Lauren Myracle brings her keen understanding of teen dynamics to a hypnotic horror story of twisted friendship.
When Bliss’s hippie parents leave the commune and dump her at the home of her aloof grandmother in a tony Atlanta neighborhood, it’s like being set down on an alien planet. The only guide naïve Bliss has to her new environment is what she’s seen on The Andy Griffith Show. But Mayberry is poor preparation for Crestview Academy, an elite school where the tensions of the present and the dark secrets of the past threaten to simmer into violence. Openhearted, naïve Bliss is happy to be friends with anyone. That’s not the way it has ever worked at Crestview, and soon Bliss is at the center of a struggle for power between three girls—two living and one long dead.
I have to admit to being new to Lauren Myracle’s work, despite her being a powerhouse of YA literature. Bliss was an impulse buy, and this is where I get to continue my confessions by owning up to judging a book by its cover. The cover of Bliss evokes memories of Stephen King’s Carrie—a favorite book (and film) of mine. Between the creepy cover and the blurb on the back, I knew this was a book for me (way to go marketing team!).
As soon as I began to read, it was obvious this would be a book I loved. For one, I am drawn to books that have a multi-genre feel in terms of layout and narrative technique. The chapters are broken up by quotes from a few different sources, primarily transcripts of the Tate-LaBianca murder trials and snippets from The Andy Griffith Show. This was brilliant. Myracle actually manages to make Mayberry take on an ominous tone, I’m not sure if anyone has ever done this before; but I know I’ll never look at reruns of this program the same way again. The quotations served the book well and were carefully chosen—they add a mixture of ambiance and foreshadowing. Equally cool were the journal entries by S. L. L. that helped to break up and/or introduce the chapters, which added intrigue and suspense to the novel.
When I sat down to write this review, I began by thinking, “what is this book about?” And that’s where I falter. It is, on the surface a teen horror novel; but it is also so much more. It is a story of racisim and classicism. It is a story about how cruel teenage girls can be to one another. It is a story of being an outsider and feeling pressure to conform while at the same time trying to maintain individuality. It is a story about how misguided and naive, albeit good intentioned, some adults can be. It is suspense and it is tragedy. The book is all these things, and that’s what really made me love it.
The characters are real and because they are real, they are flawed and they are conflicted. It is the characters that drive the plot of the story. Readers will recognize faces from their own years in high school and will most likely recognize themselves. Looking at the world through Bliss’s eyes for most of the narration, adult readers will be transported back to the gauntlet known as high school. Because Bliss is an outsider, having spent most of her life as a transient and living on a commune, her point of view allows for those of us who have been out of high school for a while to reacquaint ourselves with the rules of high school not found in any Freshman orientation program or school handbook.
Bliss’s conclusion is neither satisfying nor happy; neither are most of life’s conclusions. While some readers may be put off by this, I thought it was brilliant. Characters and events of this novel will be burned into my brain for many years to come and I am sure this is a book I will read again.
Now, excuse me while I hop over to Amazon to pick up a copy of Shine. Lauren Myracle, you most definitely have a new fan in me.