Is this actually a teen book or an episode of Scooby-Doo?

When I was in elementary school, I would get up early to watch Scooby-Doo reruns before school.  I loved Scooby-Doo.  I loved how it was silly but also a teensy bit creepy; at the age of eight I was willing to suspend my disbelief and laugh at talking dogs and guys eating sandwiches that were three feet tall and masks that conformed to the wearer's face so perfectly that no one had any idea that it was Old Man Jones from the farm down the way.

Looking back, I realize how a lot of episodes had really problematic elements (as did a ton of other things I loved as a kid).  For example, there was this one episode where Daphne's uncle (one of many, I'm sure.  When you are a teen sleuth, you need lots of margainally-important relatives who can be kidnapped, blackmailed, or otherwise threatened) is being haunted by a flying ghost bull and a "Medicine Man" ghost who danced around saying "mooka waka."

Hello, super inappropriate appropriation!  Actually, that's just straight-up racist.

Anyway, I thought of that episode as I read Gretchen McNeil's Relic.  If you haven't guessed already, that's not complimentary.

Ten and Get Even by McNeil were relatively decent thrillers, albeit served with a heaping pile of implausibility and leaving you longing for something better.  Ten is a retelling of And Then There Were None, but despite being pretty freaky, I only wanted the original.  Get Even is a murder-at-a-boarding-school story that again, had the potential to be really good but came out marginally meh.  Maybe she and I just aren't meant to be, because not only was Relic a relatively weak story, but it also used the "Native American REVENGE!" plot line, which made me sad.  And angry.

The whole premise of the story is that a bunch of kids rent a houseboat and throw a part on Lake Shasta.  In reality, this is a cover for them wanting to go and explore Bull Valley Mine, which is totally forbidden and routinely patrolled by police.  When they land on the shore of the island where the mines are, they meet this dude who disappeared several decades ago, although he hasn't aged a bit.  Despite freaky goings-on, they all enter the mine and immediately become disoriented.  Afterwards, they all return home and swear never to speak of what happened.

Yes, this is the part where people start dying one by one.  But not just dying--dying and being partially eaten.  Nom nom people.  As it turns out, one of the teens has become the host of an ancient Wintu spirit--the Anamet-- that goes around killing people because ... otherwise there wouldn't be a story.  The ending is supposed to be a twist ending but I had already figured it out.  Not that I'm in any way cleverer than most, but it's pretty obvious where the story was heading.

Making the villain of this story some sort of killer "Native American spirit" does not show respect for the religions of Native Nations--even if the point was that white people came and took what did not belong to them.  The teens are able to find this "Wintu monster legend" with a quick Google search, but that doesn't mean it should be used in the story.  Interestingly, on the Winnemem Wintu's website, the link called "Sacred Sites Stories" is password protected.  It's not for everyone to read for entertainment.  It's sacred, as the title says.  Taking Wintu culture and using it to create a "spooky legend" is just as offensive as that old cartoon with the masked man yelling "Mooka waka!"

Apart from the cultural issues, the story is severely lacking in the characterization department.  Our narrator, Annie, is the local sheriff's daughter.  Her main character arc involves worrying that her boyfriend Jack is trying to hook up with his ex, Frankie.  Annie gets mad jealous when other people are dying.  Nice.  Jack would have been interesting had he been more fleshed out, but he's cast in the role of Annie's Forbidden Boyfriend.  Annie's dad hates Jack because Jack is Latino.  Jack mostly just drives around a lot.  The rest of the characters are entirely one-note and ostensibly tick the diversity boxes while never actually exploring that diversity.  For example, we don't really know anything about Greer, who is lesbian, or Sonya, who is black.  They're there to fill a quota, which is not how diverse books are created.

Relic is a story that was almost never published, due to a publishing house closing down, and to be frank, I think it would have been better if it had stayed buried.


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