Friday, July 1, 2016

The Cresswell Plot

You know what's super-awesome about librarians?   Aside from our savoir-faire in research, or our quirky personal style, or our ability to figure out which book you're talking about when you say "the red one," or our staunchness in the face of every bodily fluid there is?

We can talk about books, disagree on whether we loved or hated them, and still go home friends.  Okay, so there may be the occasional "You're dead to me" tossed out there, but it's said with love and affection and maybe a tiny bit of pity.  Because we, as librarians, know that fundamental to our right to read is the right to love or hate a book in equal measure.  Life would be exceedingly boring if we all loved the same books.

Recently, my friends and I (librarians, booksellers, and general bookish-type people), were talking about YA books we'd just read and doing a sort of rapid-fire yay-or-nay discussion.  I had just finished The Cresswell Plot the night before and said I didn't like it at all.  Two of my friends loved it.

You know what?  That's awesome!  That means that teens will like it!  Someone will love this book.  And even though that someone wasn't me, that's okay too.

Castella Cresswell lives with her five siblings, mother, and father in a molding, ramshackle house at the end of a long road, far from town.  Her father is a prophet, and in his book of revelations, he reveals that God told him that the Cresswells, being the only pure and holy ones on Earth, will go to Heaven.  In Heaven, they will marry each other, being the only holy humans to pop up there.  Castley, aged seventeen, will marry her brother Caspar.

For years, the children thought that being betrothed to each other was completely normal.  Until the bad year.  Until the authorities swooped in and separated them.  But in a bizarre and unexplained move, CPS allows the Cresswell brood to once again reunite.  And this time, their father isn't taking any chances on losing them.

Part of the deal with CPS is that the Cresswell children must attend school.  So Castley, Hannan, Mortimer, Delvive, and Baby Jerusalem (who does not speak, but is some sort of artistic genius) go down the road and enter the town of sinners to learn pointless things like history and English and mathematics.  Although the whispers and stares of her fellow students never stop following her, Castley does not experience incessant torment or bullying at school.  In fact, she slowly learns that her peers see her family as an aspiration: the Cresswells are above and separate from the proletariat.  They are this small New England town's bizarre, fire-and-brimstone apocalyptic Royal Family.  

When a school scheduling glitch prevents Castley and Del from being each other's drama partners (the only way Father would allow them to participate in the first place), the eldest daughter's always-tenuous belief in her fate and her father snaps.  The open adoration of her new drama partner, George, and the heady rush of sneaking out to be with him--literally letting her hair down in public for the first time ever--makes Castley wonder if Heaven is what they're really waiting for.  And then the story, which has already been picking its way, gingerly, over precarious ground, topples completely and shatters into a million disparate pieces.

Somehow, the entire freaking town doesn't *get* that Father is keeping his family captive in their house, or that they're starving because he doesn't have a job, or that his wife's horrific fall down the stairs might not have been an accident.  Castley claims that she's unsure of her father's teachings, like the one that proclaims: "we were the only pure people left on earth, we were the only worthy people, and because of that, we would have to marry one another."  At school, Castley learns that following through on this plan is "totally disgusting," but she always sees her handsome brother Caspar as her other half.  She wants to please him, this golden child, who happens to be the resurrected soul of her older, dead brother, also named Caspar.  Even as she rebels against everything she's ever known and the web of lies she's woven to keep herslef from going mad, Castley always worries about Caspar's judgment.  How could she lose him, her other half, her heavenly husband-to-be?

But the Cresswells don't act the way you'd think the holy children of a self-proclaimed prophet would.  They swear a blue streak (except for saying oh my you-know-what, as if saying "God" were worse than the f-word) and are notorious for stealing from most of the shops in town.  The teachers at school pretend the siblings are invisible, except for Hannan, who is the star quarterback of the high school football team because his father declared it would be so.

Castley has this mild rebellion where she sneaks out in regular clothes, not the sacks her father makes the girls wear, and lets her hair down (literally) to be with George.  Except their date is kind of at a goat sacrifice?  But never mind, because when they kiss at school it's all the butterflies and melting ever.  At the end of the book, George turns into another person and is all, "I'm just not into you that way" and mocks her in front of the same people he showed her off to like a week earlier.  And in the end, it looks like that holy marriage might be getting a little more ... earthly.


The names of the kids also threw me off: I can see Jerusalem as the name of a self-proclaimed prophet's daughter, but Caspar?  Evidently that's Persian, and Hannan is an Arabic name.  It was one of those details that kept pulling me out of the story as I wondered, "Where did this man come up with these names?"

The author also provides these odd, irrelevant details that aren't fully explored and just seem to sit there, like the fact that Mortimer is "practically an albino."  It's mentioned twice in the entire book.  Albinism isn't something to just casually toss around--it's a medical condition!  She also has them eating a lot of "tinned" food, which, for a moment, made me second-guess whether this book was actually set in rural America, which is what I'd assumed.  Evidently, the author has lived in the UK for the past seven years, but I would hope a copy editor catches the Britishisms in here so that the sense of place is more cohesive.

The Cresswell Plot had the makings of a good psychological thriller, but was derailed by uneven characterization, motivation, and a rushed ending that suddenly HAPPENS and leaves you wondering what just hit you.

I received an ARC of this title from Netgalley.

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