Thursday, February 05, 2009

Bliss by Lauren Myracle

Plot Summary: 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 naive 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 Bliss desperately wants new friends, making her the perfect prey of a troubled girl whose obsession with a long-ago death puts Bliss, and anyone she’s kind to, in mortal danger.

I’m not really a reader of horror. I’ve enjoyed some Stephen King, except when he gets too gross. Then I have to skip ahead...

But this book, BLISS, is classified as horror and I couldn’t put it down. I loved the characters, the setting was vivid, and the suspense kept me on the edge of my seat. I especially loved the quotes from the period (Andy Griffith Show, the Charles Manson trial, etc) inserted before each chapter. But the ending? Well...

As with all my discussions, there are SPOILERS ahead.

Okay, I’m just going to give away the whole book right now and reveal how the story ends. If you don't want to know, stop reading now. :)

Throughout the story, the main character, Bliss, and her friend, Sandy, have been dealing with the spirit of a very disturbed dead girl (Liliana). Bliss wants to stay away from Liliana, but Sandy can’t get enough of her. In the end, Liliana’s spirit re-enters the world of the living through a human host and a ritual involving blood. Sandy offers herself as host, threatens Bliss and her friends if she doesn’t agree to help with the ritual. The indirect result of this is the death of one of Bliss’s friends.

And then what happens? Well, not much.

Bliss learns to grieve for her lost friend, and watches the deranged Liliana cast a spell over the entire student body, which will inevitably result in the death of another student. What does she do about it? Nothing, except make plans to run away.

Don't get me wrong - I was so glued to these pages that I finished it in a day and a half. But had I known how it would have ended, I'm not sure I would have picked it up in the first place. When I read the last page of the story, I turned to the next and said “huh?” I turned more pages, convinced there had to be more. But there wasn’t, and then I felt cheated. I’d been taken on this amazing ride, the stakes getting higher and higher. And when they were at their highest – the dangerous combination of Sandy and Liliana wreaking havoc upon the world – Bliss let's Sandy/Liliana win.

Let me make one thing clear. I don't hate unhappy endings. I don't fly into a rage if the bad guy "wins." In fact, when done well, stories like that end up as some of the most interesting I've ever read. But in this story, it ends with more than Sandy/Liliana winning. It ends with Bliss giving up.

I realize this happens in real life. Things get too difficult, and people can't handle it so they give up. But fiction is not real life. Characters must grow, and giving up is definitely not growth. Bliss, who wanted friends so badly she could taste it, doesn't fight for their safety. She doesn't even seem concerned for them. Instead, she lets them fade away. She lets her boyfriend think she’s an awful, deserting person. Then, she decides to leave this town and go live with her parents - thus deserting her friends (which, by the way, is what her parents did when they fled to Canada to dodge the draft, deserting Bliss at her grandmother's).

It's true that Bliss has removed herself from the world in her grief. Thoughts of fleeing to Canada make sense in her current state of mind. It could even be a great tool to elicit sympathy from the reader. But, she eventually has to come back, which is never easy – facing your pain is the hardest part. In this story, Bliss doesn’t come back. She faces nothing. She stands for nothing. How is that growth?

I wish the author had kept going. I think she had everything coming together so well: her worst-case-scenario (Sandy and Liliana) happened, the consequences of such were harsh yet realistic (death of the friend), and the tension and suspense was off the charts. I cannot figure out why she stopped where she did.

As a result, I am torn whether or not to recommend this title. Everything up to the end is stellar. Good writing, good structure, strong characters, vivid setting, amazing suspense. But the end left a lot to be desired. So, I guess I will leave it up to you. : )


Marcia said...

Very interesting! I have this book on reserve at the library, yet I read your entire post. :)I'll be interested to see how this ending impacts me. I wonder if it's "saying" that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree psychologically and spiritually even if it does physically. Like her parents, when the going gets tough, she cuts and runs, no matter who she leaves behind and what they think? Or, "Be careful what can of worms you open, because there's stuff you just CAN'T fix"? Well, that's just a shot in the dark, and the "message" shouldn't shortchange the story, at any rate. I'm eager to read it now and see what I think.

Tabitha said...

I really hope you'll share once you've read it. If I'm missing something, I hope someone points it out to me! :)

PJ Hoover said...

My initial reaction was just like yours. I was upset Sandy was "getting away with it". I was upset that Bliss and the guy (name escaping me) weren't together.
But then I thought sequel. Maybe?????
It seems like open-ended sequels are becoming more and more the rage these days.
As it is, I agree. With Sandy taking over the school, it's a bit unsatisfying. But if another book came out, I'd go buy it.

Unknown said...

*covers eyes*

Haven't read yet, but between you and PJ, it's jumping on the list!

PJ Hoover said...

Hey, did you see Rhymes with Witches is supposed to be the sequel (it came out two years ago).

Tabitha said...

PJ - I've just reserved Rhymes with Witches at my library. Thanks for the tip! I'll come back to edit this review after I've finished it. :) Apparently there will be another book set in the future, too. Should be interesting...

Beth - glad you covered your eyes, because I gave the whole book away in this review. :) Since PJ just let us know that Bliss is actually the second in a trilogy, are you going to read Rhymes with Witches first?

Anonymous said...

Amen to everything you just said. If there were a third book that would finish things, I might read that. But I'd have to know it wasn't going to frustrate me before I'd pick it up.

Tabitha said...

You got that right! I'm thinking there's going to be a third book, because of the way the first two were set up, but I'm not sure if I'll read it.

I probably will, because I'm convinced I was a cat in a previous life and curiosity killed me. :)