Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke

I’ve been doing a lot of travelling recently, which means I’ve also been doing a lot of reading. Nothing gets me through more books than the airport/plane down time. But, while I’ve been reading a lot of books, I haven’t written any reviews. So, time to go back to the first of their recent wave of reads – Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke. What to say about this book? What to say? Honestly, I don’t know. And that’s kind of how I felt the entire read. Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea (that is too long to type every time I want to reference it. I mean really. Authors should think about these things when naming their books. So I’m just going to call it Deep Blue Sea) is one of those books I knew nothing about before I started. I’d never heard the name, read any reviews, or even seen the cover.

I go to the library a lot, at least once a week, but I rarely find books by wandering the stacks. I typically find what I’m looking for online and put a hold on it. There are too many branches and the books I’m looking for are never at my branch. Also, my go-to branch is the centre of the children’s programming in the city. Most of the library is a kids’ area for playing and baby/parent time and singing. The rest of it is mostly open computers and such. There actually aren’t even that many books in this branch. It’s not my ideal wander and grab scenario. However, I needed to go to the far side of the library one day and happened to notice this one on my way back to the front. There it sat, all attractive and potentially gothic and such. I had no idea what it was about, but man it was pretty. And while the title is long, it’s got that familiar feel that is instantly welcoming. I almost didn’t care about the substance. This was going to be a one night stand kind of read. All I wanted was the pretty. And that was probably a good thing. Cause it’s kind of all I got.

This is a book where one of the central plot points is insta-love. A book about insta-love, and I picked it up? You’re right to question my sanity. I do not like these kinds of books. I’ve made that clear several times. If the synopsis alludes to that kind of story, it goes back on the shelf before I’ve finished the blurb. If I start a book and it happens, I almost always put it down – never to scan its pages again. These make terrible stories. They almost never have anything resembling a plot. At best, they are entertaining in their terribleness. Now, I don’t mean stories where characters meet and feel an instant attraction that eventually turns into a connection/relationship of some kind. That is a thing that legitimately happens. Sometimes, you just feel that zing. No. What I’m talking about is those stories where a girl meets and boy and follows him blindly and the boy feels like he isn’t good enough/is too dangerous for the girl. It always happens this way. It’s never the boy who falls and girl who resists. That might be a little more interesting to read. I could rant forever about why these are terrible stories – how they degrade a woman’s right to her feelings or to have the ability to recognize when something isn’t good. But that’s not what this post is about. And somehow, Deep Blue Sea didn’t make me feel the rage that I typically feel at these stories, even though Violet falls for River before even speaking to him.

Here’s why – the story was going for a gothic feel and therefore, played with several tropes from the genre. I have to be okay with that. Those plot points are tropes because they appear so frequently. Without familiar qualities, how to you define a genre? In gothic novels one frequently used aspect is that of the helpless female. This is Violet’s role. She wants to put forward the façade of distance and self-assurance in her uniqueness, but she’s so the little girl looking for someone she can rely on – whether that’s an aunt, a parent, or a boy. She’s alone and away from her family (another trope). She has to figure things out on her own. The only person she has to depend on is her unreliable brother. A boy who has no interest in her other than how her misery can make his time more enjoyable. And Sunshine, the friend who’s mostly there to show how good and Violet is. So, in the guise of a gothic novel, I don’t hate the insta-love.

The second thing that kind of gives this novel a pass on the love front is that Violet keeps recognizing that her attraction to River is dangerous. She knows she shouldn’t be doing some of the things she’s doing, but it’s almost not her fault. She is legitimately angry at him for frequently throughout the novel, but River keeps using his powers on her to make her forget why and lull her into submission. He’s basically supernaturally roofying her. So, not her fault. She wants to confront him. He takes away her power. (Ugh, looking at it this way shows me one more area where the author missed a potentially amazing story opportunity). This is different than a story where say the boy is a vampire who the girl just keeps pining for even when he pushes her away. Here Violet keeps trying to pull away and he keeps making her come to him. He uses his powers to literally make her forget why she was mad. And this is where we get to the supernatural part of the story – and where it has so much potential.

River has the ability to make people see things – good or bad. To induce hallucinations. And what does he do with this power? He uses it to make people do bad things or hurt themselves. And he gets a rush from it. Every time he uses his power, he gets a jolt, but only if he’s using it to scare people. He convinces a bunch of kids that they need to hang out in the cemetery and kill the devil while he has a little girl go hide herself for days and puts the entire town into a panic. It’s actually kind of a cool story idea. It briefly touches on how addiction can drive someone to be a person they don’t actually want to be but don’t know how not to be. River voices this when he says he can’t stop what he’s doing, even though he recognizes that it is harmful to himself and those around him. Or the novel could have used River’s powers as an exploration into why showing people the positive can be so much more painful than showing them the scary. River’s twisted relationship with his father touches on this idea, but then gets shoved aside for his relationship with Violet. Painful memories associated with good moments are so much worse than the temporary scare. I thought this was going to be where the story went, especially when River’s brother showed up. It was the point where the story could have turned from a love story to a redemption story, but instead, it kept drifting around in the middle without ever landing anywhere substantial.

And then there was the weird introduction of the third brother. The unknown half-brother who is even worse than River in his evil predilections. It just felt so unnecessary. And convoluted. He was there for no other purpose than to make River’s crimes seem less awful. He tortured people and gave River a chance to redeem himself, but it just didn’t really happen. It got too complicated and too shallow all at the same time. It just kind of felt like a whole lot of unnecessary nothing.

People kept asking me about Deep Blue Sea while I was reading it. Was it good? Was it worth reading? Should they pick it up? It has such a pretty cover. I kept telling them to wait. The ending of this book would make or break the way I felt about it. I knew that was the truth. If it was a stupid romance-everything’s perfect ending, I would hate it. If it turned into a redemption story, it was probably going to be rad. But that’s not what happens. Somehow, I was left with giant feeling of meh. It wasn’t great. It wasn’t terrible. It was just kind of nothing. It had enjoyable moments. It had stupid moments. I did not think it was as terrible as other people have said in their reviews, but it also wasn’t the haunting, lyrical story other people are calling it. It was a time killer. I wish I could say better things, cause I did really enjoy some parts of it, but the further I get from the read, the less those moments stand out. Is it worth a read? Maybe, if you’re looking for the cotton candy equivalent of a book.

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