being too gay, or not gay enough, or not transgender the way some expected.
And I may be one of those characters, because I felt like Mark was a caricature of a crossdressing black guy.
Please allow me to say that I am 100% for gay rights, and I believe that people should wear and do whatever makes them happy. This is not a complaint about a character who is different, this is an observation that the character did not feel real. I have friends who are gay. I have friends who are crossdresser (I give my clothes to one of them). I share a locker room with a guy who is transgender. I don't care about who you love, what you wear. My complaint about this book is that Mark's character felt like it was inserted in there for no reason at all, as a ploy to diversity that fell short.
His voice sounded pinched, the way it had the night of her first awards ceremony, when he’d worn Spanx to squeeze into a pink Chanel suit he’d accidentally bought too small on eBay.
Mark wears sky-high heels and red lipstick. He loves Lady Gaga. He has a cat named RuPaul. I'm all about diversity in books, and I'm the last person in the world to have a problem with a cross-dressing character, but the thing is that Mark is just too much. He felt like a caricature of a transvestite rather than someone real. The character of Mark felt out of place, outrageously so. I am sure that this book meant well, I am 100% positive that this book did not intend to mock the transvestite community in any way, but for me, Mark felt like a mockery of a person.
Overall: Not recommended. The book tries to sell itself to fans of the Beautiful Creatures series. I say, stick to that series and save yourself the trouble.
Quotes were taken from an uncorrected proof subject to change in the final edition.