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Hush, hush…or you’ll miss the sound of freshly torn plot holes

January 6, 2011
Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick, Simon & Schuster, $18.95

There seems to be a disturbing trend in the YA fiction market at the moment, and it’s not doing feminism any favours. Mothers, lock up your daughters, preferably in a roomful of books that don’t involve supernatural romance and weren’t published after Twilight came out.

The formula for these books is devastatingly simple: take a supposedly intelligent, level-headed teenage girl, introduce her to a ludicrously handsome but frustratingly enigmatic teenage boy, and observe as she is inexplicably drawn to his compelling-but-clearly-dangerous-in-some-as-yet-unspecific-way presence. Strangely, instead of responding as any normal teenage boy would in such circumstances, he either acts all broody and distant (Daniel in Fallen), behaves like an aggressive stalker (Lucas in Evernight), or pretends that her very presence repels him (Edward in Twilight, although he can’t keep it up for very long; no pun intended*). Whatever his methods, which are generally the sort that would have my mother telling me to run a mile to the nearest nunnery, his attitude has the opposite effect: invariably, our female heroine either a. practically begs him to have sex with her (Bella in Twilight**); b. throws herself wantonly in the path of danger for the sake of their love (Bianca in Evernight), or c. stalks him, breaking into the school office to ferret out his records and searching the glovebox of his car when he’s gone to buy takeout (Nora in Hush, Hush).

At the risk of sounding like my mother, I do worry about the impact these sorts of storylines have on the young women of today; the female heroines in some (not all, it must be said) of this never-ending crop of supernatural romance YA are hardly fabulous role models. The good news is that for those of us who are getting too old to attempt emulating appropriately positive role models, these books still have something to offer: pure B-grade entertainment.

Hush, Hush is a fine example. Becca Fitzpatrick’s debut teen novel, the first in a new supernatural romance series (the sequel, Crescendo, is gracing bookshop shelves already), is so full of plot holes that it doubles as a colander; there’s also such an array of unlikely plot twists that I’m starting to wonder if the book couldn’t form the basis for an extremely successful drinking game.

All the familiar players are here: the academically gifted and attractive heroine (Nora), the wisecracking, slightly less gifted and attractive best friend (Vee), the mysterious and incredibly sexy  love interest (dubiously named Patch), the equally mysterious and sexy rival for the heroine’s affections (Elliot), and the convenient set-up (no one’s parents ever seem to be around, leaving them free to get into an escalating series of romantic/dangerous scrapes: would that my life had been so unfettered by adult supervision at age sixteen).

The plot of Hush, Hush is nothing new for anyone familiar with supernatural teen romance; although it’s a refreshing change, at least, that the otherworldly beings in Fitzpatrick’s fictional world are fallen angels rather than vampires. Sixteen-year-old Nora Grey is a studious high-achiever whose life takes a bizarre turn when she gets a new Biology lab partner, Patch, and finds herself inexplicably attracted to him, despite the fact that he spends most of their class time provoking her (”what’s that?” he asks of a birthmark on Nora’s arm. “Looks like a scar. Are you suicidal, Nora?” My, what a charmer). But something isn’t right about Patch: he seems to know a lot about Nora, things that he shouldn’t know, and when she begins to have odd visions and encounters with a mysterious hooded figure, she can’t help wondering if Patch is involved in some way. Complicating matters is Nora’s intensely irritating best friend, boy-crazy Vee, who’s convinced that Patch is bad news. But Vee seems less concerned about Nora’s safety and mental health than she is with orchestrating double dates with high school new boys Elliot and Jules–who, of course, are not all that they seem. Nora is determined to discover their secrets and resolve her increasing attraction to Patch, no matter how life-threatening her mission becomes.

It’s an intriguing set-up, but there are so many inconsistencies that the impact of the story falls well short. Fitzpatrick is a competent writer, and she builds tension effectively, striking a fine balance between puzzling narrative twists and dramatic action scenes. Of course, there’s sexual tension as well, but the escalating attraction between Nora and Patch isn’t heavy-handed, and that’s to Fitzpatrick’s credit. Nonetheless, the ability to string a sentence together doesn’t cover a multitude of sins, particularly when those sins involve characters straight from Teen Fiction Stereotypes 101 and plot holes you can step through. There are some gaping narrative inconsistencies here–for example, much is made of the physical difference between Vee and Nora, and yet, somehow, Vee is mistaken for Nora by a being with supernatural powers just because she’s wearing her friend’s jacket. Despite the fact that Vee and Nora are clearly supposed to have an unshakeably strong friendship, Vee is curiously indifferent to her friend’s concerns about Elliot–even after Elliot physically threatens Nora–and she apparently talks only in wisecracks.

There are also some laughably convenient plot twists in Hush, Hush, which serve only to stab the reader’s suspension of disbelief right in the eye. Searching an online news archive, Nora picks a random date that just so happens to feature an article about a murder whose chief suspect is a key character in the book! It’s also odd–but, of course, happily expedient–that Nora’s mother seems happy to leave Nora by herself in their isolated old farmhouse so frequently, considering that her husband (Nora’s father) was mysteriously murdered in nearby Portland just a year previously.

But despite all of this, I can’t pretend that I didn’t devour this book in just a couple of hours–I laughed, I snorted, I rolled my eyes, but I’m not ashamed to admit that I really did want to find out what happened. Of course, Hush, Hush is only the beginning, so the ending of this first installment in the series–faintly ridiculous as it is–leaves the door wide open for the blossoming complications of Nora’s relationship with Patch, and the undiscovered secrets of Nora’s family history. I have no doubt that more eyebrow-raising plot twists and craters await me in Crescendo, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be reading it.

*especially considering how things turn out in Breaking Dawn.

**to be fair, at least she doesn’t start begging for sex when he’s still pretending he can’t stand to be around her.

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