Cursebusters!

Julie Smith, 2011.  I love a good boarding-school story, so I was all set to enjoy this one, set in Santa Barbara and Ojai and featuring a demon masquerading as a cat, a family curse, and time travel to ancient Mayan times. Protagonist Reeno has a sister, Haley, who’s severely, mysteriously ill; when Reeno gets busted for burglarizing her neighbors’ homes, she gets sent away to a sort of boarding school for problem kids.  She doesn’t miss home much (except for Haley), especially when she learns that there’s a group of psychic teens already at the school, and that she’s been selected by the cat-demon to assist him with preventing the end of the world. The plot was a little convoluted, but I liked the characters, particularly Gay Best Friend Carlos, and it was fast-paced.

So I enjoyed the first two-thirds of the book, mostly.  The only aspect that really bugged early on was the rendition of one character’s speech patterns.  Sonya is the sole African American character in the book, and her speech is laden with “‘jus” for “just,” “‘cept” for “except,” and the like – which is fine, except that none of the other characters speaks that way.  They, apparently, pronounce “going to” just as it’s written, whereas Sonya says “gonna.”  Come on, we all say “gonna.”  Why pin it on just the Black girl?

I was pretty unhappy with the unrealistic ending as well.  The book is fantasy, but it doesn’t seem very well thought out.  For example, now that Reeno knows about magic, she can just make up any old spell and it works; she writes an asinine rhyme about her contact lens to turn it into an invisibility device. Then there’s a deux-ex-machina ending with the cat suddenly becoming a huge jaguar and instantly summoning hundreds of other jaguars to the battle at a critical moment. The “realistic” part of the ending doesn’t fare any better; Kara, who’s suffered abuse at the hands of her parents, is convinced to report it, and from that moment on everything has changed for her.  She’s a joiner!  She cleans her room!  It’s an abrupt transformation from the way the character was presented earlier.

Recommended for those who enjoy low fantasy, particularly reluctant readers, as the cover is appealing and the book is well-paced.

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