Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Main Characters:

Violet White – a teenage girl living in her family’s house with her twin brother, Luke.  She is the protagonist and the narrator.  Her parents are off living in Paris (they are artists).  She is a little eccentric – she loves to wear her dead grandmother’s clothes and her grandmother’s room is now her room.  She loves old things.  She realizes that they need money (they have basically run out), so she rents out the guesthouse.  She and her brother are thought of as the town snobs as they come from a formerly wealthy family and live in a grand sea side estate.

Luke White – Violet’s brother.  He comes across as a guy who is probably a little bit of a bully and a jock.  He has a thing for Sunshine but he is also dating a girl who works in the town coffeehouse.  He likes to show off.  He is a painter, like Violet and his parents.

River West – River West Redding III.  He is a mysterious and obviously wealthy young man who rents the guest house.  There is also something strange about him.  He quickly takes a liking to Violet.  He has what he calls “the glow” – which is some sort of power to make people see things or do things.  He typically needs to touch them in order to make it work but Violet changes him and seems to make his power stronger.  He likes to scare people and cause mischief.  He has used the power to kill people, but he thinks those who he has killed have deserved it.  He is a liar and thinks he is doling out justice.

Neely West – River’s brother.  His name is short for Cornelius.  He doesn’t have the glow but loves to fit – and it seems like he is compelled to sometimes.  He is trying to help River control the glow.

Sunshine Black – Violet’s neighbor and friend.  She is very flirty and seems to like Luke.

Jack – a young boy from Echo.  His dad is the town drunk.  It turns out that he is actually a cousin of Violet’s and Luke’s.  Early on, River uses the glow on Jack and convinces Jack that the devil is in the town graveyard and kidnapped a young girl.  Violet takes a liking to Jack and after Jack’s father kills himself (in the town square because of River’s glow) he comes to live with Violet and Luke.

Freddie – Violet’s dead grandmother.  She’s not a ghost or anything, but her past is so important that she is really a character.  She was in love with River’s grandfather (Will, who also had the glow) but she married Violet’s grandfather anyway.  She also had an affair with Jack’s grandfather (resulting in Jack’s father).

Citizen Kane a/k/a the Citizen – the name of Violet’s home.  While a location, it is treated like a character and has a presence as if it was a character.  It is in a state of some disrepair because Violet’s parents wasted all the family money.  Despite its dilapidated condition, Violet loves the Citizen.

Brodie – River and Neely’s half-brother.  He is evil.  He calls the glow his “spark” and he uses it in the most awful and evil ways.  He wants River to join him and do all sorts of bad things.  He needs to draw blood to get it to work, but then he can compel people to do all sorts of things.

Main Premise:  Violet and Luke are living alone in the citizen because their parent’s who are painters, have headed off to Europe for their art. Violet and Luke have basically run out of money so Violet decides to rent out their guesthouse. A handsome young man named River shows up to become the tenant.  He’s clearly wealthy and takes a liking to Violet right away.

River has some special power however and he calls it “the glow”. Not long after arriving, while walking into town to the grocery store Violet tells a story of a man who disappeared into a tunnel years ago (your typical urban legend that lots of towns have).  River and Sunshine (Violet’s friend and neighbor who is with them) go into the tunnel.  Sunshine freaks out because she’s convinced that she sees the man who disappeared years ago and he’s turned into a monster.

Then one evening a little girl in town disappears and Violet and River learn from the other children in town that the devil kidnapped her. But, really, River just convinced her to go hide out in a tree house and then used his glow to make the kids see the devil. The children’s ringleader, Jack, asks River how he caused all the kids to see the devil.

River tells Violet about his power. He tells Jack as well that it wasn’t really the devil.  River can use his power by touching or right after touching another person.  And violent seems to be amplifying his powers. River can use the glow on Violet long after he has touched her. In entertaining themselves, Violet, Luke,Sunshine and River start to play in the attic and Violet is reminded of some things that she was looking for that were her grandmothers.  She realizes that they must be hidden inside a set of wooden crosses scattered throughout the Citizen.

When Violet opens the crosses she discovers letters between Freddy and a man who turns out to be River’s grandfather, Will.  Will also had the glow and he and Freddy were in love. But he couldn’t control his powers, at least one person died, and Freddy married someone else (Violet’s grandfather).

River uses his powers and the use is not really in the nicest way – he admits to Violet that he’s used it cause people to kill themselves. In fact he does this right in front of Violet – she watches as he uses the glow to have the town drunk (Jack’s dad) slit his own throat open. He justifies it by saying that he wasn’t very nice to Violet and says that he only does things when people deserve it because he has his own odd and ingrained sense of justice that he needs to administer.  But Violet is disgusted.  But she can’t seem to pull away from River either.

After the town drunk kills himself Jack comes to live with Violet and Luke. There are a handful of other events that occur that start to frighten Violet including having a young man who works in a restaurant set a fire. Violet feels like she’s being watched. She thinks it’s River using the glow and doesn’t believe it when River says is it’s not. After a little while River’s brother Neely shows up. Neely explains that he’s trying to control River, and that River needs to go home. Neely also explains his uncontrollable urge to fight, especially with River after River has used his powers.

Then another young man named Brody shows up and Brody explains that he’s a half brother who also has powers. But he calls his powers the spark. And he definitely uses the spark in an evil way. What he does makes River’s actions seem tame.  In fact, Brody calls himself the devil.  Brody intentionally murders when ever he can for the fun of it.  He wants River to join him. In order to do this Brody’s been doing some bad things in and around Echo.  He gets Sunshine almost killed by convincing Sunshine’s parents that Sunshine is a rat that they need to beat to death with a baseball bat. He gets Neely almost killed by convincing Luke that Neely was going to hurt violet.  He gets Violet to kiss him because he cuts Violet and get Violet to think he’s River.  And it seems that he has a thing for his ex-girlfriend Sophie who he murdered. He loves to use a knife to cut people to draw blood so that he can then use his powers on them. He cuts Violet bad enough that Violet almost dies.   Violet, Luke and River only manage to escape because Violet fights the spark well enough to stab Brody in the chest.  Despite having been stabbed in the chest, Brody escapes.

Locations: Echo, Maine

Other Important Things to Remember for Later:  River’s grandfather burnt down a church and couldn’t really get control, even though he thought not using the powers at all was the only way to control it.   It’s possible that Neely and River have other half siblings.  River’s dad didn’t have the glow.  The glow/spark appears to need some sort of contact whether it’s just touching or being cut so that blood will flow, in order for it to work. Jack is living with the Whites as turns out he’s a relative.  (I wonder if Neely really doesn’t have some sort of glow – maybe related in some way to his compulsion to fight.)

Spoiling the Mystery/How it Ended: Violet stabs Brody and Brody’s powers over the group sort of snap so that they can get away. Jack sees Brody run off. River realizes he needs to go away and get control over his glow so that they can then go after Brody.  Sunshine didn’t actually die she was merely in a coma, but she’s different.  Luke and Violet’s parents come home from Paris. Neely stays in the guesthouse to watch over Violet while River is away.

Review:

The name sets the stage for something creepy, gothic and supernatural.  I pictured a big old house, on the cliffs next to the ocean, and a struggle between good and evil.  I got most of that, even though some was in a manner other than expected.  And I guess that is part of what made this book enjoyable.  Don’t get me wrong, there is room for improvement – but I think some of the shades of grey that exist with these characters is part of the point.  I didn’t love the characters, but it was hard not to enjoy (most of) them.  I wasn’t scared stiff, but it was easy to think a number of things weren’t right and there was something not-quite-right going on also.  It was nice to see that the devil in the cemetery wasn’t Mr. Big Evil but more along the lines of Mr. Mischief.  I think had it been Mr. Big Evil it would have been too easy to hate River and see him as a bad-guy, without redeeming qualities.  I didn’t swoon at the dialogue, but it was intelligent enough to keep me interested.  I wasn’t entirely sure where things were going with the plot, but it wasn’t such a meandering mess either.  And most of the elements tied into the overall story arch so that they made much more sense in hindsight.  Were the parent’s conveniently absent?  Sure, but that is the case with so many YA novels I am not sure why authors even bother to explain the absence of the parental figures anymore.

After all that, there were a number of lovely little touches. For example in the beginning when Violet is narrating and explaining to us about how the Citizen got its name – from Citizen Kane the movie – she notes that the house was built in 1929 but the movie came out in 1941. She explained that the movie must have meant something to Freddy. Later that comes full circle after Violet discovers Freddy’s letters and Will tells Freddy at the end of one of them that Freddy she was his Rosebud. There are a handful of things like this for a reader to catch if they’re paying attention.  They were nice little nods to the careful reader that made this read more enjoyable. I will note that while I like twists and surprises Brody showing up really felt like it came out of nowhere. Rivers denial of some of the bad things going on (the women being burned as witches) really didn’t do enough to prepare for that twist. Even when looking back I’m hard-pressed to find solid clues to Brody’s existence (a mere reference to Texas isn’t enough for me to see Brody coming as the bad guy out to kill them all… but maybe that’s just me).  Most of the time even twists that feel like they come out of the blue but if the author has done things right I can look back and think “yep there’s the clue I just missed it”.  Here, I can’t seem to find many of them (if anyone wants to point them out to me, feel free!).

The descriptions of the town and the citizen are just enough to paint a fairly creepy picture of the town. While I think a little more description would have set the scene superbly, it was easy to see the paint peeling off the walls broken shutters and the state of disrepair that the house is in. It was also easy to see Violet’s love for the place as well as her love for Freddy, and how the family could continue to live there.

What I struggle with the most is that I can’t tell if Violet really had feelings for River. It was fairly evident that River likes Violet, and Neely reinforces that with his comments that there’s never been another girl that River’s even been remotely interested in.  But it would have been nice to have had a little bit more between River and Violet so that her feelings seem real and it would be easier to understand why the things River does are things she can so easily except.  All though I guess even as I write that, it occurs to me that the author might have been looking to create the question, the idea, that what is between River and Violet isn’t necessarily real.  And, the glow explains Violet’s susceptibility to just ignore the bad and take the warmth that the glow brings maybe even better. If River really is using the glow on her all the time and nothing is real, then that would explain how easily she dismisses his actions and his culpability for them.  It would also make River out to be even more of a enigma than he already seems.  We are left wondering, was he really good or not?  Can his actions be justified or excused?  Violet manages to do it, but did she do that of her own volition or was she “glowed into it”?

The other missing piece is the background between Freddy and River’s grandfather. The letters that we see just don’t explain enough. I would love to see more of this. I think that background would not only be helpful to understanding the glow, but would make the story so much more interesting if we knew more about the relationship that existed. It would be an excellent parallel to what is going on between River and Violet (I assume).

Overall I enjoyed the story well enough to pick up the second book right away. I’m looking forward to seeing if a love triangle develops between Violet and Neely and River, or if Violet and Neely really do just become friends. It seems like there is a little bit of a foundation for the development of something between Neely and Violet. On the other hand, despite all of River’s faults I think I want to see River and Vi together.

All things considered, this was a nice little book to satisfy the need for a little bit of creepiness, without leaving me afraid to turn out the lights or venture up into an attic.  A great balance for me, and what I am looking for.  I put this solidly in the “good” category, even if I can’t say the same for River.

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