This is kind of an odd review... apologies in advance. (Another case of it's not you, it's me.)
Mayhem had all the ingredients to be a book that I'd enjoy: speculative magic, ocean vibes, female protagonist, witchy vibes, 1980s aesthetic. But it didn't mesh with me, and I'm still not exactly sure why.
Described as a YA feminist mash-up of The Lost Boys and The Craft, this book follows its main character, literally named Mayhem, and her mother, Roxy, as they deal with secrets, hidden magic, and the ties that bind in families.
It's witchy, it's 1987, and it's Santa Monica.
Mayhem and her mother are on the run from her abusive stepfather, Lyle, and its gotten so bad that Roxy decides to bite the bullet and take them home to the Braeburn house. Roxy used to be a Braeburn, but she's spent all of Mayhem's life trying to forget her roots.
Mayhem doesn't understand her mom's reluctance to go home, because her aunt and cousins are awesome. Being a Braeburn means belonging, accepting, and a home of her own. It's a dream come true.
Being a Braeburn also means that Mayhem has a legacy, and one that her mother literally tried to squash out of her—the Braeburn women are magical.
When Mayhem, her cousins, and the Braeburn legacy all intertwine for the first time....things are about to get intense in a major way. And there's also the disappearing girls. That too.
As I said at the beginning, I think this novel wasn't for me. It was written well, the characters leapt off the page, and the plot seemed to mesh well with a lot of other readers, so I'm clearly not the core audience for this one—take my thoughts with that grain of salt.
It was just a case of the novel not fitting with my tastes of YA. I think I'll leave it with that to keep things spoiler-free.
If the description appeals to you, check this out!
Thank you the Wednesday Books for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
A Jewish girl finds her own voice in a Christian Southern community in the late 1950s. A meaningful look at what it means to accept your own identity, and an even more meaningful reflection on racism, bigotry, and the lessons from the past that are still relevant today.
In the Neighborhood of True is a novel that I think sits at the table with some of the many YA novels on racial discrimination in the 1950s South. The messaging is slightly different—our protagonist is a Jewish teenager, and the core themes are a 50/50 split on religious identity vs racial identity—but the overall story echoes others that tell a similar tale: when we Other another community, we breed hate and ignorance.
Obviously, this message is very important to our modern times. The author had no way of knowing this when this novel was written, but its coincidental timeliness was something I was hyper aware of during my read. But this novel stands on its own legs when it comes to quality and core resonance.
Ruth Robb has recently moved into her grandparents home in Atlanta in 1958. Her mother, a former Southern girl, had eloped with Ruth's Jewish father when she was young, so all Ruth remembers is her father's liberalism, her mother's outspokenness, and their welcoming Jewish community in New York.
Then Ruth's father dies, and her mother takes their family to live with her parents in their antebellum home in Atlanta. It's the land of sweet tea, "bless her heart," and the War of Northern Aggression. It's also the home of Ruth's grandmother, who believes Ruth could be her proper debutante granddaughter as long as the don't mention "the Jewish" stuff.
Ruth quickly falls in love with the glamour, the beautiful girls, and the lifestyle of the Southern way of life. So what if she has to hide her temple lessons and synagogue visits? She thinks it's worth it.
But as Ruth ends up discovering, the cost of hiding your true self is deeper than she initially thought...
As I said at the beginning, I loved this story's poignancy and messaging. This narrative, framed through the eyes of a teenager, was beautiful and relevant and heartbreaking at times. It was my first story regarding a Jewish person in the 1950s, and definitely my first story of that experience in the South. The themes of true self vs. the collective, religion vs religion, and truth vs the easy path were themes relevant to that time period and now. A powerful novel for teens and adults alike.
I also loved Ruth herself. Her desire to fit in, her desire to be loved and admired by popular boys... all of us girls can relate to aspects of that. I felt for her when she ignored her inner voice because when you're young, sometimes you don't follow that voice—and then you learn the hard way that the voice is there for a reason.
Great lessons, great plot, engaging characters, and a poignant theme of heart and truth.
Thank you to Algonquin for a copy of this title in exchange for an honest review.
If the title makes you shiver, this is the book for you. Fires, secrets, mothers and daughters and daughters and mothers, the ties that bind and the ties that break, and sinister overtones come out to play in Rory Power's tour de force sophomore novel.
Burn Our Bodies Down comes out on July 7, 2020!
Margot and her mother could be sisters, they look so much alike. Margot doesn't see this as a compliment. Her relationship with her mother, Jo, is anything but sister-like—it is one of flight, hiding, fights, and fear. Margot's mother has been running from something all of Margot's life.
Margot is done with it. Now 17, she's decided it's time to find the family that her mother abandoned, with the hope that anyone—anyone—will accept and love her better than her own manipulative mother. When Margot finds the phone number in her mother's things, she doesn't hesitate. She gives it a ring.
Phalene is the type of Nebraskan small town in the middle of its decline. Once a booming farming community, there's almost nothing left. Margot's family, the Nielsens, used to be the source of the town's success. Now it's just Gram, and her weird golden corn that looks dead yet grows, and the secrets that the Nielsen farm keeps to itself.
Margot doesn't mind. Her mother has made her used to so many weird things. In her desperation for acceptance, Margot accepts everything about her Gram and slots herself into the Nielsen farm.
But Gram's not exactly normal, and Margot found a dead body of a girl who looks just like her on her first day in town. The town thinks Gram's hiding something, and Margot agrees.
Did she jump from the frying pan into the fire? There might be a reason her mother was so afraid after all...
This is a novel that will attract a certain type of reader, but keep only a few as it's not exactly what it appears to be. I think Rory Power might just be that type of author—which works for me, because I'm now 2/2 with her books. I've loved them both.
The story delivers on its advertising: this novel is SPOOKY, and the atmosphere was so taut throughout that I got a kink in my neck from holding myself so tense. If you like creeping suspense and lingering horror, this is the novel for you. There are no jump scares, no dramatic whodunits, but the lingering horror...is intense.
However, the main core of this story is not its plot, its genre, or even its character composition. It's in the character relationships. I make that nuance here because Margot, Jo, and Gram are not the most fleshed out characters. But their relationships with each other ARE, and that's where this novel sings. Mothers and daughters. Manipulation, secrets, and the ties that bind and break. This multi-generational character study of one family's method of parenting is singular in its focus and honestly fascinating in its rot. I would never want these relationships in my life—talk about unhealthy—but in their black and white reality it was easy to see the bones of fights I've had with my own mother, and vice versa. The growing pains of teenage girls versus their mothers is something most women can relate to, and in a way this is a horror novel about that experience amplified by a ton of speculative elements. Extremely cool, and extremely well done.
Thank you to Delacorte Press via NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.