Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Publication Date: August 23, 2011
Sweet cartwheeling Jesus! Gretchen McNeil’s debut novel, Possess, was a great mix of scary and sweet grounded in current day San Francisco.
Bridget Liu is still dealing with her father’s death. She’d rather be left alone than have to spend any more time than is absolutely necessary with her mom or anyone else, especially not with the voices only she can hear. These voices, Bridget learns, are demons and she has the ability to send them back to wherever they came from. Afraid to tell anyone about what she hears and can do, Bridget ends up working with the Monsignor at her high school and soon a priest from the Vatican joins them. Then, the demons pass along a message that has Bridget not sure who she can trust. As she tries to figure out the demons’ plan, Bridget worries that someone close to her will fall victim to the demons.
To be honest, at first, I thought “Demons and Catholic school, haven’t I read this before and recently too?” So, I was a little skeptical as I started to read. But, Bridget’s voice was so genuine and the third person narration was so spot on that it grabbed me from the start. Within a few chapters I found myself wanting Bridget to embrace her talent and find a way to balance exorcizing demons with her everyday life.
Ms. McNeil does a great job of showing the different parts of Bridget’s life: How Bridget essentially starts by trying to keep school and home completely separate from her work with Monsignor Renault. (A small aside here: it took me a long time to place the name Renault; it kept bothering me that I knew this name from another book, another book also set at a Catholic high school. When it finally hit me: Jerry Renault from The Chocolate War. End of totally random aside) She worries what her friends (Hector, Brad and Peter) would think if they found out about the demons. I was hoping that she would be more willing to confide in them, especially Hector, who I found to be funny and sympathetic. But, as the two parts of her life start to blend together, Bridget became an even stronger character. Being willing to confide what was going on with her, allowed her to share the burden a bit, as well as allowing her to be little more vulnerable, which I felt made her more relatable as a character.
Despite the overall darkness, there were enough moments of lightness and sweet that made Possess different from what I was expecting. I would put Bridget’s relationship with Matt Quinn, son of her father’s best friend, in the sweet category. It was more than insta-love, which was refreshing. Actually, it took a long while for them to become friends and then even longer for anything to really start between them and it went slowly, which felt very realistic. Yay for realistic teen relationships!
If I had to give Possess a genre label, I would label it as horror. And I’m not one to watch scary movies - I’m a complete wimp when it comes to horror, but as I was reading Possess, I didn’t get as scared as I initially thought. Although, there is one particular scene that takes place in a doll shop that made me put the book down, take a deep breath and then start reading again. And I will never look at dolls quite the same way again, but overall, there was enough of the not scary that it creates a good balance. Given all of that, I still wouldn’t read Possess late at night.
I would highly recommend Possess to readers who enjoy both horror and paranormal books, especially if you like your scary with a little not so scary.