For six years during my twenties, I worked as one of the principal ghostwriters for a mass-market series for teenaged girls called Sweet Valley High. Years later, I’m still trying to make sense of what these books meant to me—why I wrote so many of them, and why (eventually) I stopped. The books are packed away in my attic now—dozens of them, with their lilac and dusty-pink paperback covers—but the experience is harder to sort out and put away.
It's rare that I write a book on its actual DAY OF PUBLICATION, but here we are with The Madness Underneath. Spoilers about The Name of the Star will be out in full force here, so if you haven't read it (SERIOUSLY??), you'll want to go and do that before reading the rest of this post.
Since being stabbed by the Ripper copycat (who was a ghost, but not Jack the Ripper's ghost), Rory Devereaux has been living in Bristol with her parents, recovering both physically and mentally. Well, sort of. Despite the expectations of her therapist, her parents, and pretty much everyone else she has contact with—all things considered, she's feeling pretty okay, post-attack.
Other than being totally behind in her schoolwork, anyway.
And other than being forced to sign the Official Secrets Act, which means that she has promised to never, ever, ever tell anyone about what happened over the course of the first book... which means she can't ever tell the truth about herself or the attack.
And other than the fact that she's never to have any contact with Stephen or Callum or Boo again, the only people who really understand who and what she is, ever again.
Oh, and other than being a HUMAN FREAKING TERMINUS, so she will poof any ghost that comes into contact with her, whether she likes it or not.
Other than all that, she's fine.
Sure she is.
Things I like about this series:
Oh, you know: EVERYTHING. Then again, I've never met a Maureen Johnson book that I haven't liked, so it's possible that I'm just predisposed to enjoy her writing/sense of humor/storylines/etc.
I liked that when it went in a certain direction, I did the, "NOOOOOOOO, RORY WHAT ARE YOU THINKING?", but that Johnson made Rory's decision to disregard her gut instinct (which, for the most part, was ALSO saying, "NO NO NO NO NO, THIS IS A BAD IDEA!") understandable and believable.
I knew, going in, that a Certain Thing was going to happen. Not any details about Said Thing, but that it would happen. And so, about halfway through, I suddenly realized EXACTLY what was going to happen. Not the Why or the How, but I had the Who in hand. In my infinite idiocy, I thought that knowledge would protect me from doing the Luke Skywalker Scream.
It didn't. And I liked that it didn't.
More than anything else—which is saying quite a lot, given that I love the setting and the premise and the characters and the smoochies and the laugh-out-loud bits and the mystery elements and on and and on—I enjoy Rory's voice. She's an American, but she sounds like an American who's been living in England for a while. Not like Madonna (contrived, pretentious, SO ANNOYING), and not like that Anglophile friend of yours from college who came back from a year abroad slinging 'oi's around willy-nilly (I am convinced that everyone has a friend who did that), but like someone who has picked up some of the rhythm of British English purely by being around it 24/7. Like, linguistic osmosis or something. It's less about the actual words that she uses, and more about the way she puts them together, is what I'm saying. And THAT was my favorite thing about the book, even though I loved all of the other stuff, too.
Nada. Except that I now have to wait ages and ages and ages for the next book.
And that I wished there was more Alistair, even though I understood why there wasn't. Oh, Alistair, I love your cranky self.
If my squeefest about the existence of a Hattie-sequel is anything to judge by, I'm sure that any fan of the original will already be planning on reading Hattie Ever After. I'm also sure that any fan of the original will be plenty pleased with it: Hattie, after all, is an infinitely likable narrator, trustworthy, warm, generous, and kind. (But NEVER INSIPID.) I especially love her lack of entitlement or pretension: she's always willing to learn, and always willing to start at the absolute bottom. And there are some lovely bits about storytelling and the writing process that will be hugely inspiring to aspiring writers, regardless of age.
Sepetys is true to the era and her characters in how Patrick's story plays out; the romance is sweet and heartfelt; the details about 1950s life and culture work themselves in fluidly; Josie wants what she wants so badly that I was never quite sure about how far she'd go to get it; and while the ending certainly has some fairy-tale elements, there's enough bitter in the sweet to keep cynics (like me) from getting all up on their high horses.
Although she has strong emotional ties to the Alchemist way of life, her intelligence, her logic, and her critical-thinking skills have led her to start to question what she's been taught... but it's always clear that she's got understandably mixed feelings about it all; in the first two books, she was teetering on the brink of an eating disorder, and her struggles with and thoughts about that have been realistic, believable, and relatable. She's reserved and careful about who she trusts; she can be oblivious to the feelings of others; she's difficult and sometimes bossy; really type-A, and not always in a particularly attractive way; basically, she's wonderfully imperfect and I definitely see what Adrian sees in her.
I realized what the Secret of Summerton’s Success was on page 62—an annual death and inexplicable prosperity in a town with a perfectly static population can really only add up to one thing—but that early realization wasn’t a problem. Rather, it upped the tension because I was aware of how much more danger Our Intrepid Sleuths were in well before they were, and provided a lot of “Nooooo! Don’t go in there!” moments.
Fun stuff, as always. If you like the rest of the series, Diabolical shouldn't disappoint. The strongest aspect, as in previous installments, is in the worldbuilding. That isn't to say that any of the other aspects are weak—the characters are likable and believable, the dialogue rings true, the different voices are all distinct, and the action is fabulously entertaining—but it's the worldbuilding that really shines.
As before, Revis keeps her story from getting repetitive or stale by switching things up—a new set of characters, a new set of conflicts, plenty of new dangers, a new setting—but it still works as a part of the larger whole. Not only do Elder and Amy continue on their own personal journeys of maturation and identity, but the overarching storyline continues to explore different facets of freedom, agency and obedience.
1. It's not about a how a romance changes her life: it's about how a friendship changes her life.
2. Despite dealing with big issues—bullying and the despair that can result from it, the difficulty and confusion of falling in love with one's best friend, familial upheaval, homophobia—it never reads as issue-y or didactic.
3. Celia is smart, creative, curious, sensitive, loves reading, and loves words, but she doesn't talk like someone reading a Diablo Cody script. When she mouths off to one of the jerks at school, she keeps it simple ("You're stupid and mean, and you suck at basketball"; "Keep marching, hate parade"), and in so doing, the moment isn't about the words she chooses, but about the fact that she chooses to to speak up. When she speaks up in defense of others, it comes off as realistic and as real-world possible, rather than as something you'd see in a movie: and that makes it all the more inspiring.
4. Her poetry? Is really good. Her response to Gwendolyn Brooks' We Real Cool is AWESOME, and it made me furious that her English teacher didn't acknowledge it. Also, her love of poetry affects her prose style (she's especially prone to very visual metaphors), which makes it feel like an actual part of who she is, rather than just a thing she does.
5. She is clearly a kindred spirit: "It's not like I'm going to go get a crush on some boy in Hershey High when I've got Howl from Howl's Moving Castle at home."
6. Lessons are learned, change happens, growth is achieved, but again, not in a way that suggests swelling music or soft focus. It stays in the realm of reality. There was one coincidence that Raised My Eyebrows, but it wasn't so far out of the realm of possibility that I was unable to roll with it.
7. Although I liked Celia and Drake from minute one, I didn't realize how MUCH I'd grown to care about them until I got all choked up during the last few chapters. And, except for the Mean Girls (who have only one setting: EVIL), the secondary characters—especially Celia's mother and Clock—are three-dimensional and believable. I'd totally love to read a companion book about Clock.
Things I didn't like about The Sweet Revenge of Celia Door:
The 80-year-old said: "It's a huge surprise in one way and in another I've got used to it.
"I'm published a lot in France and Europe generally and a lot of them assume that I am one [a knight]. In fact there was a broadcast on French radio that referred to me as Lord Quentin all the way through."