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A Review of Jenny Pox, by J.L. Bryan
Jenny Pox is a "New Adult" and not a "Young Adult" novel. Though widely spoken of as a "young adult" novel, this book in fact belongs to a new genre of titles. It contains some very mature content, which is discussed on this page.
Jenny Morton has grown up knowing that there is something different about her. From her mother's death in childbirth, Jenny has been forced to hide herself away from the world, because if she touches a living thing, she infects it with a mysterious plague which causes sores and boils to break out on the flesh of animals and which causes plants to instantly die (at least if she's in a bad mood). Never having been able to touch a person with her bare hands, Jenny must keep herself covered at all times, earning herself the title of "Jenny Mittens" among her high school classmates.
Being ostracized is terrible, but it's worse that popular "mean girl" Ashleigh Goodling seems to have control over everyone in their small town. Ashleigh gets whatever she wants, and is willing to make Jenny's life hell to do it. In fact, it seems that Ashleigh's main purpose in existing is to make Jenny miserable. Can the eighteen year-old senior find a way to live her life without worrying about what the mean girls have to say about her, or to do to her? It turns out that it's going to be easier than she had ever dared to dream.
My Star Rating of Jenny Pox
My Thoughts on the Book
This is going to be a tough one to explain because it's a rare thing where an incredible story is wrapped up in the midst of a book badly in need of editing and written by an author who needs some help with style. It's probably best if I break down my thoughts on this book (something you won't see me do very often).
The writing is mediocre. It struck me almost immediately that the author had some style issues. While I'll go into detail about this in the appropriate part of my review, I found the repeated use of the same starting word for several sentences in the same paragraph irritating and it took me out of the story because it felt so painfully repetitive. Unfortunately this is just one of several style errors that Mr. Bryan makes throughout the book.
Unfortunately the first chapter failed to hook me the way that it was intended to. Surprisingly, many reviewers seem to have the opposite opinion: That the book starts strong and ends weak. I disagree entirely, and I'm glad that I stuck with it in spite of this weak beginning.
For me, the story clipped along nicely. I've read complaints about its length (saying that it's too long for the story), but I think the length and the pacing are excellent in this novel. The ending doesn't come too soon nor is it extended further than it should be.
The best part of this book is the ending and the opening for more books in the series. I'll definitely be reading Tommy Nightmare (book two in the series).
Thoughts on Style
The story in Jenny Pox is excellent and it kept me reading. I'm not ordinarily a fan of paranormal fiction because I find that after a while it's all the same thing, and that becomes tedious. Jenny Pox was unique. No, it wasn't the story that dragged down the rating of this book for me: It was the style and characterization.
It's hard for me to say these things about a book that I enjoyed, but J.L. Bryan has incredible promise and I want to build on what he has going for him rather than to tear him down. Here goes.
- Vocabulary is an issue. It's not the range of words so much as it is the word choice that is the problem in this novel. Unfortunately, the author uses the same beginning words to start his sentences multiple times in the same paragraph and has trouble using pronouns in place of the given names of the characters. This could probably be solved by reading the paragraphs out loud in order to detect these errors. If not, a style tool could be helpful in the revision process (before editing).
- The author uses a lot of "filter" words. Filter words separate the reader from the character and contribute to poor characterization. They can be a serious problem when the author is avoiding changing perspectives within a chapter because he is attempting to convey what the point-of-view character is seeing, feeling, hearing from her point of view rather than from the point of view of those around her. This isn't an easy task, but the author would do well to consider examining his use of the words "see/saw, think/thought, feel/felt, know/knew" etc.
- Character development needs some work. It's not bad; The characters aren't entirely one-dimensional, but removing the reader from the character using filtering makes for weaker characters. Ashleigh in particular could have done with the author separating himself from Jenny's point of view on Ashley. Even when Ashleigh is the point-of-view character it feels as though we're reading through a Jenny lens. In short, few people think of themselves as evil, they consider their purposes to be for good. It would have been nice to see more development of Ashleigh from her own perspective.
- Descriptions could do with work. This is mainly because of the filtering mentioned above. The author appears to attempt to let us see through the point-of-view character's eyes what she or he is seeing, but it doesn't work that way and we lose quite a bit in the process. Writing could be improved if the author learns to show the reader rather than telling them what's going on. While this might lengthen a book that many already feel is too long, it would help to put the reader in the scene and therefore make the work more enjoyable.
- Passive voice is exhausting. While J.L Bryan is far from the worst author of his type to use passive voice, it's another tiring style that is included in this novel. For those readers who prefer to read books in an active voice, you'll probably find enough passive voice in this book to be irritating. With that said, it bears mentioning that it could be a great deal worse, and the author does deserve some props for removing as much passive voice as possible from his book.
While many reviewers describe Bryan's writing as "competent," I have to unfortunately disagree with this standpoint. Perhaps he's improved over time, but his writing needs some work and he must learn to describe scenes without filtering from the character. His characters will be much more three-dimensional and the settings will develop better. If Bryan has (or can) master this, I think he will be incredible. The story is fantastic but the execution leaves much to be desired.
It also bears mentioning that, as other reviewers have stated, Bryan's distaste for Southerners and Christians is apparent throughout the novel, and particularly in its second half, when the Southern Christian villain shows great disdain for black Americans.
Is This Book Appropriate for Kids?
As the disclaimer warns on Amazon, Jenny Pox is not a good book for younger teenagers to read. I personally believe that it could be acceptable for a child as young as 16, but I believe that the book's content is intended for young people aged 18-21 and not younger than 18. Parents would do well to pre-read this book for their teens before allowing them to read.
Who Won't Like This Book
The following groups of people probably won't enjoy this book because it insults them.
Who Might Like This Book?
This book is most likely to be enjoyed by people who like the following:
- A lot of sex in their stories.
- Apocalyptic fiction.
- Mythological fiction.
Books Like "Jenny Pox"
I don't have any suggestions at the moment, but I'll give you some when they come along! Watch this space for upcoming suggestions, or if you have any, drop them into the comments so that I can add them here!
If you've read Jenny Pox, what do you think? Buy, Borrow, or Bypass?
Buy, Borrow, or Bypass
This book is free for the Kindle at the moment, but even so I'm going to call it a "borrow." With the number of people who are deleting it off their Kindles once it's been read, I'd recommend getting the paperback from the library. If not, it's free right now and you can always download it and remove it from your Kindle later on!
Jenny Pox is free on Kindle. As far as I can tell, it's always free on Kindle, with the other books in the series being paid. If you don't like it, the book is easy enough to delete from your device. If you don't have a Kindle, you could either purchase one or borrow the paperback from the library, if they have it.
© 2014 Becki Rizzuti