Saturday, April 6, 2013

Norman Bates Meet Mary-Magdalene



You Know What You Have to Do
Author Bonnie Shimko
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This quirky, appealing YA novel turns formulaic teen fiction on its head as funny, feisty fifteen year-old Mary-Magdalene Feigenbaum (otherwise known as Maggie) suddenly faces more than the usual typical YA concerns: a voice in her head that is telling her to kill people. Not just anyone—each time the target is someone who has done something terrible to a person Maggie cares for. You know what you have to do, the voice commands. Maggie struggles to resist, but the voice is relentless. With rising suspense, this story of psychological horror introduces a narrator whose own unique voice and irreverent humor are unforgettable—an unlikely hero fighting a desperate battle against incomprehensible evil. 

Review: It's true! This book does turn formulaic teen fiction on its head. Can I get an AMEN!  Perhaps, this explains the wide variety of star-ratings. Either you're going to like the change or not. For me, it was a winner!  If you're looking for gore or slasher scary, you won't get it here. This is a psychological haunt that seeps into the brain and does the dirty work. What makes it frightening? The seemingly everyday ability to function with a demented voice in the head. The realism is what brings on the shiver factor. Although the tag line reads, Dexter meets Judy Blume, I'd write it as, Norman Bates say hello to Mary-Magdalene. Norman and Mary are more likely to be soul-mates than Dexter, the blood specialist working homicide.
Norman Bates, I'd like to introduce you to Mary-Magdalene.
The psychological construction of Mary is complex, consistent and deeply intriguing. We're never told what her mental illness is because just like the other characters (and herself), this is all new and happening in real-time. Like Dr. Scott and Adams, the reader is provided information and left to determine a diagnosis. However, the advantage goes to the reader because we're given access to Mary's intimate thoughts. Her ability to lie is astounding, suggesting she is highly intelligent and understands right from wrong, as well as self-preservation. On the other hand, Mary also can't seem to lie when it comes to social interaction, which makes her come across as brutally honest, awkward and a bit strange. Her justified empathy is fascinating, yet she still seems to have a conscience or at the very least, a distorted moral compass. Plus, she loves animals. I can not help but draw a comparison to the young Norman Bates and we all know how that turned out! So who is the voice in her head?  Well, that is the million dollar question and would make for a great class or reading group discussion. What exactly is 'wrong' with Mary-Magadlene?

And what about that voice? All I can say is WOW! The voice in this text gets a standing ovation! I don't mean the voice in Mary's head, but rather I'm referring to the literary voice. It is seamless, flawless and convincing. The deadpan delivery takes skill and even when it would be 'normal' to heighten emotion, Shimko manages to maintain control to keep with the character. Some readers might find this too steady of an approach in certain scenes, but from a psychological standpoint this is so necessary and important. It provides more insight into the mind of the main character than any other description. So much depends on Mary's response or lack thereof, and I was pleased to see any temptation to veer from what the character demanded was avoided. It takes great discipline and Shimko flexes her writer muscles with this one! 

The only thing I might poke at is the ending. It provides just enough to scrape by and qualify as a complete story, but it's hard not to want a bit more.  I've gone over this a few times and I can make an argument for both adding another scene or leaving it as is. The imagination will get the better of you. Clearly there is a resolution and ending, but it might frustrate some readers. Whereas others, like myself, will enjoy pondering the possibilities of what happens next. It's beautifully annoying and again fits with the entire flow, voice and path of the story. I find that I've been arguing with the voice in my head about the ending. Isn't that ironic!  Oh, and how clever!
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*ARC provided by Amazon's Children Publishing courtesy of Amazon Vine

2 comments :

  1. Jheeeeeeeeeeeeze this was brilliant!It was a completely original story line, I've never even come across a book that properly touched on the subject of schizophrenia. And the ending...wowowow, now that's what I call a cliff hanger!

    regards,
    micky of Collision Car Repair

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