Monday, April 12, 2010

Hyde and Seek: Jekel Loves Hyde by Beth Fantaskey

...suddenly the whole world seemed as topsy-turvy as a boy in the girls' room. I saw everything from a distance, like I was a character in a movie filled with ambiguous heroes and unexpected villains.

The most gallant, self-sacrificing guy in school was a murderer. The hottest, most popular stud had just propositioned the plainest, least popular virgin. The virgin became some sort of crazy slut when night fell. Fathers stole from daughters and attacked their sons. Mothers were too damaged and preoccupied to hold their own children....

Chemistry, where I'd once found order in the universe, wreaked havoc on souls.

And that's just the first half of the novel.

Beth Fantaskey's forthcoming Jekel Loves Hyde (Harcourt, 2010) begins, with eery overtones of Stephanie Meyers' Twilight series, as Jill Jekel is magnetically drawn to the handsome and brooding Tristen Hyde, whom she first encountered at the brink of her father's grave, when he appears in her chemistry class. Beyond the almost comic coincidence of their names with the characters in Stevenson's classic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, both feel some deeper connection drawing them together despite themselves.

Their teacher Mr. Messerschmidt unexpectedly brings them together by suggesting that their literary names on a collaboration for an upcoming chemistry competition for a $30,000 scholarship prize, will help them catch the eye of the judges. But although both at first resist the idea, there is a deep and deadly reason why they must bring all their skills and intelligence together in what is not a mere science project, but a matter of life and death for themselves and their surviving parents.

Tristen convinces Jill that the premise of Stevenson's novel was true, that the Dr. Jekyll of the story indeed did exist and concoct a potion which created a monster, a monster who did not die as at the end of the fictional tale, but lived and procreated, passing down his twisted drive to morph into a murderous monster, and that he, Tristen, is the living heir of that evil line. Jill, too, discovers that she is the descendant of that very Dr. Jekyll and that her father's seemingly mysterious murder is part of that centuries-old man-made curse.

Together Jill and Tristen discover in her father's locked study complete notes from Dr. Jekyll's experiments. For Jill, who had just learned that her father pilfered her college account before his murder, the discovery seems at the least a way to win the chemistry prize and fund her studies. But for Tristen the notes mean much more. As their friendship and nascent love develops, he at last confides his deadly inheritance, confessing the murderous dreams which he has nightly, dreams in which he finds himself bloodily slaying a girl who is finally revealed as Jill herself. Tristen sees their replicating the original experiments successfully as a way to recreate the formula which will destroy the monster within himself and the monster he detects more and more in his father, a noted psychiatrist. And as the two move deeper into their own romance and come upon final success with their experiments, Jill, too, is tempted to try to escape her own reserved nature and experience briefly the power that Jekyll's formula imparts, while Tristen, temporarily cured by one administration of their formula, realizes that with his dark side has gone his powerful musical creativity.

At times the turns of plot here may strain the necessary willing suspension of disbelief a bit, even for this imaginative example of the Gothic genre. Yet Fantaskey fearlessly touches on the serious theme amidst the gory twists of her plot, the question of the role of the dark side of the human spirit in generating its core energy, its very creativity.

This sort of dark fantasy is not for everyone, of course, but those young adult readers who were fascinated with the demon lover theme in the Twilight series may find Jekel Loves Hyde very much to their taste.

Beth Fantaskey is also the author of the humorously satiric and very highly-reviewed Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side, which also turns upon the demon lover theme, but this time with a wickedly comic twist which combines romantic sizzle with an ironic poke at this popular and strangely glamorous genre,

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