Helleville, Hayden Thorne
Publisher: Queerteen Press
Genre: YA, Paranormal, LGBT (G)
Length: 260 pages
**COULD BE CONSIDERED SPOLIERISH**
“Noah’s doing well. Yes, he’s still gay. No, I don’t see any changes happening in him because, you know, Mom, it’s not a phase. No, it’s not. I don’t care if this is a new week. He’s still gay. You want to check back with me next month or something?” Another heavy sigh. “I was being sarcastic.”
Noah Hipwell has just been suspended (and subsequently withdrawn) from school after a nasty bullying incident, which has something to do with the fact he’s gay. Noah is 15 and lives with his single mother, Dot. Noah’s grandparents are highly disapproving of Dot, her unmarried nature and especially disapproving of Noah’s sexuality.
Noah’s grandparents make veiled threats about sending the Soul Warriors, after the pair to have them atone for their sins. Neither Noah or Dot have ever heard of the Soul Warriors, and research does not reveal their existence. The pair write it off as the old folks going crazy and think nothing more of it. While driving in their van for a weekend away Noah notices a strange sticker attached to the front; he can’t remove it, so they continue on their journey and plan on removing it later. On the highway they see a bright light and lose consciousness.
When Noah and Dot wake up they are in Helleville, a strange town with ghouls wandering the streets and a series of residents who all report waking up there too. The sticker on the van seems to be the portal that led to this world. Despite having been essentially confined to purgatory, Noah and Dot make a life for themselves, and Noah starts investigating why certain people in this town vanish.
The Spookiness of a Vampire Watching You Kiss (A.K.A. What I Loved)
Helleville is a very interesting place, to say the least. Noah desperately wants to explore and finds the place rather liberating after being stuck in a cramped apartment most of his life. Full of Victorian houses, the undead (zombies, ghosts and vampires) and technology all predating the 1950s, Helleville is well justified as a deeply interesting world, and I could get lost for days just exploring, despite it not being all that big.
For a novel to create such an interesting and quirky world I am incredibly filled with joy. The way in which the paranormal aspects were included in Helleville was done impeccably, and I believe this is something that the author must be congratulated for.
Noah is an introverted, quiet teen who also happens to be gay, meaning that making friends is not the easiest thing in the world for him. The world of Helleville, ironically, becomes a refuge of sorts for him, where he is free of the negative aspects of school and his grandparents. In this new world Noah feels more ready to venture out of his initial comfort zone and start talking to people.
Without this new found level of freedom Noah would never had met Alex, never had his first date, never had his first kiss and never have gotten the chance to fall in love with him. I am an introvert, my partner is an introvert and I really like reading books where the main character also falls into this category. I do know that, at times, when I was growing up, I desperately wanted the world to slow down a bit so I could take my time to get to know people and make friends, except life always seemed to move too quickly. Noah gets the opportunity to live in a world much more suited to him, and it is this coming of age tale that I really enjoyed in this book.
The Ending (A.K.A. What Let it Down)
I did not have too much of a problem with the information that did come out in the ending of this book, nor did I have any issue with the premise of it. What did let it down, in what I felt was a major way, was the use of ‘magic’ to justify how this world was created and explain how such a place couldn’t be created with modern technology.
The use of magic in books sits perfectly fine with me, but it does need to have a certain level of explanation go along with it. For all intents and purposes, the real world presented in the book is exactly like our own; it is not some alternate universe where magic exists. (Or it could be, we’re just never told.) The Soul Warriors are explained as being an organisation of both magic and technology, marrying the two together to create towns like Helleville. Beyond the fact that this organisation uses magic, the magic itself is never explained and this irritated me.
The book could still have kept the same pace, and tied itself off far more easily and satisfyingly, if the organisation had used technology only. Instead, magic was introduced at the last minute to tie up several plot threads. To be honest I felt kind of cheated by the ending.
Ending aside, Helleville is a quirky and imaginative piece of writing, with a great coming of age story included. I highly enjoyed watching Noah exploring this new world and taking on the courage to come out of his shell. I felt that the paranormal influences (for the most part) on Helleville were done to a high degree of quality, and I would recommend that others read this book, especially if you enjoy paranormal literature.
“When he glanced at Alex, taking in the other boy’s features and basking in the surge of emotion in his chest whenever he looked at Alex that way, he remembered what his mother had said. Yes, the devious apple never fell far from the evil tree.”