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Saturday, 17 March 2018

Abandon by Meg Cabot

Having been thoroughly disappointed with my last read, I was hoping that my next Young Adult book would be more my style. I had read Meg Cabot books previously, specifically the first couple of volumes of both her Princess Diaries series and her Heather Wells series. The latter series I was quite fond of, and the former was far enough in the past that my recollections of reading it were hazy at best. So I had hopes that Abandon would at least be decent.

Abandon follows Pierce Oliviera, a teenager who had a near-death experience. Following her parents' divorce and a mysterious incident that caused her to be expelled from her previous school, she moves with her mother to Isla Huesos in Florida. Wanting a fresh start, Pierce can't help but be fearful, because when she came back to life, she brought something strange and possibly cursed back with her.
I wanted to like this. I'm something of a Greek myth buff, and while the Persephone myth isn't my favourite, I was interested in seeing how it would be reinterpreted. But Abandon just seemed to defy my efforts at every turn.
First of all, since I've mentioned that it's a re-write of the myth of Persephone's kidnap/marriage to Hades, of course there will be a death-god figure for Pierce to both run from and fall in love with. That relation could be interesting, if you went for the whole "I love the person, but I can't give up my life or family to be with them" angle. But despite the in-depth descriptions of John's good looks and the attempts to do the whole "they bicker, so they must be in love!" trope, there is so little chemistry that it all falls flat. And honestly, you have to be concerned when your main character's attempts to reach out emotionally to him devolves to her consciously using tactics learnt from working with wild animals. If you're treating someone you're attracted to like some kind of humanoid badger, then you have issues. Additionally, they don't seem to have actually spent more than a few hours in each other's company over all their encounters, and yet they're quite happy to talk about loving each other. I can barely get a general impression of someone in a few hours, let alone fall in love, so it smacks of obligation more than anything.
This lack of chemistry stems largely from the second issue that I have with Abandon. Pierce doesn't really seem to have a great deal of personality beyond the fact that she died and now has a magic necklace that warns her of danger. And considering that a huge chunk of the plot doesn't deal with supernatural stuff, but her attempts to settle into a new school following some severe traumas, that's a problem. She just sorts of gets carried along by events there, and all that I could take from those sections is that she's drawn to meddling in other people's problems without permission, and isn't especially suited to it. After a while, her incessant whining that somehow people think you're crazy when you tell them "I can protect you from the evil!" get really annoying, along with her repeated exclamations of "Check yourself before you wreck yourself". I don't care if it's even a little bit sarcastic, it soon starts to grate on your nerves. It wasn't long before I had concluded that I couldn't care less what happened to her, which is the kiss of death for a first-person narrative.
The third issue that I have with Abandon is that it takes far too long to get Pierce's backstory over and done with. So, there are two main issues that have impacted on Pierce's life within the past two years that are deemed to be important: her near-death experience where she met and escaped from the Love Interest, and an incident at her former school involving scandal and one of her teachers. What I would have done is maybe dedicate a couple chapters to each event and intersperse them with present-day events, but focus on the entirety of the event at one time. Cabot instead decides to drip feed both of them over the space of two thirds of the book, with both events frequently interrupted by mundane bullshit like school assemblies and queuing for ice cream. This is aggravating to the extreme, as it's obviously meant to raise tension, but there's a massive flaw that means that whatever tension is achieved falls flat. The events themselves are easy to work out. The scandal at her old school for instance? As soon as I heard that a teacher was involved and that Pierce had gotten herself in hot water by trying to get evidence against him, I knew that it would involve the teacher being pervy with his female students. And wouldn't you know, I was absolutely right. Now, compare Abandon with a property that takes this tired "Hot for Student" scenario and makes it work, namely the game Persona 5. Being a video game, it amps the tension by making it the focus of the consumer's attention and it raises the stakes with elements like a time restriction. It also spends a decent amount of time actually building up the secondary characters, so that when they start being harmed because of the teacher's abuse of power, you actually give a shit. In comparison, Abandon spends so much time stalling that you're praying to get the backstory over and done with, rather than being left on-edge to find out how it all turns out.
The fourth issue that I have is the role of the Furies. The Furies are depicted as enemies of John, and by extension Pierce, because they are damned souls who are angry at their treatment. This bugs me for two reasons. Firstly because according to Greek myths, the Furies were deities of vengeance who would target those who committed crimes like matricide or swearing false oaths. They're vicious, but their targets have traditionally been guilty in some fashion, they're the idea that certain crimes won't go unpunished even if mortal justice proves inadequate. To make them mindlessly evil is disingenuous to their mythic origins. Secondly, it seems weird that these all-powerful beings who exist solely to torment the deity running the Underworld are just the souls of evil people. If it's such a problem that Furies are actively possessing and corrupting living people to carry out their plans, then surely you would try and find out what the fuck it is that Hell is doing to make these things and stop it, not just keep shipping souls in to become new Furies only to wonder why your quality of life has plummeted. There's a line from Shakespeare's The Tempest that states "Hell is empty and all the devils are here", but I somehow doubt that it was meant to be taken literally.
Fifth issue is a bit of a spoiler. So it turns out that Furies have been targeting Pierce, and John is concerned that he can't protect her. His solution is to kidnap her again. But it's okay this time, because it's for her own good, and hey, if she gives it time then maybe she'll come to like being in the Underworld. Seriously, what is it with my reading list at the moment? I can't seem to get away from YA books that try to tone down kidnapping at the moment. I explored my issues with this last review, so just assume that it applies here too. Also, it ends having resolved absolutely fuck all of the issues that had been brought up. What was the point of spending so much time with the nasty popular kids in order to help her cousin work through some undefined issues that he has with them, if the main character is ripped out of the world before anything happens with it?
The last issue is just something that bewildered me to the point of exasperation. It turns out that Furies like tassels, so whenever they turn up in the narrative they signal oncoming danger. Let me state that again for the record. Tassels are a legitimate harbinger of doom. I don't think I need to point out the idiocy of that.

Abandon is a book that I wanted to like, but it manages to brain itself at every hurdle. The main character is a charming mix of annoying and boring. Her relationship with the love interest lacks any chemistry, having spent at most a few hours in each other's company over the entirety of their encounters and at times she treats him more like a wild animal than a person. The backstory is spoon-fed to the reader at such an excruciatingly slow pace that whatever tension the author hoped to create is destroyed. The present-day plot is boring and more or less entirely pointless by the end. The mythology that it reports to take inspiration from is cherry-picked and not especially well. It tries to justify kidnapping by the time it ends, and TASSELS of all things are harbingers of doom. Do not bother. 1.5/5

Next review: Junky by William S. Burroughs

Signing off,

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