Sunday, August 25, 2013

Bliss, by Lauren Myracle

Title:  Bliss
Author:  Lauren Myracle
Publisher:  Harry N. Abrams
Year: 2008
Pages:  444
Genre:  Horror
Themes:  Friendship, Good vs. Evil
Age Range:  9th Grade and Above

Summary:  (from Goodreads)
When Bliss’s hippie parents leave the commune and dump her at the home of her aloof grandmother in a tony Atlanta neighborhood, it’s like being set down on an alien planet. The only guide naïve Bliss has to her new environment is what she’s seen on The Andy Griffith Show. But Mayberry is poor preparation for Crestview Academy, an elite school where the tensions of the present and the dark secrets of the past threaten to simmer into violence. Openhearted, naïve Bliss is happy to be friends with anyone. That’s not the way it has ever worked at Crestview, and soon Bliss is at the center of a struggle for power between three girls—two living and one long dead.
I read my first Stephen King book, Carrie, when I was in eighth grade.  It was scariest thing my 13 year-old self had ever read, but it was more than that.  King has a way of making his characters completely believable, even when they have completely unbelievable experiences or powers.  Obviously King was never a teenage girl, but you'd never know it from the way he wrote that character.  Her loneliness and confusion and rage and painful naivete were things I recognized in myself in some form or another.

Lauren Myracle achieves a similar feat in this novel, and in fact the plot is almost an homage to Carrie.  Bliss is a typical teenager in most ways, though her life on the commune certainly didn't prepare her to deal with the girl-culture of a 1970s prep school.  But she's smart and kind and determined to do he right thing, even when she's not entirely sure what that is.  She befriends the awkward, unliked Sandy, who starts out as a good friend to Bliss, but becomes more and more needy and creepy over time.  Sandy is communicating with the ghost of a long dead witch, who convinces her that a blood sacrifice is necessary for Sandy to get revenge on all of the people who've tormented her.  When Bliss decides to help the most popular girl in school, Sarah Lynn and her African American boyfriend be together, she unwittingly provides the spark that pushes Sandy into action.

Malevolent is not too strong a word to describe the tone of this book.  Bliss's character is torn between wanting to be a friend to Sandy, and being scared of her.  And Sandy herself is afraid of the ghost character as much as she is drawn to her.  But it's not just the supernatural characters that are scary.  Between the mean girl culture and racism the book has plenty of emotional tension.  This is a perfect book for teens who love to be scared, and would make a great addition to a classroom library.

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