*** Oh, yes! There will be plenty of spoilers. *** But first, let’s have an authentic taste of the story:
"'I'm Shayne. Remember?' [...] 'We've been sitting by each other all year,' he says. I glance around the room and notice half the girls in the class staring at him. But he either doesn't notice them or doesn’t care. It’s like he only has eyes for me." ... and ...
"'I would do anything for you, Piper. Anything you want'. Reese won't take his eyes off me. 'If I can’t have you, it'll kill me.' My mind tells me this is not the standard first date conversation." ... and ...
"Tanni tightens the grip on my wrist. 'Only you can stop Global Warming, Piper.'"
When someone not so content with my uncommented one-star-rating accused me of being a jealous wannabe writer (it's true that I am still mourning the inexplicable disappearance of my masterwork, a novel in verse about flowers and blood-red rain composed and illustrated when I was three), an author basher (I have no reason to assume that P.J. Hoover is anything but perfectly nice) and an altogether horrible person in general (well, maybe, but I do love books and fluffy kittens), I noticed that I had promised to bash this very book a long time ago. I will to proceed to do so, and I have to emphasize, that my view on fiction is a very personal one and reflects only my very own taste in novels.
When I started reading the low-price e-version of Solstice, I had not read a single review and knew only what the Amazon blurb told me about it: I would be facing paranormally tinted dystopian young adult fiction about global warming, parallel worlds, triangle romances and a girl who has the power to change things. Well. Apart from the triangle hair in the broth I felt optimistic and thought: Mrs. Hoover, bring it on. And in the beginning she did bring it on. The setting in fact kindled my interest:
High School senior Piper lives an almost normal life in Austin, Texas. It’s approximately the middle of the 21st century and exactly 18 years after the official beginning of the GHC (Global Heating Crisis) had been proclaimed. Whereas the remaining population of the African continent has relocated to underground settlements, the Americans still try to survive on the surface. They spray themselves with heat-regulating gels, have a good, working emergency-shelter-system for smaller heat waves and large steel beams that support the growths of protein-based, glass-like domes, which keep whole cities under the lethal temperature level for days when necessary. Piper’s mother is a unhealthily clingy control freak, who calls in the middle of random lessons to keep tabs on her daughter’s whereabouts and safety. Piper herself has a "green thumb" – plants bloom and burst with seed like mad around her -, which is convenient since a lot of plants have gone almost extinct, plants in general struggle to thrive, and Piper’s mom makes as living by selling herbs and other rare vegetative stuff via mail-order – although she keeps moving herself and her daughter and her huge, tree-filled greenhouse "Botanical Haven" from place to place in order to avoid getting caught by Piper’s dad, a supposed eco-terrorist.
You might have noticed: By now we have crossed the barrier between a believable climate apocalypse and "paranormal-as-usual". After that all brakes fail and the novel runs full throttle into a superhuman-double-instant-love sequel of the Persephone myth featuring reincarnated and remodelled Greek gods: Piper opens a mysterious wooden box and releases a secret and slowly tickling, forgotten memories, two new, irresistible guys appear at school and fight successfully for Piper’s attention, strange women try to warn Piper concerning her fate as the planet’s savioress, people die, people resurrect, and Piper makes the occasional trip to the underworld.
I have to admit, the times Piper aka Perserphone explores Tartarus, Elysion and the Asphodel Meadows are actually rather vividly depicted and tickle the reader’s imagination the right way. If the author had written a non-anachronistic retelling, I possibly would have enjoyed it as much as Radiant Darkness, for example.
But, alas, the dystopian rehash included three major obstacles that made me passionately despise the novel as a whole: A) a set of intolerably obnoxious main characters, B) a web of gross, unhealthy and destructive interpersonal relationships sold as friendship, love or motherly care and C) the dirty – but admittedly elegant – trick of excusing the looming, manmade climate catastrophe as the reversible result of a personal feud between deities. The latter is, to me, an absolute, fat no-no in a work of teen-targeted fiction, because getting rid of our guilt and our environmental responsibility is an attractive idea which should never gain the slightest foothold in our minds.
A) A Spot in My Top-5-List of Disgustingly Weak Heroines
Piper is a very self-centered, whiny girl, who likes to sulk and to disregard urgent warnings. Other people’s happiness means very little to her when her own comfort is challenged. In addition, she is too stupid to understand that the souls living a tormented never-ending afterlife in Tartarus would actually have the means and the motivation to seriously harm her – her, the wife of the person responsible for their damnation. On top of that she is the shining poster child for a double-standard-girl: While she doesn’t muster the slightest hint of guilt after going on dates and indulging in heavy petting-orgies with her best-friend Chloe's crush Reese/Ares, because she had been seduced into wanting him by his superhuman pheromones, she is willing to resume her relationship to 'soulmate' Shayne only after the rumors about his supposed infidelity during the 18 lonely years, which she spent as a child who had no recollection of her real identity, prove to be unfounded. Piper’s mother Demeter is a frightening maniac. Spare love interest Reese/Ares is a jerk so mean, slimy, manipulative, condescending and vile that the heroes of Obsidian, Hush, Hush and Evermore appear harmlessly angelic in comparison to him. Shayne/Hades is the good guy, but oh so proud, bland and colorless. My pretty elastic imagination could not stretch far enough to imagine the combo of uncharismatic Shayne and spineless Piper deciding every single soul’s eternal future, being busy having sex or overseeing sand castle competitions in the Elysian Fields in between.
B) In the Name of Love and Friendship
My guess is that it is pretty impossible to transport the strange behavior, the exaggerated emotions and the dysfunctional relationships which are the norm in Greek mythology into a modern day setting. I snickered, when I consumed the rather ridiculous effort Starcrossed, but failed to see anything funny in Solstice. Here every relationship is founded on pure selfishness, but has the gall to call itself love or friendship. Demeter just wants to be always and forever with her daughter instead of just during the summers as had been negotiated with Zeus. The reason is not clear and not relevant. She risks her daughter’s life and the survival of a whole planet to reach her goal and she even stages the prerequisites for Piper’s rape by Reese to ensure that she gets what she wants; her daughter's unhappiness or her daughter's wish to be with her husband are completely inconsequential to her. Piper delays her best friend’s death because she herself would be lonely without her although she is told that Chloe's shot at receiving a place in paradise (Elysion) will be gone afterwards. Reese is one of those guys who are perfectly charming on the outside, but ruthless, unconcerned and violent behind closed doors. He manipulates his victim by magical pheromones and does not accept refusal. He says things like "I swear I'm in love with you" or "I’ll never stop. You are everything to me" and forces himself on Piper, who is a bit puzzled, but again and again flattered, thrilled and turned on. While the sexual encounter with Shayne is covered by the vague phrase "I’m with Shayne then and it’s wonderful", the kissing and the incidents of almost-sex with Reese amount to the romantic highlights of the novel. Everyone demands eternal commitment from Piper. Even 'soulmate' Shayne. I cannot say how many times I have read sentences like "Promise you’ll never leave me." In Solstice love is a concept firmly intertwined with the idea of possession instead of all the good things I would like it to represent. And I wondered how somebody like Persephone, who has a painful history of being bossed around by her mother and being imprisoned in her garden, is willing to give her word without hesitation. Still, the worst blow to me was Piper’s dad Zeus who tried to coax his daughter into finally giving in to Reese's/Ares' advances. Why didn’t she mate with her half-brother although he had lusted after her since the moment she was born? And if she wasn’t interested there was another handful of sons to choose from in the family. The term incest is never ever mentioned, not even by the conventionally brought up Piper.
C) Demeter’s Everlasting Summer Blues
I had already mentioned the "clever twist": Demeter managed to create uninterrupted summer in order to keep her daughter by her side and hid her from Zeus and Hades by burning and resurrecting her and by locking away her memories in a wooden box. And voilá: Humanity has a climate crisis to deal with. Usually I would be willing to applaud creativity regardless if the outcome was believable or not. But nowadays there are in fact people who deny that the melting polar caps are caused by our blatant abuse of the planet’s ressources. That makes me furious. Certainly, believing in fate or in inevitable warm periods and ice ages is much easier than the decision to change the way of things. Letting some gods take the blame suggests resuming blissful passivity. Especially, since these gods can make the problem disappear with a flick of their fingers. Maybe I am obstinate, maybe I sound like a party pooper. Yet, in my eyes this is not acceptable.
I do not recommend this book. But if you – unlike me - are addicted to stories featuring manipulative jerks, guy-dependent heroines, love triangles, utterly strange parents and horrible paranormal solutions to realistic problems, gorge yourself. You have the right to read what pleases you, not me.