Thursday, April 21, 2011

Bloodhate: Rage by Jackie Morse Kessler

So what if people called her a poser, a loser, a goth? It didn't matter. None of it mattered. Missy walked on, eyes straight ahead, clutching her books to her chest.

"Freak alert," crowed one of the guys--either Matt 1 or Matt 2, one of Adam's bro-hos, his adoring fans who thought he was God.

"Emo cutter girl," said the other Matt. "Careful, she'll bleed all over you."

"Or cry all over you."


After Adam ditched her and told everyone about her secret scars, Missy has resolved to leave Adam and all he represents behind, telling herself over and over, "I don't need the blade." But when the pressure builds--her popular sister's bitter resentment, her high-powered parents' inability to recognize what she is doing to herself, and Adam's final searing betrayal--Missy finally seeks out the white box in the back of the closet, and what is meant to be a cleansing cut turns into a severed artery.

All that mattered was the blood. She had to bleed out the badness, bleed until she could breathe again.

Bleeding out, Melissa Miller began to die

As she tries to reach the phone beside her bed, Death appears, in the form of a guitar-strumming Kurt Cobain look-alike, with an ironic smile and a deal for Missy. As her life ebbs, he places a box before her.

"Either take the box, Melissa Miller, or take thy rest." Death's words echoed in her bones, frosted her soul. "Choose now."

And as she opens the box, Melissa becomes War, the second horseman of the Apocalypse, recruited by Death for duties she cannot imagine. She is given a red cloak, a red warhorse, and a sword that she can summon at will, a sword which is the mythic expression of rage and hate, one which, as she flies above the world on her red steed Aries, gives her the power of visiting violence upon the world below.

But as Missy begins to understand the dread powers of her role, Death also reminds her of two other powers, control and balance, and as Missy understands and assumes the responsibility for her own slashing rage, she sees herself and her role very differently.

In the wake of the first book in this series, Hunger (Riders of the Apocalypse), in which she dealt with teen anorexia, Kessler moves on to that other scourge, self-mutilation. Her premise, that the drive to mutilate stems from pent-up rage against the high school social scene, a condition in which hate is expiated by turning on the self, has its advocates, and her theme is that as Missy comes to understand and control her rage, she gains that control over herself, her life, and as Kessler suggests, may, in her role as War, wield the cleansing power of her double-edged sword as destroyer-preserver.

Author Kessler's writing is indeed gripping, her characters vivid. However, the mythological setting of the Four Riders seems strained, especially in light of her hopeful ending for the heroine of her first novel, Lisabeth Lewis, who becomes Famine. Famine seems to have gone over to the dark side between books, and here becomes Missy's enemy. But Kessler's writing has matured, grim and disturbing as the scenes she portrays are. Rage (Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Book 2) (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011) is not for everyone, suggesting as it does that a disturbed sixteen-year-old can vanquish the pain and suffering of the world by taking it into herself and mastering it. But it is an admirable attempt to cast the well-publicized teen problem of self-mutilation into some sort of framework for the reader who has the stomach for its grim realities.

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  • My middle school students are fascinated about problem novels concerning cutting, but this sounds too intense for them. Interesting way to approach a variety of emotional problems, though.

    By Blogger Ms. Yingling, at 5:34 AM  

  • I agree with yourrecommended level for this book; you'll notice I set it at Grades 10-12, unlike the standard placement. Both of these books are the sort of complex novel best suited for older high school students.

    By Blogger GTC, at 8:53 AM  

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