I’m always looking for new and interesting young adult fiction. I’ve found that in the last few years young adult has become worse, and in a way, much better. There are the authors that are still trying to categorize YA and pander to young readers by putting in pointless romances and attempt to use slang appropriately. Then you have the authors that realize that young readers have as varied a taste in books as adults and that we shouldn’t treat them like idiots. The young adult book I just finished up, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, seems to an equal mix of the two types.
“You stop fearing the devil when you’re holding his hand…” Nothing much exciting rolls through Violet White’s sleepy, seaside town… until River West comes along. River rents the guest house behind Violet’s crumbling estate, and as eerie, grim things start to happen, Violet begins to wonder about the boy living in her backyard. Is River just a crooked-smiling liar with pretty eyes and a mysterious past? Or could he be something more? Violet’s grandmother always warned her about the Devil, but she’s so knee-deep in love, she can’t see straight. Could she be headed for disaster?
April Genevieve Tucholke is a full-time writer who digs classic movies, redheaded villains, big kitchens, and discussing murder at the dinner table. She and her husband–a librarian, former rare-book dealer, and journalist–live in Oregon. Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea is her first novel with the sequel Between the Spark and the Burn coming out this August.
The characters in this piece are a group of teenagers: all seventeen (at least, I think they were all seventeen). There’s Violet, the main protagonist. She’s a shy girl, a little snobby (she’s from old money), and likes to read. The story is told through first person perspective so you garner the most information about her. Unfortunately, she’s such a dull character her perspective quickly becomes quite boring and repetitive. Take for example her brother Luke. He’s a sexist pervert, content with treating his sister like garbage in the sake of coolness and drinking whatever liquor is available to him. Or at least that’s how Violet paints him in first person. He’s always got his hands all over a girl named Sunshine, a kind of vapid, flirty girl who’s friends with his sister, and Violet is certain it’s to make her uncomfortable. You learn at the end that it’s because they actually like each other but Violet’s a pretty self-centred/oblivious character and it escapes her until after she’s had her ‘life-changing, eye-opening’ moment. What I did like about Violet’s character was that she had no interest in boys… well, until she met River, but I’ll get to him in a moment. Violet is perfectly content to make small talk until she dies–she’s a whole person without having a man in her life and that’s a pretty refreshing character trait in young adult fiction! Of course she does meet a boy and after that all she can think about is him, but (again, I can’t say too much without giving the whole point of the story away). Alright, onto the last character, the main antagonist: River. He’s a suave, handsome, talented, multi-faceted lair that Violet can’t help but fall in love with. Unfortunately, even with all that going on for him, he’s as flat and plain as a playing card. All the characters are. Tucholke tried, she really did! You can tell in her lovely prose that she attempted to make human characters people could relate to, but they just ended up coming off flat.
Speaking of Tucholke’s lovely prose, I must say something about the location: a small and quaint seaside town in Oregon. It reminded me a little of the small town I spent my teenage years in, so it was easy for me to visualize all the small stores and the resident quirky townsfolk. Violet and Luke also happened to live in a huge, expansive Manor right beside the sea cliffs with a thick forest on the other side. It has a ballroom full of oil paintings and an attic packed with antiques and mysterious letters written by an eccentric grandmother. It’s a beautiful setting and in a way, it became its own character. Certainly it’s the most interesting character! Tucholke’s elegant prose suits description much better than it does dialogue!
This book had reviews written on it that called it a ‘terrifying and hypnotic debut’. It’s not. They only way this book could be considered hypnotic is that it’s dull enough to put you to sleep. Don’t get me wrong, Tucholke has writing talent–her descriptions are a thing of beauty, full of words that left me longing to re-read some classic gothic novels–but as far as character and story development goes, there’s a long road yet to travel.
My final thoughts on Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea are that it’s more or less mindless, young adult pap. It’s not anything that it’s advertised to be: it’s not sexy, it’s not romantic, it’s not reminiscent of classic gothic horror; it’s just… so uninteresting. Don’t get me wrong, this book is not by any means a total waste of time, but I suggest you go into it not expecting any of the things the reviews on the front cover say!