Thursday, November 15, 2012

"The Blessed," by Tonya Hurley

The Protagonists:

Agnes: Even though her suicide attempt fails, this naive Catholic schoolgirl still holds out hope that true love exists. But why is she drawn to this strange church during a hurricane?

Cecilia: An underground musician who's left to drown in a puddle and wakes up in the hospital with a strange new purpose. Just don't let her go near any open iron maidens, she's super clumsy. You can get stigmata from those things!

Lucy: A venomously awful and self-centred socialite who's made a living out of being famous for being famous - until she finds out who her real friends are when she accidentally overdoses at a club. Wait, no, I was wrong - she's venomously awful and self-centred throughout the book and spends most of the story trying to make everything about her.

The Secondary Cast:

Sebastian: The book's Hot Male Mentor and designated Catfight Lightning Rod, Sebastian escaped from a psych ward to find our three heroines and inform them of their destinies - in the slowest and vaguest way possible.

Dr. Frey: An eeeevil psychiatrist whose motivations and allegiances remain unclear for the entire book. His villainy's demonstrated by his desire to, uh, prescribe the proper treatment and medication for mental illness. Apparently treating mental disorders should be left up to Jesus. It says a lot about this book that his weapons of choice against our heroes are logic and medical reasoning. If logic is an enemy to your story, you need to look at your book, and look at your writing choices.

Angst Checklist:
  • Help! I'm a Vicious Celebutard surrounded by other Vicious Celebutards!
  • My Music Is Too Pretentious for Regular Clubs Therefore I'm Broke
  • I Tried to Kill Myself for Attention but All I Got Was the Opposite of Attention
  • Psychiatry is the Devil. Literally.
  • Catholic Churches are losing ties to their roots, I mean where you can find a decent parish with a functional iron maiden anymore?
  • Hot Abs for Jesus
  • Sex dreams in which you die violently that are still hot
  • Sex dreams only without the sex and lots of trippy imagery
  • Sex dreams only with no sex and no dreams where you bash your head into mirrors, fall into iron maidens and set your hair on fire. Uh, the way Jesus intended.
  • Heroism is for suckers, unless you do it in over-described fabulous wardrobes
Tweet It! My livetweets reading this hot mess are Storified here.

The Word: I spent about 4 hours figuring out how to write this review. How best to convey the utter disgust and rage I felt reading this terrible, offensive, insane-in-the-membrane book. I must have stopped and started a dozen times. Finally, I decided to keep it simple, and let the madness flow out of me naturally.

I was actually excited to read this book, if you can believe it. As a practising Catholic who is also writing a novel about saints for NaNoWriMo, I thought this book (which I picked up at BookExpo America) would provide the perfect creative inspiration.

I was wrong.

Our three "heroines" (and I use that term extremely loosely) all wind up in the ER on the same night after their Darwinian attempts to remove their defective genes from the YA Heroine gene pool failed - Agnes tried to kill herself to spite her mother and her ex-boyfriend, Cecilia the pretentious-preachy indie musician drunkenly drowned in a puddle, and professional famewhore Lucy accidentally overdosed at a club.

While convalescing, they each mysteriously receive a strange bone chaplet with a unique gold charm on it that draws them to a run-down church in Brooklyn.

Now, in a decently-written YA, this would start the plot going and lead these heroines on a journey to find out who they really are and what their purpose is. However, that would require writing and developing a female character deeper than the layer of dust this book will soon acquire at the Used Book Store. And why do that when it's so much easier to describe their designer outfits or the expensive furniture and accessories in their bedrooms?

To save on having to give the protagonists enough character development to motivate their own choices, the book has the heroines do things because they mysteriously "feel" that they should, or because a vague force compels them to make uncharacteristic decisions.

It's thanks to these inexplicable plot contrivances that our booze- and pretension-addled heroines wind up in a decrepit old church where a Hot Mysterious Male Mentor Figure named Sebastian awaits. Because he is a Male Person with Abs, it takes about five minutes before all three of our heroines are venomously catfighting for his attentions.

And that's pretty much the book. All these girls do is snipe at each other, fawn over Sebastian, and find new and Catholic-inspired ways to hurt themselves.

No, really. The Blessed is aggressively, offensively stupid for a number of reasons - the vapid and unpleasant heroines, the grotesque random violence, the wonky plotting, the overly-vague and half-assed world building, and the amateurish writing larded with unnecessary adjectives and speech tags.

Worse, The Blessed fails because nothing of note really happens for the vast majority of it. Sebastian waves his arms around and makes a lot of open-ended and non-specific statements about finding a destiny, and it takes him until nearly the very end of the book to reveal what the cover artwork, book marketing, and back cover blurb already did: that the heroines are the reincarnations of the Saints Agnes, Cecilia, and Lucy.

So for the first 300 pages of this book there is no conflict, there is no explanation, there isn't even any development of the very, very slight supernatural plot.

For 300 pages, we have to read about how three hateful girls fight over a man, slutshame each other, and brutally self-harm themselves during a Random Religious Ecstasy (not making this up) in a church during a hurricane without any real reason for why they're there and why we have to read about it.

Even by the end, the worldbuilding is laughably threadbare - Agnes, Cecilia and Lucy have to save the world by doing, uh, good stuff, and by fighting the evil people who are hunting them, er, because they're just evil. What, were you reading this book hoping to learn something?

Plus, if one of the girls dies, the whole world is screwed. Because it's not like there are literally hundreds of other saints waiting in the wings. Or, you know, Jesus. He's usually on hand for these world-ending events. Unless, of course, the author just pilfered random bits of Catholicism without grounding it in any sort of internal logic or actual research. Gee, wouldn't that be offensive?

Honestly, The Blessed is just a heinous mess of random unpleasantness strung together with pseudo-Catholic-hipster pretension. It's ugly and convoluted and disorganized and violent and pointless. It portrays girls as glitzy objects of ridicule who are destined to be brutally victimized. The narrative has no established purpose until the very end and even then it cannot conclude it.

I suffered this book so that hundreds of thousands of you could be spared. Don't let my miraculous sacrifice be in vain.

Avoid this book, in memory of me.


  1. I love this review. I want to attack it with a hi-liter and quote things like "If logic is an enemy to your story, you need to look at your book, and look at your writing choices" and "Catfight Lightning Rod" in everyday conversation. There's so much awesome here that I shed a tiny tear in appreciation. I won't read this book, because you asked and because I'm pretty sure that it would kill my soul.

    Shame really, I liked Ghostgirl.

    1. Thank you so much! What was Ghostgirl about?

  2. Anonymous7:49 AM

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  3. I'm not Catholic or anything, but the concept of Saints have always fascinated me. I took a few medieval history courses in college and whenever we covered the saints, I would sit up and pay attention. So, it's kind of a disappointment to hear this is bad. Plus, I really dislike reading books that are incredibly anti-science and anti-logic, to the point where it is obvious (much of the time I can be oblivious to those things). What a waste of a great concept.

    1. Yes - I *definitely* got the anti-science vibe from this novel. The psychiatrist was depicted as a charlatan - because he apparently treated people with "soulless" medicine instead of caring about their "feelings" and believing in Jesus. And he definitely was a bad guy - but they should have made it clearer that he was a bad guy because he used mentally ill people and drug addicts as his pets/minions, not because his brain was too scientific to accept Christ.

  4. Woah.

    Just ... woah.

    The plot problem sounds similar to the issues I had with 'Hush, Hush' - which was that there's an angel on the front cover, and mentioned in the blurb but the majority of the book (except for the last couple of chapters) is the heroine figuring out that the mysterious boy who just entered her life is... AN ANGEL!

    Yeah. I just can't. And it's a shame, because I think Catholicism could render some very interesting YA stories - particularly about the Saints. You just kinda hope that those stories are left in better hands...

    1. mine! LOL, my NaNo novel was actually about a girl who hits her head and has conversations with teenage versions of the saints. Now I know exactly what traits to avoid when revising it.

  5. Oh, this sounds awful. Thank you for saving the rest of us.

    I'd be very interested in hearing more about your book about saints though. As Danielle says, there could be some really good stories there.

  6. OH YAY! I've been waiting for someone to review this and tear it into little pieces ever since I saw that cover which makes me want to hurl all over the nearest church, which, admittedly, is not the church's fault. This is simply how I feel.

    The Protagonists: Oh man, all of them ALMOST died, which means you were nearly spared this torturous read. Does this fall under the heading "proof there is no god"?

    Oh good. There's only one hot male. They'll need to split him three ways. Like a banana. What an odd metaphor to make in this instance.

    "However, that would require writing and developing a female character deeper than the layer of dust this book will soon acquire at the Used Book Store." Oooh, BURN.

    I would never have touched this book with a pole, but you are a martyr in the way you spare others. I have officially learned more about Christianity from your review than can apparently gleaned from the too-many-pages of this shitstorm.

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