this is a piece of adult fiction that i think would probably find a more sympathetic readership amongst a YA audience.
because as allegory, as homeroom-doodle revenge fantasy, this has a lot of potential. it’s all about the perceived powerlessness of teenage girls and what if some girls in this town had a switch that no one could see but every so often it would be flipped somehow and that girl would go buckwild with the flames and the flying and the unstoppable violence and everyone would be so damn scared? how awesome would that be?
and it’s true—the idea is awesome, but the treatment of it just doesn’t go anywhere.
as an empowerment piece, it doesn’t satisfy because the appearance of powers is random and destructive. and not destructive in a “take back the night” way, but destructive to the girls themselves. so that sucks.
as appalachia mythology story it doesn’t work because the author stubbornly refuses to even say where this takes place except “south of tennessee,” which is fine—not everything has to have a pin on the map to be rewarding, but the blurriness of location compounded with the blurriness of intent just makes the whole thing feel like a baby crayon sketch instead of what could have been a really slick graphic novel girlhero kind of story.
as a coming of age story, it doesn’t really work because there is no growth, no learning, no sticking. there’s death and suicide and virginity-loss and betrayal and a haircut and these are all things that should be in a typical coming-of age-story, but the part this book lacks is the response to these situations. everything seems to have the same weight. nothing seems to have any purpose in the driving of the story, stuff happens but to no real end. giving examples amounts to spoilers, but just trust me; bizarre things happen but really just for the sake of having something bizarre happen. instead of a leather-tight allegory, we have some abandoned scraps where you can only see what might have been.
but i think a YA reader, going through all that delicious power/powerlessness turmoil of the reckless hormonal teen years might be able to get more out of it than some old dried out tortoise like me, already very aware of her powerful woman-might. because i think a lot of the voice was good, and some of the set pieces were nice; i just need a method to my madness, which when i was a teenreader, i required less. then, i could have been given an idea and a story, and been perfectly content. as a wizened adult, now i suddenly have all these other needs, like “why are you telling me this?” “what does this signify?” “why mention this thing if there will not be a payoff?” “hurry up, i have to make dinner” etc.
as a daydream, this is a lot of fun. but as a novel, it just doesn’t work so hot.
karen russell promised me: “appalachian magic, conflagration, and supernatural violence.” but she never promised me these elements would ever cohere into anything. fair enough.