You may remember that last Thursday was Teen Lit Day
, and as a celebration, I finally started reading an abandoned book from my childhood, The Changeover: A Supernatural Romance
by Margaret Mahy.
Where we last left off, I’d read the first chapter and was pretty skeptical. Our Heroine had just had some sort of premonition and was trying to convince her mom that this guy who reads romance novels is a witch. I said the book was not badly written, and at the time, I was not lying.
Well, I finished the book yesterday, and I’m here to give you a full recap. Let me start by saying that at no point during this entire novel does anyone glow:
Now that we’ve cleared that up, I feel compelled to say that if this book and I had a relationship,* it would be my abusive ex. I thought that if I stayed with it long enough, I could fix it, and there were moments where I really thought I would. But in the end I realized that this book was bad for me, and there was nothing I could do about it. I was a worse person, too, for being with this book–I shouted at it, verbally abused it, even threw it down and paced around the room in anger sometimes, but I kept going back to it, holding on to the hope that our relationship would get better. It didn’t.
There were so many things wrong with this book, it’s hard to know where to begin, but I’m going to limit my review of this book to two parts: The Supernatural and The Romance. Know now that this is going to be spoilertastic, hopefully so no one ever feels the need to read this book again. Seriously, it’s that bad. I was going to mail this to my sister when I finished so she could read it, but now I’m not going to because I love her too much.
Let’s start with the plot, shall we? This is the “supernatural” story line, which theoretically should be the focus of the story but is actually just an afterthought designed to get the two characters together. I came to this book with an open mind; supernatural books aren’t really my thing, but I’ve never really tried to read them so I didn’t want to judge. Besides, I really like some supernatural-adjacent things, like Doctor Who or Harry Potter or Runaways. So I do believe that it’s possible to write a supernatural-genre book that I would like. But this was just not one of them.
This was the basic plot: Our Heroine, Laura, picks up her stupidly-named brother, Jacko, from day care. On their way to visit their useless, oblivious mom at her job, they pass some normally boarded up store and now it’s all colorful and friendly. They go inside even though it says on the doors that it’s only open Thursday afternoons and no sort of reputable business operates like that. The man who runs the shop is creepy and old and smells like rotting peppermint, but instead of leaving immediately they stick around and the man puts an indelible stamp on Jacko that he uses to suck out his life-force. Jacko gets really sick and so Laura goes to Sorry who’s a complete asshole (but we’ll get there), but eventually he and his witchy mother and grandmother say they can help. Unfortunately they must not be very good witches, because the only thing they can think to do is turn Laura into a witch (this is the “Changeover”) and then have her approach the Bad Guy wearing dark glasses so he doesn’t know she’s a witch. That is seriously their plan. Anyone who’s ever read anything knows that a plan that relies heavily on dark glasses is absolutely not going to work, except that it does this time. Nothing goes wrong in the plan. Also, Sorry was really concerned about the Changeover, but nothing bad came of that either. Laura’s all happy and peaceful now that she’s a witch, and can even accept the fact that her father left her and her family because he loves his new wife more than her. I’M SO SURE.
My primary problem with the plot is that it was just too easy. There are no twists and turns. Maybe I’ve been reading too much Patrick Ness, but this plot was unpredictably predictable. It was like Mahy wrote the romance parts of this book, then sneezed and the plot appeared all scattered and uninteresting. And holey. There were so many story lines in this book that she hinted at and then completely abandoned. My favorite is that in addition to hyping up the Changeover as super terrible and dangerous (it wasn’t that bad), Sorry keeps telling Laura that his mother and grandmother have some hidden agenda for turning her into a witch. She needs to find out if there’s another way to save her brother without the Changeover. So Laura asks one of them “Do you have a secret agenda? Is there another way?” And she’s like, “I totes have a secret agenda, and there’s no other way.” And that’s the end of that. No further discussion of secret agenda or alternate solutions.
In addition to the plot being dumb, the pacing was just really bad. For instance, this book is about 260 pages long, and Jacko makes his miracle recovery on like page 200. So what do we read about for the next 25% of the book? Not much. In general this book is long stretches of romantic interlude punctuated by the actual plot. I’m all for romance, but this just didn’t make any sense. You don’t flirt with a guy for like 30 pages while you’re brother is off dying somewhere. Which brings us to…
There’s an episode of Doctor Who where an alien learns everything it knows about human interaction by reading Agatha Christie novels, and so goes around murdering everyone like it’s And Then There Were None. I think Sorry learned everything he knows from reading romance novels, because he acts like a romance novel archetype: Sexually-harassing, condescending asshole with a tortured past (disclaimer: I’ve only read one romance novel in my life but I’m assuming they’re all the same). She’s all “My brother’s cursed! I need your help because you’re a witch!” and he’s all “I’m an asshole! I’m going to touch your boobs now, but it’s ok because I stammer and had a troubled childhood and am tortured and shit.” “Cool! I see absolutely nothing wrong with that,” says Our Heroine.
He’s also like all the bad parts of the Twilight men mashed up together: Jacob’s overconfidence and overt sexuality plus Edward’s insane stalking skills. There were so many disturbing things about Sorry’s character, but this one may be the worst:
The photographed woman, naked, and smooth as satin, reclined, smiling at Laura just as she smiled at Sorry, but the glance meant something different. To Laura, it was the smile of a sister, not a siren. Pinned to the corner of the poster over the woman’s head was the small photograph she had observed with curiosity nearly twenty-four hours earlier… [she stepped] in between islands of homework to study the photograph. She was staring at herself — made grainy with enlargement –as if a detail had been selected from the the background of some other photograph and blown up beyond the capacity of the image to hold a clear outline… Laura, looking from her own picture to that of the naked goddess extending herself languorously to the left, sighed and shook her head.
INAPPROPRIATE REACTION, LAURA. This is where you run from the room and straight to the police to get a restraining order. Instead, she stays there, to see Sorry standing in the door watching her, and instead of apologizing for being a perv, he’s like, “sorry the picture’s blurry. you wouldn’t stop moving while I was pretending to take a picture of something else with you in the corner.” Then he goes over to her and fondles her. Further proof he’s a sexual deviant:
“It’s too personal, really… like standing in the dark and looking in at someone’s window.”
“But that’s quite an interesting thing to do,” he said. “And harmless, as long as people don’t know you’re there.”
I guess he and Laura deserve each other because, she is kind of a creeper too.
He kissed her very gently. It reminded Laura of the soft but heavy kisses Jacko used to give when he was just learning to kiss, and found it very disturbing, for it seemed as if he kissed her for Jacko in the past, himself in the present and for another unknown child somewhere in the future.
Omg what? Ew. That is not how it’s supposed to work, Laura. The romance part of this book is so disturbing. And it is 90% of the book. I kept hoping Sorry would have some kind of transformative moment, but he didn’t. He took the poster down at the end, but only because Laura asked him to, not because he realizes how creepy it was.
This book was just… ugh. For a book that bills itself as a romance, I wanted to vomit on it several times. In the words of Cher Horowizt, “And like, we’re expected to swoon? I don’t think so!”
*Thanks to Forever Young Adult for making me see all books it terms of human relationships now.