Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Highway to Hell, a novel by Rosemary Clement-Moore - review

I am woefully behind in my YA reviewing. I have been reading YA books all summer - in part because I like YA books, partly because I got so many YA ARCs at BookExpo, and of course, partly because I like to be able to recommend books to teenagers.

But I haven't been able to bring myself to review them. Sure, Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception by Maggie Steifwhatever was fine, with romance and uncertainty and music and telekinesis, and the similar but less romance-y Troll Bridge: A Rock'n' Roll Fairy Tale I would recommend without hesitation.

The forthcoming Sphinx's Princess, in which Esther Friesner imagines the pre-royal life of Nefertiti (King Tut's wife) the same way she did Helen of Troy's in Nobody's Princess, was perfectly serviceable clean teen historical romance fiction. The Goldsmith's Daughter, about an Aztec teen who crosses gender lines to protect her family, was terrific - right up until she fell in love with a conquistador. Hey, doesn't everybody love a good-Nazi love story?

I read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and I have independent confirmation that YES it is a good choice for young adult readers. Wondergirl, my favorite middle schooler, read it over the summer at my suggestion, then rented the movie and laughed all the way through it. Hee hee hee!

But WHYYY have I not reviewed all these things? What is the MATTER with me? Have I lost my joy in reading and nowadays I am just plowing through these novels for the sake of getting them done? WOE!

Cough. That was probably a little more melodramatic than the situation warrants. Anyway. I am, by contrast, supernaturally excited about this book, the most recent in the Maggie Quinn, Girl vs. Evil series. I am a newcomer to Maggie, her friend D&D Lisa the evil genius, her paladin of a boyfriend, and the trouble - EEEVIL trouble - that seems to dog their footsteps. I picked up the book because I liked the coolio Craig Phillips cover, and because on it, Maggie wears aviator sunglasses while motoring along in her Jeep with no doors.

And now I've just finished it and I'm happy, I'm happy happy happy. Maggie and Lisa are geeky plus good-looking, but in a believable, Kristen-Bell-in-Fanboys kind of way. Their banter is witty but not so witty that it sounds fake. They call each other "moron" with regularity. They are aware that together, they make up Bart Simpson's sisters, and if you point it out, they will roll their eyes so hard they'll almost knock themselves over.

Maggie is psychic and Lisa is a witch, and BF Justin has the looks, the good manners, and the physical competence of a Riley Finn without all the whining. Seriously, I'll never forgive Whedon for what he did to that character. Make him evil, kill him off, but emasculating him like that was just mean.

The plot is TIGHT. There's enough going on that the author could be forgiven for letting a detail or two go unexplained, but she does not. Furthermore, answers are not hurled into the text at the end in any old "Have this droid's memory wiped" manner. They are woven in, sometimes not even overtly. My new pal Rosemary Clement-Moore doesn't seem to think it's necessary for a character to say, "Oh so that's why the demon absorbed that shotgun blast without injury." If it's not a major plot point, she'll let you make that connection yourself, which, I have to say, is extremely generous. If I'd written anything half so clever, you can bet I would be showing off all my tied-off ends like a Boy Scout who just earned his Knots merit badge.

PLUS. Maggie is petite and powerful, and sassy and cute. I'm a geek. But I didn't think of Buffy until page 270, when she tells a giant amalgamated demon who is doing a good job of intimidating her, "You are so full of crap." Of course, now I can't stop.

The book is, somewhat refreshingly, not without God. I am a little weary of the dances that many authors do in order to keep their teen demon-fighting free of any actual discussion of faith. As when Buffy runs into a high school classmate in the cemetery and he asks (about God), "does he exist, by the way? Is there word on that?" and Buffy answers, "Nothing solid."

In this book, Lisa, in particular, is quite concerned about going to Hell after having summoned a demon in a previous book. There are Catholic characters who participate in the Back Demon Back, saying prayers and swinging branding irons.

Our setting is the fictional Dulcina, TX, right down in the foot of Texas, near the Gulf of Mexico. Lucky for us, Clement-Moore knows her Texas. She writes the landscape - its smells and sky, its few features, the effect livestock has on it, and most of all its subtle rises and falls - really well, with unstrained, natural imagery. You get the feeling she's spent some time on a horse.

(I briefly became a little concerned that the "Moore" in "Clement-Moore" was as in Christopher Moore, which would make sense, kind of like when I found out Justine Larbalestier and Scott Westerfeld are married, but looks like not. Apparently, though, she and I are the same person, because she lists Television Without Pity and Go Fug Yourself as good wastes of time, and Susan Cooper and Meg Cabot - whose blog writing I thought of more than once while reading this book - as hero authors. Plus she liked Firefly. Awww.)

Funny and smart, exciting and hip, Highway to Hell was just the squirt of lime I needed to cut through my midsummer complacency.

1 comment:

Tess Mallory said...

Great review of Rosemary Clement-Moore's book! I will be reading one soon!