Wednesday, May 4, 2011
REVIEW: The Goddess Test
Appetizer: Kate Winters's mother is dying. They move to Eden, a town in the upper peninsula of Michigan where her mother had lived when she was younger. While Kate wants nothing more than to spend every possible minute with her deteriorating mother, several of her new classmates insist on drawing her out, including the head cheerleader, named Ava.
When Ava is killed in a trick she attempted to play on her, Kate finds herself making a deal with a mysterious boy named Henry to save Ava's life that is reminiscent of the deal Persephone experienced with the Greek god Hades.
As part of the deal, Kate must spend six months of each year with a seemingly early twenty-something man, named Henry. She soon learns that she will face tests to see if she is worthy of being Henry's wife and gaining immortality. Thus, the goddess test.
So, out there in the internetz world, there are a lot of mixed reviews of The Goddess Test. Some are saying it's a wonderful engrossing spin on bringing Greek mythology into the present world. Others are outraged, saying Carter completely ignores traditional mythology and attempts to infuse it with Christian values.
The question is really about how much can an author can play with the figures of myth. Some like to maintain traditional versions (Rick Riordan and his Percy Jackson series) others completely ignore a lot of the history (Ross Collins and his Medusa Jones).
I felt like Carter was somewhere in the middle. *A kind-of spoiler that could lead to a major spoiler for the book (if that makes any sense)* Kate meets a lot of the Greek gods as soon as she arrives in Eden, Michigan, but doesn't realize their true identities. They all have fake names (which, as someone who is terrible with names, didn't confuse me at all. Nope.) I found the list explaining who was who that is at the back of the book before I even began reading. This meant that as I read about various characters acting in different ways that didn't fit with their true Greek identities. (Artemis in charge of the dresses?! Frak, no!) *End the kind-of spoiler for the end of the book* I felt like Carter was creating a monomyth, combining Christian themes and beliefs with traditional myth to explain the world. I think this is becoming more and more popular in YA and children's lit.
When I first started reading the book, Monica had posted a comment to my Goodreads account asking why I wanted to read it. We had the following phone conversation, re-constructed to the best of my failing memory.
Shel: So, The Goddess Test?
Monica: Don't read it!
Shel: Why not? I'm enjoying it so far.
Monica: They make Hades a virgin! A VIRGIN!!!!!!
Shel: ...I don't think I've gotten to that part yet.
(In retrospect, Monica may not have freaked out so much about the Greek god of the Underworld being a virgin quite that much.)
Monica and I then had a very intelligent conversation about gender roles in relation to how modern heroes like Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and Kate are being presented and how Percy gets to go off and have adventures to save the world and fight a war (funsies!) while Kate is not the toughest of ladies (boo!). (Seriously, I felt like she was an emotionally strong character, but physically she rivals Bella Swan in terms of being a distressed damsel. Kate's legs can barely support her more often than a baby hasn't learned to crawl or walk yet. Get it together, girl.)
Plus, Riordan is more conservative in the way he presents the Greek gods, etc. We are geniuses (not at all focused on how a several thousand-year-old attractive young man may still be a virgin).
Maybe we should have used this book as a literary feast...that is if I could have convinced Monica to give it a second chance.
I really loved the eerie tone of the story that Carter set up. I felt it matched Kate's mood perfectly. And since the book I'd read before this one was poorly written, The Goddess Test felt like a breath of fresh air. That is, until I hit about page 40ish, when Ava was very randomly killed. That was a moment where I had to literally exclaim "WTF," while I read in Thompson Library's lovely silent reading room. I got glared at. I got glared at reeeeeeeal good.
This would become a cyclical experience as I kept reading. I'd be enjoying the tensions and internal landscape of Kate's characterization that then something completely random would happen plot-wise that would make me mumble "WTF?"
There were also quite a few moments throughout out the book were I was left feeling like it was a little ridiculous...or just not that clever. Throughout the story, Kate is supposedly in danger, but she doesn't seem all that concerned. And when there are threats to her life, they aren't that clever. Given the way that the story presents the supposed assassin (as someone who has killed countless girls previously, no matter the ways Henry attempts to protect her), I would have expected something more impressive than what is in the story.
Overall, I'm declaring that I enjoyed the book. Some of the plot developments seemed forced or not foreshadowed or explored enough. I definitely liked the tensions over death and the fact that the story was set in Michigan.
When does the second book Goddess Interrupted come on? (And is it an intentional play on the title Girl, Interrupted? Will Kate be committed to an insane asylum where she befriends some of the other patients and comes to terms with the way society has treated her while exploring the nature of reality with a beautiful Greek god running around in the background? I could probably get into that. Just saying.)
"I spent my eighteenth birthday driving from New York City to Eden, Michigan, so my mother could die in the town where she was born. Nine hundred and fifty-four miles of asphalt, knowing every sign we passed brought me closer to what would undoubtedly be the worst day of my life.
As far as birthdays go, I wouldn't recommend it" (p. 12).
"What would you do to have her back?"
I struggled to understand what he was saying. "Back?"
"Back in the condition she was in before she jumped in the water. Alive."
In my panic, I already knew my answer. What would I do to have Ava back? What would I do to stop death from tightening its chokehold over the remaining shreds of my life that it hadn't already stolen? It had marked my mother and was waiting in the wings to take her from me, inching closer every day. She might've been ready to give up, but I would never stop fighting for her. And like hell I was going to let it claim another victim right in front of me, especially when it was my fault Ava was here in the first place. "Anything." (p. 45)
"Wandering listlessly through the halls, I ran my hand across each surface I passed, staring blankly ahead into the darkness. Tonight marked the end of the only chapter in my life I'd ever known, and I didn't know how to live in the emptiness ahead" (p. 63).
"Think--you know the myth, do you not? Who was Persephone? What was she?"
Fear stabbed at me, cutting me from the inside. If what he claimed was true, then he'd kidnapped Persephone and forced her to marry him, and no matter what he said, I couldn't help but wonder if he would try to do the same to me. But the rational part of me couldn't look past the obvious. "You really think you're a god? You know that sounds crazy, right?" (p. 101).
"Why the tests?" I said. "Why are they necessary?"
"Because," he said. "The prize is not something we give out lightly, and we need to make sure it is something you can handle."
"Immortality." (p. 106).
Tasty Rating: !!!