A bodice-ripper for the Twilight generation. If you look beyond its uncomfortably age inappropriate start, you’ll find unwanted but undeniable chemistry, highly realistic teenage logic and page-turning mystery.
Hush, Hush is a really interesting book to review. Its plot is reminiscent of a 1970s bodice-ripper where the older, more experienced hero antagonises the virginal young heroine as much as he tempts her. Becca Fitzpatrick doesn’t let a lack of sex (this is teen fiction, after all) prevent her from having Patch Cipriano forcefully seduce Nora Grey at every opportunity. They each have other potential love interests who make the other party jealous, but the once-intimidating hero actually becomes the safer option and they are forced to team up to survive.
Rape-tacular biology in motion
There are aspects of the book that don’t present well despite Fitzpatrick’s best intentions, and I’m going to get the crap out of the way first because most of it happens in the first half of the book.
In what must be the most pedo-tastic lesson plan ever, the Biology teacher (who is also the stereotypical results-driven sports coach) introduces the topic of sex by asking Nora to tell her class what she looks for in her ideal mate. She shies away, so he asks Patch, who lists vulnerability among his preferred qualities, then shines the spotlight back onto Nora, detailing why he is attracted to her and announces that her discomfited blush means she wants him, too.
While Patch has been around for centuries and flirts like an adult, at fifteen Nora is definitely underage, so the scene read like a prelude to rape where the perpetrator is laying the groundwork for reasonable doubt and psychologically isolating his victim from support because all anyone is likely to remember is that Patch flirted with Nora and she ‘liked’ it.
What adds to the squick factor is that it stems from an inappropriate question from an adult teacher that would violate the Child Protection Act. The coach takes credit for a successful lesson, calling it ‘biology in motion’, tacitly supporting Patch’s behaviour. I’m surprised that his next lesson didn’t involve asking them for a live demonstration.
Unwilling to act on her attraction to Patch, Nora asks the coach to separate them, but has trouble explaining to herself what the problem is, so she makes no real effort to communicate it to him. And he’s so oblivious to her distress that he tells her she also has to tutor Patch for no extra credit.
Her best friend Vee Sky suggests a campaign to get the coach fired, but Nora shuts her down and Vee never speaks another word of sense again. She later gives Nora bad advice about continuing to see someone who physically threatens her because it gives Vee more opportunities to throw herself at his uninterested friend despite several public rejections.
After her father’s murder, Nora is left to raise herself while her mother travels for work. She says they have a deal where, as long as she behaves responsibly, her mother won’t have to take a lower paying job that would give her time to supervise Nora. In other words, Nora is made responsible for her mother’s ability to keep the family home as well as her own upbringing. Forcing her mother to be her parent would actually be a failure on Nora’s part. Nora is forced to be capable of looking after herself, but events in this book highlight the reasonable need a teenager has for someone to take care of her. She develops a habit of handling things herself without it ever occurring to her to ask for help when she needs it. She even pushes help away without any apparent consciousness that she is in over her head.
Nora has a nervous tic of popping enough iron pills to ensure she never has another bowel movement in this lifetime, but despite her attachment to this security blanket, she is willing to give them up for the remainder of the school day to stalk Patch. I wondered if her anaemia was a sign that Nora was more than human, but it was dropped partway through the book.
Why did I finish the book?
One reason I kept going was to see just how bad it could get, figuring that a negative review would be quick to write. It would have been easy to dismiss Fitzpatrick as a bad writer, but there’s more to the story and it actually gets a lot better. Yes, she creates an extreme situation in Nora’s lack of support system, but she captures the awkwardness of teenage years where a ‘smart’ girl is overlooked through neglect and her own inability to see she’s in an unhealthy situation.
Vee is loud and sometimes annoying, but Fitzpatrick quietly shows that her confidence is a defence mechanism. What Nora describes as ‘voluptuous’, others brand as ‘fat’, and Vee unsuccessfully tries fad diet after fad diet. She reminds me of Lula from Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series with her lack of subtlety and ability to rationalise the irrational to get her own way.
Nora and Vee definitely both make stupid choices, but the reasons why are clear. I could reasonably see an insecure teen making mistakes out of a belief they need to be independent or a desire to be more than they are perceived. What some readers might consider flaws are a well-portrayed part of the teenage condition and it resonated within me because while I wasn’t either of those characters, I had some of those qualities when I was their age.
I’m not a fan of bodice-rippers, but like one that haunted me long after I read it, Hush, Hush had a magnetic quality that kept me turning the pages. Except for the inappropriate classroom scene, I enjoyed watching Patch make Nora squirm while she goes back for more because she doesn’t want him to keep besting her.
I think that’s part of what makes their connection so interesting. Any relationship between Nora and Patch was never going to be one between equals because of his preternatural abilities and centuries of experience. But he got under her skin and seduced her into actively pursuing him. I’m drawn to the conflict between hero and heroine as long as the connection is there, especially when it’s inconvenient or unwanted like it is in Hush, Hush. Sadly, the classroom scene is the only insight given to Patch’s interest in Nora, but hopefully we’ll see this become more fleshed out in later books.
The book opens centuries ago with an exchange where an angel demands an annual fortnight of service from a young duke and it made me wonder which one was Patch and what this has to do with the present day. Setting aside the question of what kind of teenager loans out their car, how could Nora hit someone with Vee’s car and write it off, only for any signs of collision to disappear? How is this connected to a girl’s murder at another school and how is Patch always there when Nora needs help? Since I’m not in the habit of killing fairies, I just had to keep reading.
Yay or Nay?
Hush, Hush is a bodice-ripper for the Twilight generation. If you look beyond its uncomfortably age inappropriate start, you’ll find unwanted but undeniable chemistry, highly realistic teenage logic and page-turning mystery. I have to hand it to Fitzpatrick—she knows how to dole out the crumbs.
Who might not enjoy this book: Readers who hated Twilight, like gentlemanly heroes and expect their heroines to be strong, well-defined, independent and kick-arse
Becca Fitzpatrick will be in Australia in December at The Black Hand Ball, hosted by Simon & Schuster. Click here for details and bookings.
Title: Hush, Hush (excerpt)
Series: Hush, Hush Saga, Book 1
Author: Becca Fitzpatrick
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Hardback: 9781847386946 (11/2009)
C format: 9781847386953 (11/2009)
B format: 9781847386960 (9/2010)
Ebook: 9781847389169 (11/2009)