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Book Review: Velveteen by Daniel Marks

“Velveteen Monroe is dead.  At sixteen, she was kidnapped and murdered by a madman named Bonesaw.  But that’s not the problem.” – back cover description

“She walks a tightrope between psycho and smokin’.” 

Velveteen is now a resident of purgatory.  Purgatory is a dark, ashen place that is, quite frankly, falling apart.  There is no electricity so the inhabitants of purgatory spend their time entertaining each other with songs, skits, and retelling the story of their death.  You’re not supposed to, but there are ways to slip in and out of purgatory, and Velveteen knows them. Her goal is simple: sweet, cold blooded revenge.  But in death, as in life, there are always consequences.

There are a lot of souls – and I do mean A LOT of souls – in purgatory.  As you can imagine, they have issues, what with being dead an all.  A lot of them are not likable characters.  In fact, it’s really hard to like anyone really in this book.  Here’s a brief overview: Velveteen thinks Nick is swanky hot, Nick wants to do wicked things with Velveteen and it is in no way a healthy relationship built on mutual love and respect. Velveteen is a part of a scavenger team (everyone has a job in purgatory) and it is made up of her inner core of peeps.

“So, wait. That’s it? We make out and it was awesome and you make me feel things I never have with any other girl, and then you run? I gotta say, I’m feeling a little slutty here.” -Nick from Velveteen 

Then there are the Disruptionists.  They want out of purgatory and question the way that things are run.  I am pretty sure that wanting out of purgatory is a fairly understandable goal. So they resort to terrorist ways and cause chaos.  In fact, there are a lot of things causing chaos in purgatory, going back and forth between the veil has consequences, being with Nick has consequences, bombing purgatory train stations (I have no idea why there are trains in purgatory, but there are) has consequences.  In fact, things are not going very well in Velveteen’s after life (not that her life rocked, either).

The opening parts of Velveteen, with Velveteen haunting Bonesaw, her killer, was such an AMAZING read.  Unfortunately, the moment she steps into purgatory all hell breaks loose (pun totally intended).  The book just kind of falls apart for me.  When you are building a new world like we see in purgatory, you have to draw the reader in immediately – but our first trip to purgatory is kind of a muddled mess.  There are so many characters introduced so quickly that it’s hard to keep them all straight.  And the descriptions fly at you at such a rapid pace, and they are told rather than shown, that it’s hard to get a good layout of the land in your mind.  To be honest, I set the book aside at this point and waited weeks to get back to it.  It is a major hurdle for readers to get past and your more reluctant ones will never make it past it.  I made it past by sheer determination of will.

“When Velveteen Monroe pictures Bonesaw’s house – and she did, more often than could be considered healthy – blood striped the paint a muddy reddish-brown, organs floated in jars of formaldehyde, and great big taxidermy crow leered from branches that twisted from the wall like palsied arms.  Velvet always did have a vivid imagination.  It was part of her charm.” (Compare these opening lines to the lines below and you’ll see the inconsistency in writing quality.  Parts of Velveteen are written brilliantly and engagingly, others not so much.)

I think that Marks could have had an amazing book if he had focused on Velveteen haunting and getting revenge on Bonesaw, but this is not the focus of the book.  There are many things in Velveteen that work well, but overall the story is hindered because there are no real likable characters for you to root for.  I am usually a huge fan of sarcasm and snark, but I didn’t connect here (but Me, My Shelf and I totally have a different opinion and I like what they have to say). Velveteen (the story, not the girl) is creepy and gory and violent.  It is sometimes chilling.  But it lacks that certain heart that Barry Lyga seems to find in Jazz in I Hunt Killers or that Daniel Kraus seems to manage to impart in Rotters, admittedly one of the most disturbing books I have ever read.

The world of purgatory in Velveteen by Marks reminds me somewhat of the post-epidemic world found in The Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin.  Whereas both set out to take readers on a dark journey into this oppressive world of troubled souls with an overriding pathos of melancholy and despair, Griffin succeeds in spades and Marks seems to stumble a bit.

As a paranormal romance, we’re talking Edward and Bella levels of depth here:

“Could he actually be a decent guy?
Hard to imagine.
He was pretty to look at, though, she thought. Boys weren’t objectified nearly enough, and turnabout is always fair play.” 

“I could take care of you,” he said, his breath hot against her neck. “We could care about each other.”

“He was ridiculously gorgeous, even with bed-head–maybe because of it. It made her sick–like violently, ill.
He could at least be polite and have some scars, a third nipple, or a low-hanging ear on the side of his head.
But no. He was perfect and adorable and in her bed. And, oh yeah, she felt like punching the shit out of him.” 

Because I had such a strong negative reaction to parts of this book, I took a quick peek at Goodreads to see what others thought and it is definitely getting very mixed reviews.  I was comforted to know that others saw the flaws in the story that I saw.  At the end of the day, your readers will either love or hate this book.  The book cover will definitely draw them in, as will the description, but many of your readers will be disappointed – if they even get past the initial confusing part.  I give this 2.5 out of 5 stars and view it as an optional purchase based on quality, but it will probably be very popular and you should buy it.  It gets bonus points for a brilliant, gripping opening.

Are you one of the readers that loved Velveteen?  Tell us why in the comments.  Or please, someone agree with me!  Velveteen appears on the TLT list of Serial Killers in YA Lit.  For the record, Me, My Shelf and I, who I totally respect and adore, loved this book so go visit her blog for a totally different point of view, although I do agree with some of it.