I don’t know what to make of A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb. One the one hand, it’s a well-written, fast-paced, recommendation worthy read. On the other hand, the after-reading feeling I get from it is “eh.” Simply “eh.” I’ll probably forget about it in a few months time.
After all the fuss I made about how this book’s cover creeps me out, I’ll have to admit, I was worked up over nothing. The story is not creepy, in fact, it’s got a bit of the V.C. Andrews dumb heroine factor going on (will explain later).
Helen is a 130 year old ghost who believes she must have committed a horrible deed in her lifetime to be banished from Heaven and sentenced to this shapeless limbo on earth. The only way she can prevent herself from being sucked into a watery Hell is to shadow a human host. When the novel begins, Helen has been shadowing her current host, Mr. Brown, a suburban English teacher, for several years. The laws concerning the ghost and human world are complicated; just know that as an invisible entity, Helen floats around unnoticed by the human eye.
One day, to Helen’s disbelief, she notices that someone is watching her. This someone is seventeen year old William Blake, one of Mr. Brown’s unremarkable students. He is, however, no longer William Blake, but a ghost by the name of James, who has inhabited William’s lifeless, ODing body.
I told you it was complicated.
Okay, to make a long story short, James and Helen becomes friends and eventually, more than just friends. Lovers. Soul mates. Problem: James inhabits a human body while Helen is a specter of light. This makes it hard for them to be lovers, at least in the physical sense. Faced with this predicament, James convinces Helen to possess the body of a girl in his school. Helen concedes with James’ master plan. So now she’s a 130 year ghost inhabiting a 15 year old host and must face the consequences of pretending to be the obedient daughter of two authoritarian and need I mention, fanatically Christian parents.
Even in human form, James and Helen are star-crossed. She’s the good girl who prays before bed and attends church every Sunday; he’s in the body of a juvenile delinquent. Her parents will never approve.
Which brings me to my next question: why would Helen care what Jenny’s parents think? Helen is 130 years old, why is she so complacent? Why is she such a pushover? I think I’ll stop at pushover, because I actually had another word in mind that also starts with a ‘p’ and ends with a ‘y’ but I don’t want to profane in a YA book review…meow goes the ‘p—y’ that perfectly describes Helen the Spineless Ghost.
Since I—book player with no patience for bad lit—made it to the end of this book, it says that Laura Whitcomb’s writing is fast-paced and unpretentious enough to grab my wavering attention. This is a perfect case of good writing, okay story, but lame characters. I think I stuck with this book because it read so fast that I was half-way through and even though Helen mildly annoyed me, I had to find out what happened at the end.
I still stand by the fact that Helen was mildly annoying because I’ve come across some real pain-in-the-ass characters in my reading experience. But let it be known that I was disappointed by Helen the Ghost. I expected more from her. You would think that after 130 years on earth, she’d developed some attitude and not be such a pushover. That’s where the V.C. Andrews dumb heroine syndrome comes in. V.C. Andrews heroines tops the list of the dumbest characters ever created in popular literature. Emphasis on ever.
Imagine the consequences if you took a Disney princess and placed her in a crazy, backstabbing soap opera like Melrose Place. Now, I realize that not all Disney princesses are created equal; some are obviously sharper than others. I’ll admit, the modern princesses (Jasmine, Belle, Pocahontas, Mulan, etc…) had a brain and could probably handle themselves with the likes of Joan Collins, but Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, and Alice in Wonderland are walking basket cases. They’re too naïve. They’ll be eaten alive!
That’s what happens in a V.C. Andrews novel. Imagine you are the beautiful sixteen year old heroine. Despite your heart of gold, you are not the brightest tool in the shed. Your evil stepsister just threw your pretty party dress in the toilet and urinated on it. You retaliate by telling her “you’re a mean, not nice girl” and when her seedy eyes travel to your pearl necklace, you tip her off that it’s an irreplaceable heirloom and you normally keep it in your locker. The locker combination is 25-1-17. Does this sound like “Choose Your Own Disaster?”
I went off on what seemed like the longest tangent to illustrate that something very similar happens in A Certain Slant of Light. Not to give too much away, but I’m just going to hint that during an accusation scene midway through the book, Helen says some truly moronic things while I, the frustrated reader, was ready to pull out my hair thinking “Oh no, she did NOT just say that!”
Before composing this post, I went on Amazon to read the reviews. While there are mostly good reviews, all the bad reviews state that the novel’s graphic sex scenes, explicit language, and anti-Christian message makes it inappropriate for teen readers. I wonder: did we read the same novel? So Laura Whitcomb might have dropped the F-bomb (like teens don’t cuss…), but she does it sparingly. And yes, the characters have sex. But ‘graphic’ sex? On the contrary… The sex in this book is so tame it’s not even worthy of the title ‘sex’, call it ‘making looove‘ and gag. I’m willing to bet that the reviewer who qualified the ‘graphic’ part never read American Psycho.
Okay, I can’t refute the anti-Christian slant. Hardcore Christians won’t be pleased as this book does depict religion in a negative light. That being said, it won’t diminish the enjoyment of everybody else.