THE BLESSED by Tonya Hurley
Author: Tonya Hurley
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Genre: YA (Religious/Gothic)
Format: Hard copy (paperback)
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Release Date: 25th September 2012
Recommended Reading Age: 16 +
****THERE ARE NO SPOILERS****
THE GIST: Three washed-up, troubled teens find themselves in a Brooklyn hospital on the same night. Broken, damaged in their own way, they are all lost. When a mysterious stranger bestows upon each of them an intricate, mysterious bracelet; they discover there is a direction for them all, but it is a journey into the unknown and with that comes great sacrifice. Wow….heavy, right? Well, yes it is, but that is one of the reasons I liked this book so much.
SYNOPSIS: Brooklyn teens Lucy, Cecilia and Agnes find themselves in the emergency room at Perpetual Help Hospital at the lowest point in their lives. Lucy, the superficial party girl; Cecilia, a drop out rock chick; and Agnes, a hopeless romantic. All rebels running from their lives and themselves, plagued by broken hearts and broken dreams.
Enter Sebastian: mysterious, compelling, seductive.
He brings the girls together and seems to provide each of them with what they long for … and they begin to heal. But Sebastian is on the run – and soon the girls are hunted too …
A dark, contemporary rock ‘n’ roll retelling of three famous female martyrs – Agnes, Cecilia and Lucy – and their transformation from street delinquents to soul models. (Amazon)
THE LOWDOWN: So, I have to start by saying I normally steer pretty clear of books with strong religious themes; and this is purely based on my shame of not understanding many of the references as much as I should. But, this book has most likely changed my mind.
I saw a few reviews of this both before I purchased it and after – many are pretty negative. I think this book put a lot of people off because it had such, well, balls (and by that I mean some really scary moments). It is unapologetically deep and dark. It makes no play for popularity with a candy-coated teen approach. The Blessed is gutsy and fierce and that is why I liked it. It flatly refuses to put out a simple boy meets girl (which, don’t get me wrong, I also love!) No, Tonya Hurley gave us three girls and one, mesmerizingly interesting boy who come together in a story unlike anything else I have read before. The gothic themes that I think pushed some away is what drew me in; I love a challenging, twisted plot and this book offered just that.
Cue not one, but three central females; that is brave, but Hurley more than pulls it off. We have the hopeless romantic Agnes, struggling musician/rebel Cecelia and infamous party/ ‘It’ girl, Lucy. Between an attempted suicide, an almost drowning and party-fuelled excess the three all find themselves in a Brooklyn hospital at the same time – yes, this is some heavy stuff!
When they enter the hospital they have no direction, no hope. When they leave however, each the owner of a new, bizarre but beautiful bracelet, they couldn’t possibly realize what it is that will give them their new purpose and simultaneously explain why their lives have never quite made sense.
Unified by their gifts from dark, mysterious Sebastian (we will get to him in a moment) they follow their lives until paths meet by luck, fate, chance or perhaps some higher power. They find themselves in an abandoned church on a dark night when Brooklyn is besieged by a storm of, let’s say biblical proportions.
It becomes clear who or what Sebastian is, why he chose them and what truly brought them together. This is one complex guy….unsurprisingly, no-one believes what he has to say at first and his own history in a psych ward makes it hard for anyone to take him seriously. Is he dangerous? Is he insane? Is he just committed to a cause or calling? Even before I found out the answers, I was intoxicated with this character.
The plot of this book is pacey, unrelenting towards the end and you cannot fail to be captivated. Hurley has created characters you feel for, even if they don’t always deserve it, you root for and you may even cry for towards the end. For all the darkness and complexity in points, there is such wit in the dialogue. The well-written jealousy between three girls infatuated with just one boy is handled exceptionally well and the reference I made to not patronizing YA readers stands outs in the way she writes. Hurley credits the reader with the sense to handle the depth of the story and it was very refreshing.
I don’t want to go into the detail of the fate of our fantastic four, though those with better religious knowledge than I entered this with will probably already know. This book is a kick-ass approach to handle this particular type of theme and I was thoroughly engrossed. The final scenes are pretty terrifying, clever and sometimes beautiful, but ultimately worth getting to.
If you don’t like dark, gothic tales then this isn’t for you. But, if like me, you like a book that can challenge your preconceived ideas of a genre, then try it. I really liked it and will be picking up the sequel this summer.
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