Tuesday, April 24, 2012
The Series Has Lost a Little Something
The Riders of the Apocalypse are supernatural, Biblical, something otherworldly that we can't quite wrap our heads around. But what if they weren't. The Riders have to come from somewhere. What if they were ordinary teens, suffering everything we suffered as teens, who are chosen to bear the burdens of famine, pestilence, war, and death. In Jackie Morse Kessler's Loss, we see an ordinary bullied boy rise up to become the White Rider... even if he doesn't want to.
Billy Ballard is your typical bullied kid. He sinks into himself, takes the blows, and waits it out. It is all about survival. Fighting back just makes it harder. At home, things aren't much better. His grandfather is battling Alzheimer's and Billy and his mother have to take care of him, even when the caregiving can be brutal and totally unappreciated by a man losing his mind. The only glimmer of hopefulness in Billy's life is a beautiful girl who actually notices him. Unfortunately, the only other ones who notice him are the bullies.
Billy has recurring nightmares of an Ice Cream Man who made him make a deal when he was young. When Death, the Pale Rider, comes to Billy and tells him he must substitute for the White Rider, Pestilence. Billy has no idea what he is talking about until he realizes Pestilence was the Ice Cream Man who tricked a young child into agreeing to be the White Rider when the time came. Billy is reluctant to do such a job, so Death tells him he can bring back the original White Rider if he doesn't want the new position. But how do you bring back a Rider of the Apocalypse who doesn't want to be found? Well, it isn't easy!
I have to say I LOVED the first two books in this series. They were creepy and honest and got to the heart of true teen afflictions with an candor I appreciated. But this one faltered for me. I understand Kessler wanted to stray from the formulaic "tormented teen becomes Rider, likes it at first, gets a little excited, then wants to give it up" story from the first two books. But in doing so, she created this strange "Billy chases King Midas" story that got too rambly and confusing for me. In fact, the thing I loved most about the first two books was how much I had invested in the main characters- the kids being called to be the Riders. They were flawed, damaged, and becoming Riders gave them a sense of power they had never had in their lives. And then they realized that too much power was even worse than what they had before. I loved those kids, damage and all. And sadly, this book didn't give me a chance to love Billy. Instead he was "chasing" Pestilence's soul through the "White" or whatever its oblivion state was, tinged with horrible memories written in a stream of consciousness. It wasn't badly written, but I just didn't like it as much as I loved the edgy situations in the first books.
What I did love, however, was the Author's Note at the end of the story where Kessler tells her own tales of bullying, and you won't believe what side she was on (or maybe you will now that I have made you think about it). She talks about the evolution of this story and the use of Alzheimer's on a very personal level. Thanks to this Author's Note, I felt very different about this story than I did at the end of the actual story. I only wish I had those feelings throughout the entire story, not just in the afterword. So I think this story faltered a bit from the edgy start of the series, but it still has its merits. The concept of a bully finally having an outlet to get back at their bullies is something every bullied kid thinks about. I would encourage any junior to high school student to check this series out as it deals with very real teen issues in a surprisingly interesting fictional way.