Tuesday, December 29, 2009

REVIEW: Venomous

Krovatin, C. (3008) Venomous New York: Atheneum Books.


323 pages.

Appetizer: Locke, plagued by uncontrollable anger he has named the Venom, must struggle for a normal life after meeting Renée, the goth girl of his dreams.

I will level with you, friends, because Shel and I have taken a sacred vow to be honest in our reviews. I almost did not read this book. I picked it up. I put it down. I picked it up. I said, “Wow, this looks like a bad Spider-Man ripoff.” I put it down. But eventually, I wound up at my baby sister’s graduation with four hours to fill and nothing to distract me from the endless train of robe-bedecked grads but my copy of Venomous, which was still in my purse from the last time I told myself, “That’s it, I’m returning this dumb thing to the library.”

So I read it.

And thank goodness, because it actually turned out to be a lot of fun to read. I had to keep muffling my laughter into my scarf as parents wielding threatening-looking video cameras turned around to scowl at me for ruining the solemnity of the graduation moment.

I did have a few issues with the book. To be honest, portions of Venomous seemed *too* clichéd. While Krovatin is well aware of this, and even occasionally remarks that one scene or another is like something out of a nineties teen flick, it occasionally gets to be too much. For example? For example, Renée’s description reads like every stereotypical goth girl. Honestly, “Her lips are flawless shining black with a single ring piercing her lower lip down the middle. She's wearing a corsetlike top that pushes her breasts up and outward, vinyl pants, massive death-boots, and a spiked collar. From the bottom of her right eye, an upside-down cross curves down her cheekbone, as though she's crying evil.” sounds like just about every Hot Topic frequenter, alas.

The same is true for Tollevin, Randall, and Casey. It’s a group of friends everyone wishes they could have had, but almost no one actually managed to obtain. (You’ll have to let me know, Mr. Krovatin, which group you fall into.) For a book that does focus on real issues such as bullying, parental separation, homosexuality and clinical depression, the magical group of perfectly eccentric friends is noticeably unlikely – although enjoyable from the reader’s standpoint.

To make matters somewhat worse, absolutely everything is fraught with the kind of angst and drama which would seem normal in Twilight but occasionally becomes grating here, because you *know* the book is better than that. By the time Renée finally snaps at Locke to get over himself, you’ll be so happy you’ll want to rock out to Bauhaus in celebration.

However. For all that the group of friends drove me a little nuts, I loved reading about them. (I have never wanted so much in my life to attend a Weimar party as I did after finishing this book.) It deals candidly with Renée's struggle with depression and her brother’s anger-management problems, which seem somehow more real since he has no Venom to fall back on, as well as Locke's own issues with his family. I also really enjoyed watching Locke's group of friends (esoteric and perfect as they may be) topple slowly to the ground after one misplaced comment. I imagine it would have been a tricky balancing act to keep so many high-strung and emotionally fragile teens together in one cohesive group, and it’s nice of the author to recognize that when you add new people to an established crowd, there are bound to be issues.

Venomous also features brilliant graphic novel illustrations from the side story (Locke as the superhero Blacklight). Again, there’s a little bit of Venom-from-Spider-Man being channeled, but since the majority of comic books lap up against one another, I wasn’t too bothered. We’ll just hope David Michelinie and/or Todd McFarlane don't mind either.

While you never find out *exactly* whether or not Locke is possessed by an alien menace or if he simply has a temper problem (my vote -- temper), in the end it doesn’t even matter. It's Locke as a person that is important, and his journey from Loner With Issues to a stable boyfriend, brother and son is feat worthy of any superhero.

Dinner Conversation:

I throw open the door and there's Randall, all spiky blond hair and vintage suit. He has his acoustic slung over his back and a big Cheshire cat smile on his face. He's shabby but stylish, awkward yet handsome--the kind of boy most skater girls dream of. He could be playing either the owner of a casino or a punk rock troubadour. I envy the whole dichotomy of it all. (P. 33)

"Whoever is inside this monster, please step out," I barked, raising a hand in defense and praying that whoever was behind this mass of twisting fury could hear me. "You are more powerful than this, this thing that has a hold over you. I know you can break free of its hold. Please." (P. 138)

"How have you been?"
"Well!" she chimes, whipping toward me with a maniacal smile on her face. "I flushed all my medication down the toilet. I haven't slept in two days, which is weird, 'cause I've been drinking like a fiend. How do you think I've been?" With the last sentence, she tosses a third-full bottle of gin at me. (P. 302)

If You Thought This Was Delicious, Try:

Spider-Man: The Venom Factor by Diane Duane.

Check out the original Venom in this ridiculously fun book, featuring one of my favorite lines of all time:

"It's always nice to have a purpose," Spider-Man said, "besides eating people's spleens."

Tasty Rating: !!!

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