Apr 28 2009
Dear Mr. Gill,
It must be demon possession month because this is the second young adult novel I’ve read that features such a premise. I believe this is your debut and since I hadn’t heard of it before the box containing it landed on my doorstep, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Even now I’m still not sure what I think about it but one thing’s for sure: I absolutely love your voice.
Eunice “Bug” Smoot hasn’t led a charmed life. Her father ran off before she was born and her mother died in a fire when Bug was a child. She went to live with her great aunt, Auntie Pearl, and grandfather, Papa C, after that but when her great aunt died, things fell apart because her grandfather wasn’t the most responsible person in the world. And that’s putting it mildly.
But ever since Papa C died, Bug’s lived in one dump after another, delivering pizzas to make a living. Unfortunately, she’s behind on rent and her landlord comes to collect, threatening her with eviction if she doesn’t pay up. That’s bad enough but then she discovers that her classic Cadillac — which she inherited after Papa C died — has been vandalized and there’s a demon waiting for her inside.
It turns out that Papa C sold his soul to the devil to finance the purchase of that classic Cadillac five years ago — and put Bug’s soul up for collateral. Talk about being desperate to own a set of wheels. This is a problem because when Papa C died, he found a loophole and his soul escaped, which means it falls on Bug to pay the price. Thankfully, her crush, Pesto, who works as a car wash attendant during the day, moonlights as an immigration agent the likes of which we have never seen. (And hopefully, never will.)
First off, I adored Bug’s voice. I’m not just talking about Bug’s rude snarkiness, although I do enjoy well-done rude snarkiness in fiction. I’m talking about the way Bug speaks, in dialogue and in first person narration, which illustrates her character beautifully in just a few paragraphs:
Speaking of business, it was time to go to work. I had just an hour till I was supposed to clock in.
“Rent!” Mr. Payne said, trying to yank his hand free.
“Uh.” Did he think bullying me was going to make a stack of Benjamins magically pop into my wallet?
“Uh. Uh. Uh,” he said, mocking me. “Cat got your tongue, young’un? Cat got your rent? You sure ain’t got it, I can tell that much.”
If I had the rent, I would’ve already paid him and gone back to bed. “Like I done told you–”
“Talk is cheap.”
So was he. “Like I done told you,” I repeated, “my boss, Vinnie, he don’t pay us but every two weeks, so I’ll get you the money tomorrow, a’ight?”
“Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow. That’s what you people always say.”
No, he didn’t. He did not just go there. “You people? You people? Now listen here, Mr. Payne.”
Then he said something about me being so cranky all the time and why couldn’t girls like me learn to go along to get along. Girls like what? I wanted to ask.
Actually, I take that back. My absolute favorite part about this book is that it features a heroine who is half-black, half-Tejana. And top of that, the guy she has a crush on is Mexican. Here’s the diverse multiculturalism I actively look for because that is what I see in my everyday life so why can’t I find it more often in the books I read? I also loved how Pesto brilliantly illustrated codeswitching through his dialogue. I’d noticed it before Bug asked for the explanation between why he talked one way with his mother and another when working at the car wash (his day job), so I was thrilled. It’s not something I often see in genre fiction.
The story itself is one of those that’s best experienced firsthand rather than described. It walks a very fine line between over-the-top hilarity and ridiculous WTF. How a reader will react to it will depend on their sense of humor and ability to suspend disbelief. Even I will admit there were some sections where I wasn’t sure how to react and eventually just settled on laughing. But this is definitely a quirky book, from the cast of characters to the way it’s executed.
One criticism I do have is that the ending came almost too easily to Bug. Not the choice she ultimately makes in the final showdown, but the aftermath in which she faces off against Mr. Beals. It felt too convenient.
I also think that while there are many interesting tidbits that are included, they often read shallow and superficial because they were never pursued more in depth. Not necessarily in the sense of more page time but in the sense of having more impact on the story. For example, when we learn who killed Pesto’s father. Dramatic reveal, right? But it’s never really touched upon again. It’s things like that — the true identity of Bug’s lawyer, the continuing struggle between Lucifer and Mr. Beals. So many tantalizing tidbits, but few of which lead anywhere.
Ultimately, it was the voice that carried me through the book. I could almost hear Bug’s narrating the story in my head, the cadence and way she spoke was so familiar. This isn’t a book for every reader because it is offbeat and some sections can definitely seem over the top ridiculous but as a whole, it worked enough for me to rate a B.