Friday, October 2, 2009

Shudder, by Jennie Hansen

The ending of this book made me mad -- furious, in fact! I'm mad that -- but I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me describe the entire book first.

Shudder, by Jennie Hansen, is a multi-faceted book; it's a suspenseful thriller, but it also features a storyline about abuse, along with themes of friendship and romance. The two main characters, Darcy and Clare, grew up together, and at the beginning of the book, they share an apartment. But while Darcy was always surrounded by a large, loving and supportive family, Clare only had an ill, demanding mother who later died. When Blaine, a young attorney, came into her life, she was flattered by his self-confident personality, and a little relieved to let him take over much of the load of responsbility that she had carried around by herself for many years. But Blaine's personality can also be described as "forceful" in more ways than one, and the book opens with Clare coming home with a broken wrist, which he caused. It's an event that only serves to make Darcy even more suspicious of Blaine; she's never liked him, but now she's starting to see what Clare cannot; that he is abusing her friend both physically and mentally.

Meanwhile, Darcy is having her own problems. When Blaine insists on moving in with Clare even before they're engaged, Darcy feels morally obliged to move out. Unhappy circumstances bring her together with David, a young, single LDS coach at the local high school. David is not only the exact opposite of Blaine, but he also helps Darcy find a new place to live, in the home of a woman, Karlene, who is recovering from a severe car accident. Karlene, however, is convinced that it wasn't an accident and that her car was deliberately forced off the road. Soon after Darcy moves in, the house is almost broken into, then a fire is started directly outside, and finally, the house is blown up deliberately -- fortunately at a time when both women are out. It seems that someone is looking for evidence of a crime that Karlene accidentally captured on film, and they will stop at nothing to find and destroy it. When Karlene goes into hiding, Darcy is the only connection to her that the villains have left.

The story contains many threads that are skillfully intertwined; the thrills, spills and romance of Darcy's storyline are a good balance to the increasingly abusive behavior of Blaine towards Clare. The pacing is fast, but not break-neck, and there's always something that will keep the readers turning the pages to see what happens next. Along the way, the reader also discovers much about the behavioral patterns of abusers -- not in the form of the dreaded info-dump, but carefully woven into the story. Because many of Blaine's actions are described from Clare's point of view, the reader is also shown what she is thinking and feeling, and how she doesn't recognize her relationship at first for what it really is. Clare is so in love, for instance, that it never occurs to her that Blaine deliberately hid her cell phone; she thinks she herself slid it into his briefcase by accident. She believes that he is truly too busy and forgetful to add her name to their "joint" account, and she even takes the blame for many of his aggressive outbursts, chiding herself for not recognizing and avoiding his triggers. I personally liked the way that Jennie Hansen showed us enough of Blaine's unhappy background that we can approximate an understanding of why he acts the way he acts, although I'm sure that the roots of abuse are much more complicated than we mortals can ever know. The best parts of the book, however, show the theme of friendship; how Darcy doesn't give up on Clare despite the obstacles that Blaine throws (sometimes literally) in her way, how friends can be found in unlikely places and with unlikely people, and best of all, how seemingly small acts of friendship can have so many positive outcomes.

All this talk about abuse makes the book sound preachy, but I assure you, it's not; it's entertaining and suspenseful right up to the end, with lots of good action scenes and two delightful romances (one major and one minor.) The scene with the snowmobile and the chase at the beach were particularly tense. And while a spoonful of sugar may help the medicine go down, this book is not just syrupy sweetness overcompensating for a bitter pill. The message isn't completely disguised -- it's not supposed to be -- but it is divided into small, easily digestible portions, and wrapped up in a hearty, satisfying meal that will make you glad you ate the whole thing.

Now, as I said at the beginning, the bittersweet ending of this book, or more specifically, of Clare's plotline makes me mad. I'm furious at the fact that it's the victims who have to run and hide, often for the rest of their lives, if they manage to get away at all. I'm mad that the perpetrators are often allowed to go on living as though nothing's happened, free to continue their abusive behavior, when they are the ones who should be forced to live in fear, looking over their shoulders for the rest of their lives and worrying that their pasts will finally catch up with them. It's the sad reality of to-day, but books like this will help raise awareness of the problem so that things can change. I hope that this book in particular will go beyond mere entertainment, that its subtle messages will inspire who are in an abusive relationship to realize what's going on and get help, and inspire others who are outside of those relationships to reach out and give that help in the moment that it's needed.

I'd recommend this book to those readers who want more depth to their thrillers, who want to be entertained and yet left pondering at the same time. I also think this book would be appropriate for older teens.

If you'd like to win a signed copy of Shudder, go to Jennie's blog. She'll be holding two contests during the month of October and all you have to do to enter is make a thoughtful comment on any one of her blog posts during that time.


Heather B. Moore said...

I'm looking forward to reading this book!

Chantele said...

I just finished this, and I was mad at the ending as well. That is life though, and hopefully someone will do something to change it. Great book.:)

Anonymous said...

I read this book and i totally lovvvve it so interesting and heart thumping!