Guest post by Melissa Baron.
Hey. So. I read this book here. Isn’t that a nice cover? It’s pretty cool. It hooked me. The premise got me, too. I read some good reviews, got real hopeful. What’s not to love about a story where Death falls for someone?
…I feel like I read a completely different book from the people that raved about this one. I am straight up baffled. Because this? I just…help me understand what I’m missing here. Let me tell you why this was a painful exercise in perseverance.
Plot: Heh. So, Pagan Moore can see dead people (hey, that’s familiar). She’s seen these ‘souls’ all her life, never told anyone she could, and just deals. The souls can see her, but don’t interact and never talk to her. Until one actually does. Except he’s not a soul; he’s Death, and unbeknownst to her, Pagan’s time is almost up. And he’s about to break all the rules for her.
Review: It started out promising. Pagan is a nose to the grindstone kinda gal, has this pesky ability she’s learned to live with apparently quite well, since she’s never told anyone about it and it doesn’t appear to bother her much. I found that a little odd in and of itself, that such a potentially frightening ability was so humdrum to her, or presented that way. She has a perky best friend who toes the line of complete caricature. A jock she easily dismissed as an arrogant jerk turns out to be quite the opposite, and I liked Pagan’s realization that snap judgments on people don’t always work. I know that misunderstood jock with a heart of gold is such a cliché, but I had a similar experience in high school. My hot guy actually looked a lot like Leif’s description, and funnily enough, it was in Speech class during a speech he gave where I realized I’d judged him rather harshly all semester. So, I was prepared to like this at that point.
But. Pagan’s growth completely stopped the minute she discovered Dank. Pagan’s a judging drama llama. Normally, it’s refreshing to have a deeply flawed character, but I feel like she straight up de-evolved when Dank came into the picture. I also grew tired of Pagan taking a backseat in her own story, never knowing what’s going on around her. I’m reading about her everyday life, that’s largely unchanged by whatever events Dank has set in motion by doing what he did (which is never clear to anyone until the very, very end). She doesn’t really try to get answers from Dank. It’s frustrating to feel like there’s a much cooler story going on when Dank is elsewhere, dealing with the reason Pagan is in ‘danger.’
Dank could be an interesting character to follow, if he wasn’t purported to be the love interest I’m supposed to find so amazingly hot. Or maybe I would’ve found him more attractive if Pagan actually challenged him, instead of letting him run the show and act like the immature child he accuses Leif of being. I was just not feeling him at all. He did nothing to endear himself to Pagan other than stand around and look sexy, and outside of that he’s intrusive, secretive in a really annoying way, a stalker, and condescending. He’s able to walk among the living, and transfers to her school with the cover of being in a band (of course. Of course you’re in a band), and for reasons that are never explained, he dates Kendra, a popular girl Pagan can’t stand, and I swear he only does it to make Pagan crazy jealous, because if there was an actual reason it’s just never stated or addressed at all.
I felt no sense of urgency over Pagan’s predicament, and I wasn’t even sure what her predicament was beyond falling in love with a jerkface and then being a jerk herself to the guy she chose to have a relationship with because he’s ‘safe.’ It’s totally cool, Pagan, you go right ahead and lead Leif on because he’s comfortable while you hunt Dank down and make out with him. It’s not cheating, because he’s not human. Also? This needed a good editor like whoa. The repetition killed me dead. Pagan repeats herself over and over, hammering the reader with ideas and thoughts already presented a dozen times over. Each character has a certain thing they do, and it’s repeated all the time. Miranda bats her eyelashes; Dank chuckles, and growls, and lounges; Gee (yeah, you read that right) cackles, Ky (see previous note) has tinkling laughter. The dialogue didn’t read like natural dialogue to me. Long-winded monologues about the many ways Dank and Pagan love each other – oh, let me count the ways – don’t happen like that outside of a Shakespeare play or an Elizabeth Browning poem, and it was hard to swallow. Everything was overly dramatic. Losing Dank is not just soul crushing, she loses the will to live completely, and I about ground my teeth into dust reading about her horrible, horrible existence as Dank ignores her, or flirts with Kendra, or isn’t in class, or disappears altogether.
Guys, gals, I guess I’m just sick and bloody tired of the heroine crumbling to pieces without her man. I lose respect for a character when they tie up all their happiness and reason for living into one person who doesn’t even treat them very good. It’s not romantic, it doesn’t show me how true their love is, it makes me want to slap everyone.
There’s also this brief stint where Pagan agrees to go to a home for girls dealing with mental illnesses, and that entire sequence literally made me want to punch a puppy. And I love puppies. Don’t even get me started on the events leading up to that, where apparently medical personnel can approach a girl having hysterics after witnessing a car accident with a syringe and sedate her, are you kidding me? Oh, we don’t need your permission to administer sedatives, even though you might be allergic to this, we’ll just stick you right – oh, my, you are allergic? Huh. That’s a shame.
Anyway, Pagan goes to this facility, and the therapists are either incompetent or mouthpieces for how not crazy Pagan is (because she’s kind and compassionate. You know, crazy people are incapable of kindness and compassion), and every girl there is a walking stereotype for whatever illness she’s supposed to have. Every phrase for crazy gets bandied about, and Pagan gets to be the one eyed chick in the kingdom of the blind because she’s not a ‘mental case’ like them and she doesn’t really belong there, she just can’t deal with life because Dank left her. As someone who has been diagnosed with anxiety and depression in the past, and who has gone through counseling to overcome those issues, I absolutely hated the way mental illness was treated and portrayed here. Hated it so much I wanted to stop reading.
Things didn’t get interesting until the last fifteen pages, hand to God. I actually perked up a bit, and sorely wished a lot of this information had been brought to light sooner to give this book bigger scenery to chew than the inside of a classroom. Also, the ending – not an ending at all. Not even a good cliffhanger. I honestly expected another chapter to pop up, and I let out a ‘what the fritz?!’ when it was just over. So many questions went unanswered, and it didn’t have to be that way. There was plenty of room to make things clearer, and Dank could have still maintained his air of reticence and been a little more forthcoming to give Pagan, and the reader, some answers. And something to look forward to.
Based on the following criteria:
How much did I like the heroine: 4. Pagan. Darling. I need you to break out of this ‘I am nothing without my man’ trope. I need you to have your own desires, hobbies, future plans. I need you to grow a little. You started out so good. Smart girl, able to admit when she’s wrong, a good friend. And then…and then Dank showed up and – what’s that? Is that…is that a dead brain cell on the ground? Are brain cells just dribbling out your ears? Oh, dear. And suddenly you’re a judge-y, jealous, sobbing mess all the time, who uses Leif for comfort but will leave him hanging every time Dank so much as bats an eyelash your way.
How much did I like the love interest: 5. The entire 5 goes to Leif. I guess he doesn’t even count as a love interest, since Pagan overestimated her interest in him, but I liked him, poor guy, I don’t even care about that stupid cliffhanger in the end concerning him. I’m going by what I was shown, and I was shown a decent guy who treated his girlfriend like a queen and will get his heart broken for it. Dank, on the other hand, only simmered the few times he gave in to his feelings for Pagan, which I didn’t buy for the longest time. You’re saying the words, Dank, but your actions don’t really back it up. I know people like that: they’re called liars.
How believable is the plot: 4. Dank is Death who stalks and protects Pagan from…something. Other soul-type people who will do Bad Things to her? We only see this bad thing once. Pagan has a car wreck, recovers, flip flops between Leif and Dank, pines after Dank, loses him, then loses her ever-loving mind. If I’d known what the plot was other than Pagan and Dank circling around each other and Dank saying vague things about protecting her because he broke the rules, I’d have rated higher. But the plot doesn’t show up until the end, and then I was just sad for the missed potential. And it was amazing how long Pagan went before figuring out who he really was.
How much did I like the writing style/editing/etc: 1. Hardly any description, which is a shame, because Pagan’s supposed to live in a coastal town of Florida, which would’ve made for a pretty backdrop. I don’t even know if this was actually edited. Every so often typos and grammar issues pop up, but the worst is the repetition. Ideas and information are constantly repeated; as if we’d forgotten the first five times we were told. And let’s talk about how often the word ‘soul’ was used. Answer: 201 times. There are 170 pages in this book. There are huge scenes completely unnecessary to the plot – I do not need to hear about homecoming dress shopping, what speeches Leif is working on, every lesson in literature class, every meal they partake in, more poetic waxing from Dank or about him (that is the book, right there. Throw in a skiing trip with a car accident and a brief stay in a home for mentally ill girls.) If all of the repetition and unneeded scenes were taken out, I think it would’ve eliminated half the book.
How much did I want to keep reading: 3. If only to find out when the plot would kick in.
Final Score: 3.4/10. It needed a thorough edit. Cut out on the repetition, help me root for someone I actually like, and give me a plot. Dress shopping, football games, vacations, and wangsting do not a plot make. I wanted to like this, and I saw potential, but the execution left a lot to be desired.