I’m not the young Pooka I once was. Instead of spending my New Year’s Eve at a wild party, drinking and dancing, eager to watch the glittering ball drop and desperate to be kissed, I spent it with my boyfriend and another couple, playing cards, laughing, and calmly drinking wine.
Even so, the New Year’s Eve hangover is a difficult thing from which to recover. The only difference is that as you get older, your hangover has less to do with the wine and more to do with the late hour.
… And maybe a little bit to do with the wine.
So at the start of 2014, I was looking for a book that didn’t require an exhaustive amount of mental energy. That’s where Kill Me Softly comes in.
Author: Sarah Cross
Genre: Young Adult (Fantasy)
Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
Pub Date: April 10, 2012
Hardcover: 331 pages
Is There a Pooka In This Book?: No. The animals are all a bunch of birdbrains. Or squirrel-brains.
Pooka Rating: 4 out of 5 Nibbles
Kill Me Softly is about a young girl, Mirabelle Lively, who’s about to celebrate her sixteenth birthday. Her one wish is to visit Beau Rivage, a place where her godparents have forbidden her from — and the place where her parents are buried. They insist that being there will stir up too many painful memories for Mirabelle, but she’s determined to get some closure and find out more about who she is and where she comes from. When she steals away in the middle of the night, leaving a carefully-constructed trail of false clues about where she’s gone, the place she finds isn’t quite what she was expecting. The group of friends she quickly makes is weird – forever making vague references to “curses” and “transformations.” In the week leading up to her birthday, a series of unbelievable secrets are revealed: namely, that fairy tales are real and that she has a part to play in one (maybe even two) of them. She’s a goddamn princess! But not everyone is so noble: just as there are princesses and princes, there are also villains. Will she able to recognize who’s who? In a matter of days, she learns a number of twisted truths about beginnings, endings, love, and death. And she tries to rewrite her story: is that possible? If she’s able, will she make things better or worse?
What Made The Book Totally Worth Eating:
1. The characters (especially Blue).
Mirabelle’s a decent protagonist: curious, clever, good-hearted. She’s not annoying. She’s dreamy; she likes to read plays and stargaze. But she really shines when she’s with Blue. Blue is one of her new friends. They have a love-hate relationship. He’s pretty ragged: rough around the edges and purposely disagreeable (which fits his punk rock appearance). But he’s also honest, upfront, and sharp-witted. The barbs they throw at one another totally make the book. Their relationship is an excellent foil to the one she has with Felix, his very serious, very handsome, super-suave brother, who’s agreed to help Mira find her parents’ final resting place (and who woos her into his bed, where she hopes they’ll do anything but rest). Neither Blue nor Mirabelle let the other get away with anything (I just realized that together, they’re “Bluebelle”), which is fantastic because they put front & center all of the cheesy little things that the reader would otherwise be tempted to make fun of themselves (like Blue’s eyebrow ring). But the author does it for you, in the context of their relationship – which shows an admirable degree of self-awareness.
2. The Pacing.
I started Kill Me Softly on my lunch hour yesterday and finished it this morning around 10:30 a.m. I worked until 3pm yesterday, went to bed fairly early (around 10:30), and rose fairly late (9ish). It was over 300 pages long and I tore through it at a breakneck speed. It was just the sort of thing I wanted. I hesitate to give YA books anything higher than a 4 out of 5 Nibbles-rating (there are very few exceptions to the rule: I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, Un Lun Dun by China Mieville, and The Storyteller by Antonia Michaelis being the only three I can think of). So in the scheme of YA ratings, Kill Me Softly got the highest honors from me. It was just really, really fast, and really, really enjoyable. Easy-peasy, lemon squeezy.
3. The place names.
Many of the businesses in Beau Rivage have fairytale names: the Dream Casino; two cafés: Wish, and The Gingerbread House; one nightclub called Stroke of Midnight and another named Twelve (as in “Twelve Dancing Princesses”). It’s fun.
4. The dark side of fairy tales.
Many characters are afraid of their fates. And they often have reason to be. Each fairy tale is acted out infinitely. There’s not just one Cinderella, or one Snow White: a person can be “a Cinderella” or “a Snow White.” It’s just a type. The town is full of Cinderellas and Snow Whites. Mira’s new friends open her eyes to the ways a person’s tale can go wrong. There’s one resident in town who’s a Somnolent (meaning that she was fated to fall into a coma or a deep sleep), who was awoken by her prince, only to find that he liked the sleeping version of her better. Eager to please her hero, she allows herself to be drugged daily, so she’s not so vibrant, talkative, vivacious and alive: so she’d more resemble the girl he fell in Love At First Sight with. It’s disgusting. Thankfully, not all princes hold the same traditional “women are meant to be seen and not heard” mentality.
5. It’s sexually-inclusive and open.
One of Mirabelle’s new friends is gay and it’s addressed in a very casual, natural way. It’s not an “issue” and it’s not shocking or alternative. It just is.
6. You know what’s coming.
The tales will be familiar to you – specific players and events will not be. But it’s kind of nice to be “in the know” and see the plot careening toward certain inevitable occurrences. (It’s important to note that Mirabelle’s not “in the know.” She didn’t grow up with fairy tales. She grew up with the Classics, like Little Women, The Secret Garden, and Little House on the Prairie. An interest in fairy tales was not encouraged – for obvious reasons).
What I Spit Back Out:
1. It got a song stuck in my head.
It’s The Fugees “Killing Me Softly,” obviously. Which also means that every time I try to type the title, Kill Me Softly, I add the gerund.
2. There doesn’t seem to be much room for gender-role-reversal.
Not one guy takes a bite of a poison apple, falling into a deep sleep, and is awoken by his heroic princess. Not one girl is an ill-mannered man-eater, playing the beast, only to be saved by a moral and good-hearted beautiful man. Not one prince pricks his finger on sharp object, lost to the world for one-hundred years, waiting for his princess to flourish her sword and cut her way through the briars. It’s a little disappointing.
3. It left some unsolved mysteries.
I was thrilled in thinking that Kill Me Softly might be a stand-alone book (because I love-hate reading series as they come out. I always forget what’s happened in previous books. Much better to wait to read a series until the whole thing’s complete), but I might have been wrong in my assumption. I still have questions about Mira’s parents, about how certain characters will be punished for their misdeeds (if they will, in fact, be punished), and how other characters’ stories will play out. For instance, what will happen with Mira’s “intended”? Can Romantics be a part of any fairy tale? If they’re Romantics and part of another fairy tale, which “mark” takes precedence? According to her website, Cross is currently writing a companion story (about Mirabelle’s friend, Viv) and would love to write more stories set in Beau Rivage. Which isn’t really a strike against the book or its author – because I’d love to read more stories set in Beau Rivage.
If you like Romantic Fantasy YA, you should definitely read Kill Me Softly. It’ll give you the warm & fuzzies. And no one knows warm and fuzzy better than a Pooka.
Pooka Rating: 4 out of 5 Nibbles.