Saturday, May 12, 2012
Book Review: Dispirited by Luisa Perkins
Author: Luisa Perkins
Enjoyment Rating: *****
Source: Kindle for iPad
Books I've read this year: 66
When you're a senior in high school and your mother gets married and moves your family to a new house in a new town, you can probably expect that the transition will be rough. But when your new stepbrother's body is inhabited by an evil spirit, and the dispossessed spirit of your actual stepbrother starts following you around, begging you to help him get back in, then that transition may be really rough.
Cathy doesn't just see the spirit of her stepbrother, Blake. She also sees a little girl, a house in the woods that burned down almost two hundred years ago, a magical necklace, and a host of evil spirits just like the murderous one inhabiting and destroying Blake's body. Obviously, this situation leads to lots of problems for Cathy-- for one thing, people think she's crazy, which isn't great for her budding relationship with Rich, or with her parents. But she still feels compelled to help Blake, even when that choice puts her own life at risk.
Perkins shows that she has serious writing chops with Dispirited. One of the gutsiest things she does is fill the story with children. I don't mean teenagers like Cathy and Rich and the new evil Blake-- I mean actual children-- Cathy has two younger sisters, and Blake's spirit, who calls himself Bunny, are all under ten. So often in fiction written for adults, children come off as precious or precocious, and Perkins's child characters are neither. Perhaps the fact that she has six of her own kids helped her to be able to write their characters in a realistic way. She also does a great job with shifting points of view, which can be tricky. Each character's voice was distinctive enough to be realistic but not so distinctive that it was distracting. The book, which takes place in a Hudson River community outside of New York City, also has a richly evocative setting where the history of the place plays an important role in the actions in the novel.
Dispirited is the kind of book that I don't ordinarily think I'd like. First of all, it's speculative fiction, and a dark kind of speculative fiction. The problem for me lies in the fact that I don't know what the rules of the world are when the book opens. But Cathy doesn't know the rules either-- she's lived in "our" world for all of her eighteen years, and this is the first time that she's had anything like this happen to her. I think this approach really works, because Cathy is just as surprised as we are as readers by the fact that she can wander into a house that no longer exists and see spirits and get answers from dreams. While I never felt that I completely understood the rules of this world, I felt that I was discovering how it worked alongside the protagonist.
Secondly, Dispirited is a book that plays with theological ideas. Nine times out of ten, I'll read a book about angels or spirits and hate it because books with angels and spirits are usually cheesy. But Dispirited is never cheesy. It's also a book where the characters could be but are not necessarily Mormon, but the idea of three overlapping worlds, one possessed by humans, one possessed by the spirits of the dead, and one possessed by evil spirits without bodies, is one that comes straight from our theology. Furthermore, Bunny gets the action of the story off to a start when he, as a young boy, desperately desires to be reunited with his dead mother. He's willing to do anything, even to learn how to disengage his spirit from his body to go look for her. The book's end came as a surprise to me, it actually seemed like the only way this story could have ended in a satisfactory way, especially to people who believe that families are only separated by death for a temporary period of time.