It’s time to search the deep dark recesses of your fridge and/or pantry, for today’s books will need an accompanying snack that suits the darkest of deeds. Or you could just go with something tasty. Whichever.
Today’s books both feature mildly unusual female protagonists and more than a few unexpected events. Let’s start with some YA, shall we? This is Where the World Ends is the second from Amy Zhang, a young writer whose first novel, Falling into Place, was quite well received. I received an advanced reader’s copy of This is Where the World Ends from HarperCollins Australia at the BTCYA event in 2015. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:
Janie and Micah, Micah and Janie. That’s how it’s been ever since elementary school, when Janie Vivian moved next door. Janie says Micah is everything she is not. Where Micah is shy, Janie is outgoing. Where Micah loves music, Janie loves art. It’s the perfect friendship, as long as no one finds out about it.
But when Janie is date-raped by the most popular guy in school—a guy she’s had a crush on for years—she finds herself ostracized by all the people she thought were her friends. Now only Micah seems to believe she’s telling the truth. But when even Micah expresses doubt about whether or not she was “asking for it,” it leads to disastrous consequences, and Janie Vivian goes missing.
Using a nonlinear writing style and dual narrators, Amy Zhang’s astonishing second novel masterfully reveals the circumstances surrounding Janie’s disappearance.
…an angsty, reasonably confusing foray into unhealthy teen relationships. The book started off interestingly enough, with Micah suffering amnesia about recent events and trying to piece together what might have happened during the bits he can’t remember. I found this the most interesting part of the book, to be honest, although Janie’s early diary entries, which are interspersed with Micah’s chapters, were pretty intriguing to begin with. The book reminded me strongly of Looking for Alaska by John Green – Janie is the same sort of free-spirited, wild girl as Alaska and Micah has the same sort of doe-eyed, follow-you-everywhere vibe of the narrator in that book. (Can’t remember his name. It’s been a couple of years since I read it.)
Don’t dip if…
…you’re after a straight-forward story. The book alternates between amnesiac Micah, diary entries from Janie, slightly-less-amnesiac Micah, and chapters in which Janie’s backstory is revealed. This can get overwhelming quickly, especially when coupled with the lyrical style that Zhang has used. I’m a pretty laidback sort of gargoyle, but even I got sick of the constant swearing in the Micah chapters, so if profanity upsets you, you should probably steer clear of this one.
Overall Dip Factor
Even though, having read Zhang’s earlier work, I was prepared for her lyrical writing style, the way it was used in this book bordered on the melodramatic. The angst factor was played to the max, which would seem appropriate for some of the serious content being discussed, but this didn’t help me feel like the characters were authentic representations. There are also some aspects of the plot that didn’t quite work for me – why exactly can no one know that Micah and Janie are friends?? – and although I started off liking Micah and giving Janie the benefit of the doubt, I was thoroughly sick of the pair of them and their unhealthy, selfish approaches to relationships by the end of the book. If you are a fan of teen angst in books and romance gone badly wrong however, you will probably enjoy this one.
Now on to a bit of historical murder with The Butcher’s Hook by Janet Ellis. I received a digital copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:
Anne Jaccob is coming of age in late eighteenth-century London, the daughter of a wealthy merchant. When she is taken advantage of by her tutor — a great friend of her father’s — and is set up to marry a squeamish snob named Simeon Onions, she begins to realize just how powerless she is in Victorian society. Anne is watchful, cunning, and bored.
Her saviour appears in the form of Fub, the butcher’s boy. Their romance is both a great spur and an excitement. Anne knows she is doomed to a loveless marriage to Onions and she is determined to escape with Fub and be his mistress. But will Fub ultimately be her salvation or damnation? And how far will she go to get what she wants?
Dark and sweeping, The Butcher’s Hook is a richly textured debut featuring one of the most memorable characters in fiction.
…a discomfiting look at an unscrupulous young lady in the bloom of first love. Or lust, depending on how deeply you think Anne is capable of love. This is not the sort of book you really enjoy reading due to the deliberately sinister content and atmosphere, but it is certainly a mesmerising read nonetheless. It is apparent that from her childhood, Anne has not been the typical rosy-cheeked child, and as she grows into womanhood, her independent mind and wayward moral compass combine to create the perfect storm of very poor outcomes for those who have wronged her (and indeed, those who just happened to cross her path at an inopportune moment).
Don’t dip if…
…you aren’t into stories of “girls behaving badly”. There’s a lot of not very savoury stuff going on in this book including violent murder, sexual assault, infant death and general misogyny (not necessarily in that order), so if you’re looking for an uplifting read, you should probably look elsewhere.
Overall Dip Factor
As I mentioned before, this isn’t the sort of book that you read for enjoyment, as you would a cosy mystery or a typical chicklit offering, but one for those who like some sinister doings, seriously flawed characters content that induces shuddering at certain points. Anne is not the most likeable of characters, but it was interesting to see her reasoning toward the end of the book as she begins to carry out some particularly unexpected deeds. I’d say this would be a great pick for when you are looking for a book that will confirm your very worst assumptions about human nature.
Thanks for dipping along with me today!
Until next time,