Review: Ruined

Ruinedby Paula Morris

A native New Yorker, Rebecca is being shipped off to New Orleans to live with her “Aunt” Claudia while her dad goes on business to China for six months.  Aunt Claudia isn’t really her aunt but she’s the closest thing Rebecca and her father have to family, despite the fact Rebecca’s only met Aunt Claudia and her daughter, Aurelia, once.  It doesn’t take long for Rebecca to realize that she doesn’t like New Orleans.  She can’t stand the constantly gray skies, the warm, damp air, or the odd smells and she can’t stand the snooty girls who go to her new private school.  In New York, how old your money was or your family’s lineage didn’t matter, neither did skin color or ethnicity.  In New Orleans, specifically in the neighborhood Rebecca is living in, money and family lines mean everything, more than Rebecca knows, more than anyone will tell her.  One of the only people with whom Rebecca feels most comfortable, one of the people she would call a friend is not a person at all, but a ghost.  Lisette is a young black woman about Rebecca’s age.  She haunts the cemetery across the street from Aunt Claudia’s house and she has a sad, gruesome history.  The other person who has been nice to Rebecca is a heart-throb named Anton.  He is one of the elite but he seems to strain against his familial bonds and is interested in knowing and being involved with life outside the sheltered streets of his New Orleans neighborhood.  Ultimately, though, Rebecca is an outsider, and the families of the neighborhood do not take kindly to outsiders.  Secrets and mysteries shroud the mansions, and one of the most volatile of the mysteries is tied to Lisette, her life and her death.  Rebecca’s friendships with both Lisette and Anton are about to bring about some serious and dangerous consequences.

Reaction: Overall, a pretty solid ghost story.  The setting was perfect.  I loved the scenes in the cemetery — Rebecca sneaking in at night to see what her stuck up classmates are up to or visiting during the day to hunt down and talk to Lisette.  I also loved when Rebecca and Lisette walked together, hand-in-hand through New Orleans and Lisette introduces some of New Orleans’ plethora of ghosts to Rebecca.  Some had been around longer than Lisette, some were new, all had sad stories, though some much worse than others.  The saddest part about this walk, to me, was that some of the ghosts were stuck haunting stretches of land that at one time were filled with houses or prosperous businesses but are now highways or abandoned warehouses.  In places, the writing could have been a bit tighter and I thought a few of the characters acted a bit young for their age, but I was intrigued by the mysteries and histories of the prosperous families and Lisette’s sad tale and was frantically trying to figure out what exactly Rebecca’s role was in it all.

I did have one semi-big, spoilery complaint(ish) (did I just use any real words??).  Here it is, so read at your own risk:

I didn’t understand why Rebecca’s dad would let her go to New Orleans.  He and his wife completely severed ties with their families and changed their identity and Rebecca’s birth date and year to try to protect her.  If he went such great lengths to avoid the curse and keep anyone from New Orleans from finding them, why would he listen to Aunt Claudia and let Rebecca live in New Orleans and let the curse run it’s course?  Doesn’t make sense, at least to me.

End Spoiler.

There were several points, like the one above, that seemed forced, like the author was trying too hard to make the story work.  In the end, these didn’t detract too much from the many good points of the novel, and if you enjoy a good, spooky, ghosty thriller, give Ruined a chance.

One final thought: the cover. Gorgeous, right?  And if you look up pictures of the Lafayette Cemetery, the gates on the cover are much like the gates to the actual cemetery in New Orleans.  I have one problem, though.  The ghost on the cover looks like a blond white woman in a negligee.  The ghost in the story is a teenaged black girl with a torn white blouse and a black skirt.  Is this another case of whitewashing covers?? (read about the Liar controversy if you haven’t already)  Sad, very, very sad.

Thanks to: Carrie, whose review made me want to read the book.

Shadowed Summer

Shadowed Summerby Saundra Mitchell

Fourteen-year-old Iris lives in the tiny town of Ondine, Louisiana where nothing exciting ever happens.  The only thing that has ever really happened in the town’s whole history was the disappearance of Elijah Landry, which happened before Iris was born.  No one knows what happened to him.  He was released from a hospital stay and disappeared from his bedroom with only a drop of blood on his pillow as a clue.  Iris and her best friend Collette often wonder about Elijah, they also like to pretend that they can cast spells and call up the ghosts of the dead, or they used to before Collette started getting interested in boys and fashion.  Iris isn’t interested in boys and fashion, and she desperately wants things to stay the same between her and Collette.  This summer, things are changing, and not just between Iris and Collette.  One day, when the girls are calling to the dead in the cemetery, Iris sees her first real ghost, a boy who speaks to her and says “Where y’at, Iris?”  Iris’ ghost turns out to be Elijah Landry and he won’t leave her alone no matter what.  Iris, Collette, and Ben, the boy Collette has her eye on but who keeps making eyes at Iris, are determined to find out the truth about what really happened to Elijah Landry.

Reaction: Shadowed Summer is a short book but it is by no means a quick read.  It is a slow, subtle book, matching the pace of life in small town Ondine.  Iris seems to be a bit immature for an average fourteen-year-old but it could just be because of the town she lives in.  Ondine and its occupants don’t have much contact with the outside world.  Its quaintness reminded me of another era, a time where small corner groceries and diners with a soda fountains were the norm, and I started to wonder if the book was supposed to have taken place back in the 50s or 60s, until the girls started looking for clues on the internet.  A majority of the book was about Iris’ changing relationship with Collette and what it means to transition from childhood to teenage.  Iris wasn’t ready to let go of her childhood but her friends and her own changing needs weren’t allowing her to cling to the past anymore.  Elijah Landry’s ghost ended up almost as a secondary plot line.  I enjoy a good ghost story, especially one with a good mystery, which this seemed to have, so I could have used a bit more sleuthing and a bit more Elijah Landry sitings.  I also thought the end was a bit abrupt; to me it seemed like suddenly Iris had it all figured out and then, boom, everyone who’d kept tight lips for almost 20 years finally decided to open up.  I’m probably being a bit hard on this book.  Overall, it was well written and enjoyable “coming-of-age” (how cliche) story.  Just don’t dive in expecting the focus to be on the mystery and the ghost.

Bad Girls Don’t Die

Bad Girls Don't Dieby Katie Alender

Alexis is a photographer, a loner, a trouble-maker, a class-skipper, a protester, an independent with pink hair.  She lives a big, old house with a big, old tree in the front yard.  Her mother is a workaholic trying to move up the corporate ladder.  Her father is frustrated and spends most of his time watching sports with his friends.  Her sister Kasey is only a couple years younger but insecure and needy with a capital “N” to the point where she acts much younger than her age, which could explain why she is so obsessed with collecting dolls.  Lots and lots of dolls.  Alexis is Kasey’s champion, her rock, her support system so it is Alexis who is really the only one who begins to see the change in Kasey.  Kasey is having blackouts, not remembering being in a place when Alexis clearly saw her there.  Kasey is conversing when seemingly no one is there to talk back.  Kasey has sudden violent episodes.  Kasey is stealing from her classmates.  Kasey’s eyes sometimes flash brilliant green when in fact they are blue like the sky.  What is going on with Kasey and what is Alexis going to do about it?

Reaction: I picked up this book because of the cover.  Really, who could resist it.  I don’t usually pick up ghost stories; in fact, I don’t know of many in teen lit.  I’m sure they’re there, I’m just not aware of them, though I enjoyed this one so much I might have to seek out some others.  As much as I enjoyed the creepy ghostly elements, I enjoyed the story because of the characters and their relationships.  When I started the book and read Alexis’ description I thought, oh no, another book about some loner teen with no friends who will suddenly make friends with some relatively popular people.  And, ok, that happened, but it was done in a great way.  First of all, Alexis’ lack of friends was well explained and it wasn’t that she had no friends, she doesn’t didn’t feel close to any of the people she hangs out with.  There were certainly times in my life when i could relate to that.  Second, the supporting characters, the “to-be” friends, turned out to be more than Alexis thought they would be.  For instance, Megan, the cheerleader.  From the beginning, Alexis envies Megan because she supports many of the same causes as Alexis but Megan usually finds a more receptive audience, mostly because she is more tactful in her approach.  When Alexis finds out there is more to Megan than just the cheerleader, it’s not really a shock.  What I like the most, though, was how devoted Megan was to cheerleading.  Just because she turned out to be an intelligent, nice, helpful person with some issues of her own did not mean she could not also be a devoted cheerleader.  The ending does wrap up a bit too neatly but I still found it satisfying.  Alender writes a very good, relationship-driven yet spooky ghost story.

Check out: A much more eloquent review from Lenore @ Presenting Lenore.

Bad Girls Don't Die

Bad Girls Don't Dieby Katie Alender

Alexis is a photographer, a loner, a trouble-maker, a class-skipper, a protester, an independent with pink hair.  She lives a big, old house with a big, old tree in the front yard.  Her mother is a workaholic trying to move up the corporate ladder.  Her father is frustrated and spends most of his time watching sports with his friends.  Her sister Kasey is only a couple years younger but insecure and needy with a capital “N” to the point where she acts much younger than her age, which could explain why she is so obsessed with collecting dolls.  Lots and lots of dolls.  Alexis is Kasey’s champion, her rock, her support system so it is Alexis who is really the only one who begins to see the change in Kasey.  Kasey is having blackouts, not remembering being in a place when Alexis clearly saw her there.  Kasey is conversing when seemingly no one is there to talk back.  Kasey has sudden violent episodes.  Kasey is stealing from her classmates.  Kasey’s eyes sometimes flash brilliant green when in fact they are blue like the sky.  What is going on with Kasey and what is Alexis going to do about it?

Reaction: I picked up this book because of the cover.  Really, who could resist it.  I don’t usually pick up ghost stories; in fact, I don’t know of many in teen lit.  I’m sure they’re there, I’m just not aware of them, though I enjoyed this one so much I might have to seek out some others.  As much as I enjoyed the creepy ghostly elements, I enjoyed the story because of the characters and their relationships.  When I started the book and read Alexis’ description I thought, oh no, another book about some loner teen with no friends who will suddenly make friends with some relatively popular people.  And, ok, that happened, but it was done in a great way.  First of all, Alexis’ lack of friends was well explained and it wasn’t that she had no friends, she doesn’t didn’t feel close to any of the people she hangs out with.  There were certainly times in my life when i could relate to that.  Second, the supporting characters, the “to-be” friends, turned out to be more than Alexis thought they would be.  For instance, Megan, the cheerleader.  From the beginning, Alexis envies Megan because she supports many of the same causes as Alexis but Megan usually finds a more receptive audience, mostly because she is more tactful in her approach.  When Alexis finds out there is more to Megan than just the cheerleader, it’s not really a shock.  What I like the most, though, was how devoted Megan was to cheerleading.  Just because she turned out to be an intelligent, nice, helpful person with some issues of her own did not mean she could not also be a devoted cheerleader.  The ending does wrap up a bit too neatly but I still found it satisfying.  Alender writes a very good, relationship-driven yet spooky ghost story.

Check out: A much more eloquent review from Lenore @ Presenting Lenore.