3 out of 5 Blue Stars
I’m so pissed. I wanted to give this a solid 4 but I can’t. It was so good. I loved it so much and then it squicked me right the fuck out.
I’ll get to the nitty gritty. Sexual manipulation is a thing. Sexual assault is a thing, and yes, those things have a space somewhere in literature and stories. I don’t argue that. But to have those things in a book that already had some questionable sexual politics, it was very hard to handle. It grossed me out and made it very hard to get through the most gripping chapters at the end of the book, and you don’t want it to be hard to get through the last part of the book. It knocked a whole star from the rating. I’m gonna talk about the rest of the book and circle back around to this topic.
What I loved about the book was mostly the setting, and some character things. This is set in what must be Maine, as they mention Portland and the East Coast. In the small town of Echo, which I think is imaginary, Violet White currently lives alone with her twin brother Luke, who is a misogynist asshole. Their artist parents have high tailed it to Europe and have been there for awhile, unbothered by what’s going on with their kids. This seems to be a common occurrence. They’ve been gone so long the money they left has run out. Much like the family fortune. What they do have is Citizen Kane, their grandma’s moldering old mansion, relic of their East Coast Industrialist ancestors. These types of things are story crack for me. I will smoke it all day long. Give me an old house, falling apart, perch it on the edge of a cliff, add in some angst and I’m yours. But… but.
Ok. So I liked Violet a lot. I related to her. She’s still reeling from the loss of her cool grandmother. She wears her grandmother’s clothes, searches for her letters, ponders her portraits, painted by the foremost artists of Europe and America. You get some tropey things from Violet – she has the ‘I’m not like other girls’ going on – but it was a type I understand and relate to – where she doesn’t measure up to other girls, and that’s why she feels that way. It’s not like she’s better than other girls, she’s an outsider who doesn’t quite get their ways. She’s also really jealous of other girls who are sexy and easy with boys. Her not-exactly-friend Sunshine that lives down the way is viewed through her ‘I’m not like other girls, I’m not good with boys’ filter, and there isn’t outright slut shaming, but the stink of it is there. So that was the first hint that I was going to have problems with the way this book handled sex. Violet definitely judges Sunshine for making out with her brother, though he has another girl in town whose panties he wants to get in, and they kiss to gross Violet out. It’s a dynamic I don’t get and frankly, didn’t feel genuine. This sounds so much worse now that I’m typing it all out. I connected with Violet – I understood her disgust with her brother’s behavior, and how she didn’t like it that Luke and Sunshine ganged up on her with the whole “Violet can’t get a date” thing . And Luke is a huge dick. At this point in the story, I didn’t like anyone but Violet.
Like I said, the money has run out and they need food. So Violet puts the guest house up for rent. Enter River West, a guy with a straight nose and crooked mouth. You always know the YA love interest because he has a crooked grin. He’s super handsome, has an amazing car, wads of cash, and a slippery backstory. Violet catches him in a few lies, and then the creepy things start. A child disappears, and children are stalking the cemetery with homemade crucifixes, saying they are ready for the devil when he comes back.
Let’s just say there’s more to River than he lets on. Violet is a very smart, observant person, but the nature of their relationship bothers me from the first. “Can’t get a date Violet” suddenly has this super hot guy’s attention, and without even knowing where he’s from, despite being a distrustful person by nature, she shares his bed the first night (there isn’t any nookie or anything just the “let me lay next to you” trope). Let’s say he has persuasive powers that are beyond the norm. The relationship continues in this vein – kinda insta-lovey and she pushes aside her intelligence, her inner monologue, her instincts and goes for it with this boy. I don’t think it’s by choice, I think he’s using his abilities against her, and it smacks of manipulation. River is incredibly dark. So dark, that you wonder how in the hell is she falling in love with him? Oh yeah. Manipulation. You don’t know how much of her feelings are genuine and how much is River’s strange ability. Piled up on top of the almost-slut-shaming, the misogynist pig of a brother, and then later in the story straight up sexual assault, it left a nasty taste in my mouth. (I’m not saying River was involved in the assault, but there are time when intimate things happen between them and consent is questionable. And that is not ok. I don’t want to read that in this kind of situation.)
Why does the villain have to use sexual violence? It’s like common denominator stuff. It’s the lowest hanging fruit. There are other ways to characterize villains, and there are other ways to get emotion from your reader. I think it perpetuates rape culture – constantly putting forth that women are, in all situations, sexually vulnerable and therefore, it always comes down to women are sexual objects. Unless the theme and focus of the book is sexual assault, which it wasn’t, I felt like it was sensationalist, and just lazy. It feels dated. Been there a thousand times, done that in nearly every movie and tv show, let’s find another way.
I’m so disappointed because there was a lot of mystery and supernatural stuff that was really good. The atmosphere was creepy and the house is so beautifully described. There’s more than one layer of mystery going on. I didn’t like anyone but Violet in the beginning, but the others grew on me, and they made an interesting dynamic. The red herrings were done really well. The town felt real and had a definite vibe. It had so many of the building blocks in place but the sex stuff derailed it for me.
Oh.. and diversity. Yeah, there wasn’t any. Straight white heterosexuals doing straight white heterosexual things. I always try and point out how much diversity there is in the books I read and point out where there isn’t any. There isn’t any here.
If I didn’t already have the 2nd book, I don’t know that I would search it out and read it.