Review: Abandon by Meg Cabot

Abandon by Meg Cabot
Scholastic, 2011

Genre: Fantasy / Retelling

Face Value: Hm, I’m not sure how I feel about the dead girl on the cover. On the one hand, glamorized dead girl in a virginal white dress – a little creepy. But on the other hand, this book legitimately features a girl who died (and came back to life) it’s more or less appropriate I suppose. And the overall aesthetic of the cover, with the gold detailing along the sides, is really pretty.

Does it Break the Slate? Yes. Meg Cabot writes protagonists who are smart and sincere and just the right amount of cynical. Pierce is no exception, and I like her attitude and her sense of responsibility towards the people she cares about. Plus, throwing a cup of hot tea IN DEATH’S FACE to get away from him is pretty much on par with breaking a slate over Gilbert Blythe’s head.

Who would we give it to? Meg Cabot fans are definitely going to like this latest venture. But I also think this really innovative retelling will appeal to mythology lovers, and could be a nice crossover book for fantasy and contemporary readers. I’d give this to a teen reader who has grown out of The Lightning Thief and is looking for something with the same source material and a little more bite.

Review: Though I’m by no means an expert, this book felt like something a departure from the other Meg Cabot teen books I’ve read. It has the same crisp, easy dialogue, but the layering of the myth and the complexity of the plot adds something new. I really enjoyed reading it, and I’m excited to see where it goes in the next two books (it’s a trilogy, be forwarned).

The story is, Pierce Oliviera died two years ago, after falling into her parents’ pool. Even though doctors brought her back to life, the NDE (near death experience) changed her forever. This is partially because, obviously, that’s traumatic, and partially because while she was technically dead she encounters John (who is actually Death / the god of the Underworld) and he asks her to stay with him. She escapes, and comes back to life, but she finds that she can’t fully escape John’s presence – or the danger that seems to surround him. Not to mention, a whole slew of other bad events in the aftermath of her NDE have resulted in her mother packing her up and moving the two of them to her family’s home in Isla Huesos, a small island off the coast of Florida to stay with her unpleasant grandmother, formerly incarcerated uncle and mysterious cousin.

Pierce is a great character, in the Meg Cabot tradition. It’s interesting because I feel like many of the Cabot stories start with a normal girl and some inciting incident transforms her situation (see Princess Diaries, All American Girl, Avalon High, etc.). But for Pierce, the transformative incident happened a couple of years ago, and we see her dealing with it. This makes Pierce a little more prickly and a lot less naive than, say, Mia Thermopolis. But still, despite all her major issues, Pierce is the kind of well-intentioned, likable heroine that I expect and enjoy in Cabot’s books. Plus, I seriously appreciate the diversity angle. All of the major characters in this book are Latino, which is made clear from the start without ever making a big deal about it. Nicely done!

There’s a real darkness to this story, and I mean that in a good way. Cabot does a great job setting the tone of the story, and the suspense surrounding what happened to Pierce, who John is, and what all of this means for Isla Huesos. Significant time is invested in building the mood, with Pierce’s narration parsing out information slowly over the course of the story. It makes for a terrifically engaging read. The way the myth is restructured for this retelling is excellent, and very smart, and embedded into the narrative in a way that serves both the source material and the contemporary story.

Honestly I was really loving this book right up until I realized that it was a trilogy, and accordingly, there was not going to be any kind of resolution to the story. I’m all for continuation, and I am totally invested enough in Pierce and what happens to her to be first on the reserve list for the next book. But COME ON! There was so much time building up the mood and filling us in on the backstory that by the time things start happening, the book ends. There’s basically no resolution here, and there’s not even a release date yet for book #2. So until I keep reading, I’m going to have to be a little bit grumpy about not finding out what happens to these characters.

My other concern (and I think the abrupt ending had something to do with it) has to do with the relationship between Pierce and John. I get that she’s drawn to him, and him to her. And I get that he wants her to stay with him forever, and that while she might not be be totally into that, she does find something compelling about him, and begin to really care about him, and isn’t sure how to react. But I felt the transformation between being terrified and throwing tea in his face and running away and being in love with him happened really fast. The whole “I need to protect you” business coming from a Dark and Mysterious and Otherworldly guy towards a female protagonist is a little…well…you know what I’m thinking of here. But Pierce is no Bella Swan. She’s proactive and thoughtful and honestly, a little vindictive. And John isn’t exactly Edward Cullen – I just don’t feel like we (or Pierce) know him well enough to swoon yet. So I’m holding out for 2 and 3 to really give us a sense of this developing relationship.

Overall though, I really enjoyed this book, and I think this most recent effort is one more reminder that Meg Cabot is not only a defining figure in the greater canon of YA Literature, she is totally a Slatebreaker in her own right.

Reviewed from library copy.

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