Fifteen-year-old Bridget Liu just wants to be left alone: by her over-protective mom, by Matt Quinn, the cute son of a local police sergeant, and by the eerie voices she can suddenly and inexplicably hear. Unfortunately for Bridget, the voices are demons—and Bridget possesses the rare ability to banish them back to whatever hell they came from. Literally. Terrified to tell her friends or family about this new power, Bridget confides in San Francisco’s senior exorcist, Monsignor Renault. The monsignor enlists her help in increasingly dangerous cases of demonic possession, but just as she is starting to come to terms with her freakish new role, Bridget receives a startling message from one of the demons. And when one of her oldest friends is killed, Bridget realizes she’s in deeper than she ever thought possible. Now she must unlock the secret to the demons’ plan before someone else close to her winds up dead—or worse, the human vessel for a demon king.
As a heroine, Bridget kind of sucked. She was constantly guilted into using her new-found power, and if she had had it her way, she would have found a way to rid herself of her new power to go back to “normal”. That being said, she was full of snappy one-liners and enough sarcasm to keep me entertained and mostly able to ignore her more whiney, angsty teen side. And, as Possess’ plot developed, we did see some character growth as she began to accept her abilities and the responsibilities they came with.
Unfortunately, the same can not be said for any of the secondary characters. Bridget’s mother was portrayed as some heartless floozie, so caught up in her relationships with two different men (only nine months after the murder of her husband), that she barely noticed her daughter was acting different. Matt almost forced himself into Bridget’s life, and their relationship developed too quickly for it to be believable Bridget’s relationships with her best friends were really awkward because I couldn’t figure out why they were friends. Bridget was an awful friend to both of them – berating Hector for being overweight and completely ignoring Peter (and to be honest, I can’t even remember if that’s his name…) even though he was obviously very mentally unbalanced in regards to his feelings for her. By the end of Possess his behaviour was actually more frightening than anything else that had happened – excessive texts, threats of hurting himself, demanding that she answer him or that she tell him where she was and who she was with…and it escalated so quickly! I just didn’t understand his obsession or Bridget’s reasons for completely ignoring the warning signs.
The other thing that kind of had me baffled in Possess was the inconsistencies surrounding Bridget’s race. Bridget was constantly described as a person-of-color, and her heritage was used to explain her abilities. But other than her Chinese name, Bridget was never physically described as having any Chinese features. In fact, the only things that were mentioned were her freckles, bright blue eyes and curly brown hair. I just didn’t understand McNeil’s insistence on making her heroine a POC if she was just going to be whitewashed.
The ending was cliche and if you’ve read any kind of murder-mystery before, you’ll know who the villain is early on. But even with those issues, I found myself enjoying Possess. While not terribly original, the plot was a page-turner and the scene in the doll store was a nightmare brought to life! I even caught myself laughing out loud a couple times, thanks to a sarcastic comment from Bridget. So while Possess is not one of my favourite reads, it was at least a mostly enjoyable one!
That's the thing, though, Bridget's pretty unhappy with pretty much everything in her life, and she whines about it constantly. However, she makes little to no effort to change any of these things. She doesn't want to help people with her powers, but she comes running to help whenever the priests ask her too. She doesn't like her mom dating so soon after her dad's death, but instead of calmly discussing it with her she ignores it and then throws temper tantrums. She claims to dislike Matt Quinn, who I am affectionately calling 'Hottie Stalker,' yet she continues to agree to hang out with him, all the while bemoaning the circumstances that brought her there (namely, her choosing to be there with him), in between fits of swooning mentally about how hot he is.
Even worse than her perpetual plaintive protestations, though, is the fact that they all take place next to her thoughts about what a badass she is. If you just heard her internal monologue, except for the part where she melts into a puddle of goo when super sexy Matt does anything, you might think this heroine was a tough, take no prisoners, straight up biatch. Seriously, she even called herself a badass in her thoughts, only a few pages after she congratulated herself on having strong Matt to protect her now. UGH!
You may be wondering about my moniker for Matt that I mentioned earlier. He is constantly showing up where she is, inquiring about where she's been, and talking to her mom (both in person and on the phone). They may have been childhood friends, and they may sort of be close now, but that's weird. In addition to Hottie Stalker, there's also Awkward Stalker. Bad luck, right? She has two freaking stalkers. The other one is one of her two best friends, Peter Kim. Peter's been obsessed with her for years, and, apparently, despite being friends for so long, she can't talk to him about anything because he'll interrupt her to repeatedly say how much he loves her. He's constantly getting jealous about her relationship with Matt and seems to know things about her he shouldn't. Yet, they are still friends.
The Peter Kim thing bothered me from the very beginning. He has the most pathetic crush on Bridget, which is fine, except that this apparently has to mean he becomes a creepy stalker. Part of the problem could be how wishy-washy Bridget is, although I think he still should have figured it out by now, but, in real life, most guys would just hide their crush. Plus, the third person in their friend group, sassy gay friend Hector, just makes everything worse. He constantly forces the conversation back to the Bridget-Peter drama. Who does that? These people just did not feel at all like real friends, or real people really.
The fantasy elements were a bit off-putting to me as well. Here's the things: the book came across as very religious. I mean, obviously that's a danger with a topic like demons/angels, but it can be done less heavy-handedly than this. Of the angel/demon books I've read, this one definitely seemed to be the most religion-oriented, which may be because of the creepy priests telling her what to do all of the time or who knows what. Maybe it's just me. I also found the plot trite and predictable; the writing weak.
Obviously, I did not care for this one. However, I do intend to give McNeil's new novel Ten a try, because the plot sounds very And Then There Were None. Anyway, I do think people who enjoy the novels of Kimberly Derting and Courtney Alison Moulton, both who offered blurbs for the back cover of the book, might enjoy Possess.
As I began reading Possess I was immediately taken back to the Catholic possession stories of my youth. Seventies horror seemed to pivot around the Catholic exorcism/possession theme. Being a Catholic, the theme always terrified me as a child. I was delighted to see it revisited in this fast-paced, well written debut novel by Gretchen McNeil. It was a thrill-ride of a story that harkened back to that time in my life. It’s 3rd person POV was so incredibly tight and close, it was as if I were reading 1st person. Remarkably well done. I hope McNeil's Possess is the portal that brings back a wave of stories exploring this theme. If it does become that portal, it's an excellent example of the genre to begin the trend. I could not put this one down!
Bridget Liu, the main character in Possess, was such a strong force. It was a delight to follow her throughout this story. McNeil made sure Bridget had a LOT of issues to overcome. We are introduced to her after her father has been murdered and two suitors are vying for her mother's attention not a year after his passing. And her young brother Sammy is having nightmares. And she has discovered she can banish demons. She's actually killer at exorcising them…I mean, she rocks at it! But she's afraid to take it to the next level. She's afraid of feeling too good in the thick of the exorcism.
With a potential knight in shining armor attempting to get closer to Bridget, she experiences that same 'feeling too good' tingling. Matthew Quinn is an exceptionally likeable love interest that Bridget tries desperately not to fall in love with. If the reader can squeeze between the lines, they might notice that Bridget's high school nemesis, Alexa Darlington, may have earlier performed a little spell to have Matt as her own. But Matt is now cleansed of the spell and only has eyes for Bridget. He is a stunning knight in shining armor, too…always there for the heroine. But though his heart is in the right place, it's clear from the beginning that Bridget is the stronger more capable of the two. She needs no saving. But she may need the good feeling that Matt brings out in her, if she can ever get past the animosity that makes their interactions so entertaining.
Together (in a matter of speaking) Bridget and Matt work to solve the many mysteries that McNeil expertly weaves into this story. Every clue takes the reader on another ride. There are a delightful many creepy occurrences throughout Possess, from the possessed dolls to the feline ghost to the bumbling Father Santos sent from the Vatican to investigate the rising number of demon possessions in Bridget’s town. The reader happily tags along to see where each clue will take them. Who can Bridget trust? Who must she be leery of? The reader knows Bridget will unravel the mess in time to save the day, but the timeline is tight…tight enough to keep one compulsively reading to get to the next reveal.
I think McNeil has found the perfect new marketplace for the exorcism theme---Young Adult. After reading Possess, I’m certain the two are a perfect match. I can’t wait to see what McNeil brings to the table with her next novel. Whatever the story, I’m sure it’ll be as 'unputdownable' as Possess was!