Velveteen Monroe was murdered by Bonesaw, a sadistic murderer who delights in killing teenage girls. Now that she’s dead, Velveteen is part of a team of salvagers in Purgatory who have to make sure that no creatures of the afterlife possess anyone in the world of the living. For if that happens, cracks start to show in Purgatory in the form of shadowquakes. While Velveteen is on one of her missions to save Purgatory, she rescues Nick, a boy she feels an instant attraction to. But Velvet hardly has time to fall in love, for she’s on a mission. That is, she’s actually on two missions; an official one that makes her the spill in an effort to save Purgatory from revolution, and an unofficial one in which she (illegally) haunts Bonesaw and hopes to eventually take revenge on him.
The thing with Velveteen is, it received a lot of anticipatory hype before its release, which is what made me request it for review on Netgalley. I cannot say that anticipation truly paid off, although there are quite a few more positive reviews out there.
One of the major complaints out there is that the original plot summary by the publisher focused heavily on Velveteen’s plot for revenge on Bonesaw, while the focus of the plot is actually on something else for large parts of the book. I was quite okay with that change in focus, because I didn’t think Bonesaw and Velvet’s plot for revenge were the most interesting thing about this book. However, I do agree that the switch between the other plot points and Velvet’s revenge plan were somewhat sudden sometimes and did not make the most sense in the overall story the book tells.
But my major complaints were with other parts of the novel. For one, Velvet and her group of friends in purgatory are portrayed with a lot of strong language, and they seem to love talking about sex most of all. Now, I am okay with teenagers having sex in YA novels. It’s not that.. It was the kind of language used that made me feel less disposed to liking this part of the story. The boys often engage in talk about “sluts” and the need to get laid or they might “explode”. It is not that the girls do not engage in a similar kind of objectifying of boys (Nick, for example, never quite moves beyond a description of him as being very hot). In a way, I felt that Velveteen was intended to subvert expectations about girls and love in her attitude towards Nick and her potential interest in him. And yet.. It did not work for me. For now most of what I got were a bunch of teenagers objectivying each other and using strong language, which left very little room for actual character, and relationship, development.
It’s not that there is no character development whatsoever in Velveteen, or that we do not receive glimpses of the persons behind the personas, but I did feel that it might have been too little to truly make me care about any of them. Velveteen, on the one hand, is admirable in the way that she is a truly strong girl. And yet I couldn’t help but feel somewhat removed from her, as if there was a glass wall between me and her that wasn’t supposed to be there.
I think actually that might be the biggest drawback of Velveteen; I just did not really care enough about the plot or the characters for the first two-thirds of the novel. The build-up was pretty slow which did not help. I think this was in part due to the care taken to build up a proper view of Purgatory. I think the author succeeded in that, most of the time, and some of the details provided were very telling and interesting. But they did not always work, and sometimes it truly felt as if these details were holding the plot back.
I should note that my response to Velveteen was not all-round negative. The plot took a while to really get moving, but in the end I became interested in how it would end. Actually, the world-building of Purgatory was of most interest to me, there were some really well-thoughtout details in there. The rebellion played a big part in that. That part of the plot might be read as a critique of the power discourse inherent to this idea of the afterlife, while never truly going for an idea of religion or the afterlive as “evil”. Instead, the book makes the reader ask questions: why are all of these teenagers in Purgatory? why do so many of them accept that they have to work towards a common good when they’re dead and are, perhaps, supposed to be beyond caring? is there a way of leaving Purgatory? is there a God? (It’s funny how none of the characters know, and are quite frustrated with the fact that they won’t find out for some time). We’re shown that Purgatory has leaders and workers, and there is an interesting dynamic between them, in which no one is sure who they can trust a 100%, and at the same time they’re officially all working towards a common goal. Velvet’s suspicions of her superiors were very interesting in that regard.
Unfortunately, not all my questions were answered. I am pretty sure there is going to be a next book for the manner in which the end seems to raise more questions than provide answers. I am curious what that next book will do with this idea of Purgatory, and how the power struggles might play out. If that is to be the true focus of any next book, I might be interested in reading it. However, to truly engage me it would need to have more compelling character development.
Other Opinions: Presenting Lenore, Popcorn Reads, bewitched bookworms, Jen Ryland, Wicked Little Pixie, Books with Bite, Bookworm1858, Radiant Shadows.
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