Sunday, November 26, 2006

High School Is Hell

Really, it's just amazing the way bringing the supernatural/paranormal/freaky into a traditional YA story can liven things up.

Devilish by Maureen Johnson is the story of Jane Jarvis, "the angry, brainy type," who attends a Catholic school and who has a best friend who's kind of out of it and desperate to get some social action. Jane also hasn't gotten over the boyfriend who broke up with her six months earlier. This doesn't sound particularly ground-breaking, does it? However, Jane is being stalked not by the devil, who, if I understood the book correctly, doesn't actually exist, but by a demon who is part of the corporation that is Hell.

Suggesting that Hell follows a corporate model was a very nice touch.

The book takes a long time to set up its situation, with two new students added to the school mix, either one of whom could be a devilish element. However, Jane has a lot more common sense (which almost leads to her damnation, in fact) than many teen female protagonists in other worldy dilemmas. And she has a voice that, while not terribly unique, isn't whiny, either. Nor does she make jokes that fall flat, a common ailment with many YA narrators.

By the way, this is a book about demons and damnation, but the part of the story I didn't get came toward the end when Jane and her ex-boyfriend discuss why they broke up and who stopped talking to whom first. Romance is more of a mystery to me, I guess, than evil.

Johnson does two things well in this book. Providing information about characters is difficult and time-consuming, especially when a first-person narrator has to provide information about herself. It's hard to do that in a natural way. Johnson comes up with a neat little trick to crank out a lot of info about Jane and her best friend Allison in the first two pages of the story.

The other thing she does is provide a sense of place. This isn't something you hear critics and reviewers talk about much in YA books. It may be something writers and editors aren't too interested in and don't spend much time on. Johnson spends a lot of time on her setting, Providence, Rhode Island. By that I don't mean she loads the book with tedious description. But Jane talks about the places she's going, and what she says sounds real. I can't say I'm familiar with the city, having only driven by on the highway on my way to somewhere else, but I do know Faneuil Hall in Boston, another place Jane visits. Her setting is quite authentic at that point, so I'm assuming she has Providence right, too.

For a interview, visit Cupcakes Take the Cake to read Johnson's answers to questions about her demon's favorite source of nourishment.


Little Willow said...

DEVILISH was blessed with one of the best covers of the year. It's both eye-catching AND appropriate/true to the story. I pictured her hair and height differently based on the descriptions within, but the basics are right there, and readers can discern the premise as soon as they see that cover.

Have you read other novels by Maureen? I highly recommend them. The Key to the Golden Firebird is my favorite of her novels; Parker, from The Bermudez Triangle, my favorite of her characters

Gail Gauthier said...

Ah, so that's where Parker comes from.

I would be willing to try another book by this author. And I definitely agree about the cover.