Friday, August 6, 2010

Sci-Fi Friday Review: Jekel Loves Hyde by Beth Fantaskey

Found via: Publisher's Weekly 4/12

I'll admit - sometimes I go out of my way to find a book I'm pretty sure I'm going to have problems with. It's not that I'm a masochist; rather I'm really interested in following certain trends and making sure I don't get too comfortable in my preferred reading corner. The Publisher's Weekly review noted that "Readers may be troubled by the violence intertwined with their growing romance," which caught my attention. "May" be troubled? I wondered. Violence =/= romance in any way, which is why I get disturbed when people go gaga for Alex in Perfect Chemistry since he's totally creepy and borderline abusive. So I was all set to read this and rail against the "violent boys are sexy" trope - and discovered that I think the reviewer was overreacting to the violence. There's so much else going on in here that needs to be critiqued, the violence was the last thing on my mind.

Jekel Loves HydeJill Jekel is the perfect good girl. She's never even questioned her parents' rules - even now, in the aftermath of her father's death, and the revelation that the brilliant scientist was guilty of stealing chemicals from his lab. Now Jill's focused on keeping her mom healthy and sane.

Tristen Hyde is mysterious. Talk, dark, handsome and an excellent student, he shies away from attention and keeps to himself - unless someone violates his space and pushes him over the edge into a violent fit.

When a prestigious chemistry scholarship becomes available, their chemistry teacher suggests they pair up, sure that the combination of their names will garner extra attention - Jekel and Hyde in the chemistry lab once again. What Jill doesn't know, however, is that Tristen believes he really is the descendant of the infamous Mr. Hyde, and when Jill discovers an old box of papers in her father's office containing formulas about changing personalities, they both come to believe she's a descendant of Dr. Jekyll. They agree to work together, partly for the scholarship, but more in an effort to save Tristen's life. For being a descendant of Hyde means hiding a terrible secret - a draw to violence and murder that Tristen isn't sure he can control for much longer.

Is there some violence in this story? Yes. Is it tied in any way to Jill's and Tristen's budding romance? Not really. Tristen describes a vaguely sexual element to his bloodlust, but also states that murder is the release he seeks.

Jill Jekel might be one of the flattest characters I've ever read. Fantaskey picks up on the good girl trope, and pushes it to its limits and beyond. If this were a set up to create a better contrast for Jill embracing her "bad" side eventually I would have had more patience, but despite the jacket copy's emphasis on Jill's bad side, we only see her slipping twice.

The bad sides of Jill and Tristen also had a bizarrely sexist element. When Tristen is wrestling with the beast, he wants to maim and kill. When Jill ingests the formula, she shoplifts a sexy black bra and feels horny - clearly we are talking about two entirely different levels of "bad" and this ends up coming across as extremely moralizing and sexist - after all, only a bad girl would want to have sex with a hot boy in the science lab!

The other characters are just as flat as Jill. The two supporting female characters, best friend Becca and scholastic rival Darcy, are absolutely cartoonish. Becca especially acts inexplicably, and there's never any reason shown for Jill and her to be friends in the first place. Tristen is the only character with an ounce of depth, but I feel at this point that's really damning him with faint praise.

As for the actual story, I found that everyone was way too credulous of the idea that Jill and Tristen were descended from Jekyll and Hyde. No one has ever claimed that Robert Louis Stevenson was writing about something that actually happened, or even exaggerating a real event for dramatic effect. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde were firmly rooted in his imagination. I like the idea of playing with them having a basis in reality, but every character seems far too willing to buy Tristen's story, without even hesitating to say "Wait, I thought that was fiction." The overall writing was also unwieldly and I felt that no one actually ever sounded like a teenager - Jill actually worries about "losing her virtue," a phrase totally out of place in a contemporary novel that isn't about promise rings.
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