Bliss by Lauren Myracle
My only encounter with Lauren Myracle was seeing ttyl come out when I was thirteen; I had yet to be rightfully punched in the face by Debate, and so, puffed up with self-righteous pretension, I was utterly aghast. If I had been the kind of girl to wear pearls, they would have been so fretfully clutched I would have broken the necklace. Now, obviously, I know that it’s a modern epistolary novel and, hey, man, whatever gets the kids reading, you know? I forgot all about her until Anastasia recently reviewed Bliss, and I knew I had to read a novel she described as The Craft 1960s-style.
Bliss follows the titular Bliss. Raised by hippies, she’s sent to live with her conservative grandmother in Atlanta when her parents go to Canada to dodge the draft. Now sheltered, kind Bliss must brave the world of Atlanta circa 1969, especially the private high school she’s now enrolled in. As Bliss tries to make friends and fit in while staying true to herself (always a tall order), she has to deal with the voice she hears on campus calling for blood. As she delves deeper in the mystery of a previous student’s suicide, she learns of dark magic afoot and, perhaps worse, that one of her new friends is trying to call it back. Can Bliss survive high school and stopping a malevolent spirit?
I read this all in one sitting; I made crepes for breakfast, ate breakfast, and proceeded to sit on the couch and read for about three hours. It’s a short book, even by young adult standards; it’s well-padded with quotes from the period, from the applicable (the Manson trials have their timeline compressed to serve as a dark undercurrent in the novel) to the, uh, there. And the journal entries of the mysterious S. L. L. often start with a blank page, for some reason. (I did recently learn that padding is sometimes a product of how a book is bound; if the book is an odd number of pages compared to the amount of paper bound, there are blank pages left over. I love my internship.) I like the inclusion of the Manson trials—characters discuss them, especially the classmate who is up to no good at all—and the journal entries, but I could have sacrificed one or two other quotes from ads or television.
Bliss is an immediately likable character. Myracle works around period-appropriate attitudes by having Bliss be raised by hippies; while she has a bit of a distaste for the lifestyle (she revels in soap that actually foams), it’s clear that her parents raised her to be non-judgmental, accepting, and mindful of injustice and what she can do about it. She’s kind, sweet, and earnestly wants to be liked and useful. I loved the part where she finds herself utterly bored by the concept of a weekend, because there’s not enough work to do. (Probably because I feel that way, too.) And I really liked that it’s something positive about Bliss that ends up hurting her; despite her gut instincts (which get stronger and stronger as their friendship progresses), she decides to befriend the evil schoolmate because she refuses to see the bad in people. I’m not well-versed in horror in any medium, but I always find villains and the like much more interesting if they come out of a believable place.
But Bliss ultimately feels a bit light, although I very much respect Myracle for doing what she did with the ending. The ultimate confrontation is a bit short, for all the incredibly creepy build-up, but the horror is there and potent. I’m fairly squeamish and didn’t blanch too much, because Myracle is pretty straight-forward, but there’s some animal abuse going on, for those who trigger for that. (I know I do.) And the villain is, while not heart-wrenching, very believable; I think we’ve all met people like her, tried to befriend her, and realized that there’s nothing we can do. The novel also flirts with some feminist issues—Bliss, at one point, is given a makeover, and, bless her heart, questions the usage of “beauty is a woman’s best weapon”—but doesn’t particularly engage with them head-on. But it does deal with counterculture, and the villain—like Manson—uses counterculture as an excuse for their heinous crimes. And it works. It’s a fine young adult horror novel, but I think it might pale next to some of the big kid stuff, especially when said big kid stuff packs a bigger punch in their ending.
Bottom line: Bliss is a fine young adult horror novel, with believable motives for the protagonist and the villain, and a good sense of time and place. The ending is a little weak, though, and it’s generally light. Worth a shot—it’s a quick read.
I rented this book from the public library.