Book Review: The Goddess Test, by Aimee Carter

April 10, 2011 at 9:00 am (Book Reviews) (, , , , )

Kate Winters doesn’t want to spend her eighteenth birthday driving to a tiny Michigan town so her mother can die where she grew up. She doesn’t want to go back to high school and leave her mother in the care of a stranger during the day. And she doesn’t particularly want to make friends. Somehow, though, she ends up doing all of it, mostly because it’s what her mother wants. Her mother is dying. Has been dying. She’s held on for four years, longer than anyone thought she could, but now she truly is dying.
But then, Kate meets Henry, a young man from the strange estate on the edge of town, and he offers her the one thing no one has even been able to guarantee: a chance to say goodbye. The promise that before her mother dies, she’ll be able to say goodbye. Henry and the manor are neither what they seem to be, and what happens over the long autumn and winter will not just change the rest of Kate’s life: they’ll change the rest of forever.

I’m a sucker for Greek mythology. I always have been, probably always will be, and I jump on just about any new addition on it, so when I saw mentions of Hades and Persephone, I was bouncing up and down with excitement, couldn’t wait for it to come out.

Now having read it… I don’t in any way mean to imply that I didn’t enjoy it, because I did, but I wonder if I didn’t get myself so worked up over it that it couldn’t ever do less than let me down a little. The myth of Hades and Persephone is, I think, one of the most intriguing of the classical stories, and open to such an array of interpretations. Their story here is intriguing, and sad- no, not just sad, profoundly depressing because it carries such a weight across so many centuries. Henry is such a complicated character, and yet he’s perhaps the most straightforward, the easiest to understand, and the one whose motivations are the more clear. His loyalty is staggering, as painful as it is commendable, and his hope is so fragile, so ephemeral, that each time we see it we want to somehow shelter it, as if there was any way we could. His grief is a living thing, a weight that hovers in the halls of the manor and shades every word. Sometimes the grief edges into rage, sometimes into despair, but even when he seems his most relaxed the grief is still a ghost at his shoulders, which is just so lovely.

Eden Manor, not just the beauty of it but the fact of it reminds me of so many things I can’t say without fear of spoilers. The way it exists is a beautiful thing in and of itself, even separated from the story and the things that take place there. Setting so rarely gets to come alive and become a character in its own right, but the manor does just that. It is as essential as any person we meet, perhaps even more so than some, and that’s a rare thing.

I love how consumed Kate is by her mother’s illness, how it overwrites every thought, every action, every moment until she’s just an extension of her mother’s cancer. It’s a very real thing, especially in a terminal sickness that holds on for so long. It isn’t just the patient that’s consumed by it, but those closest to them as well. Kate’s entire life, her whole world, is narrowed down to the single point of light that is her mother. She has no life outside of that, and I really liked that we get to see that. My mother is a nurse, and has been for some years a Hospice nurse, so seeing the truth of that reality- a reality of exhaustion and vomit and weakness- is amazing, and very brave. It takes a hell of a lot of strength to work day by day at someone’s bedside, terrified each moment will be the last and unsure if it’s hope or selfishness to believe they’ll make it another day, another week, another birthday, another Christmas, any milestone that can be clutched against the fear and the pain. It takes a very different kind of strength, and perhaps a more difficult one, to know when to let that go. To recognize the moment when you have to take your own life back, and find the courage to figure out what that life even is anymore. To see that in Kate was extremely compelling, and that more than anything else is what kept me turning page after page.

There was a lot in this book to love, but there was also a lot that left me wondering if I’d somehow missed several very important things along the way. Kate’s friendship with Ava is baffling on nearly every level. I don’t want to give twists away, but Ava’s constant selfishness and unthinking cruelty make her an odd choice of companion and friend. To cling to the familiar- even if it’s not the person you would have chosen- is natural, but it feels forced, like Ava is only ever an albatross at Kate’s neck. She serves a purpose- she serves several purposes, as a matter of fact- but she also serves to muddy things. Given what Kate has gone through in the past four years, given the person she has become as a result of that, it doesn’t work for me that she would even tolerate Ava at some points.

To mention the tests doesn’t give much away- they’re in the title, after all- but the nature of them was a little disconcerting. Jarring, I suppose, would be the best word for it. Kate is told upfront that there will be tests, that she may or may not know them before/during/after, but that she must pass all of them. She worries about them constantly, frets at them, and yet doesn’t recognize most of them. It leaves me with endless tension and no pay-off. As the narrator, she’s limited by her own knowledge, but I would have wished to see indications of the tests in those around her, those who do know what the tests are and how they’re played out. We get a lot of worrying and a lot of time passing, but we don’t really get to use those tests as intervals, or more importantly, as steps. The nature of the tests also startled me; it seemed strangely out of place, like we were somehow being asked to blend two very different mythologies.

And here’s where I start dancing around things in the attempt to be honest without spoiling things. The ending was…I’m not really sure what the ending was. I was expecting both more and less, each in different ways, so it left me very confused about the direction the next book will go. Generally speaking, each book in a series leads to the next one. Obviously there are exceptions, especially an ongoing series that will end up with fifteen, twenty, twenty-six books in it, but even where the first books don’t end in cliffhangers, there’s something to pull you directly to the next one.

And then promptly make you spend the next six to twelve months swearing like a sailor because you have to wait.

I didn’t have that here. I’ll definitely read the next one, because despite everything that bothered me I really did enjoy it, but it’s not what I’ll be jumping up and down for, it’s not the one that I’ll be arguing over with other people trying to guess what happens, because I have absolutely no idea. There is nothing to indicate what’s going to drive the second book, and that, more than anything else I think, is what bothers me. As much as I hate the waiting, there’s pleasure in it too, having that sense of anticipation so that the relief of FINALLY having the book in your hands is as much a joy as the reading of it. I want that from my books.

All things said and done, this book is an intriguing view of Hades and Persephone, and some of the characters are so real- and compelling- that I look forward to coming back to them. Are that pieces that bother me? Yes, absolutely. But not enough that I don’t want to continue reading the series. I’m still caught- the frustration of not being able to wonder where it’s going is only so sharp because I want to know.

The Goddess Test, by Aimee Carter, available April 19th, 2011.

Until next time~

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