Tuesday, March 29, 2011

"Dead Spell" by Belinda Frisch

Dead Spell
by Belinda Frisch
published in 2011

In Frisch's debut novel, she offers a paranormal mystery/suspense involving two teenage girls, both with their own troubles at home--one far worse off than the other, though. Brea is shy, insecure, and under the thumb of a rather snobbish and intrusive mother. Harmony, on the other hand, is tormented by what she describes as a spirit named Tom, and has wound up with a reputation as a crazy bad-girl. Her schizophrenic mother and long-running depression don't help matters, either.

The focus of the first half of the story is on Harmony and her escalating encounters with Tom. Her mother is too out of touch to really care or even know what Harmony is going through, as her mind continues to get worse through refusing to take her medication. Her psychiatrist suspects "Tom" is an early warning sign that she could wind up like her mother, especially with previous suicide attempts, cutting, and other self-destructive behavior. And her relationships with boys isn't exactly healthy, with an abusive pseudo-boyfriend named Lance, and an unconditional consort with a fellow broken wing named Adam.

Harmony at times comes across as a very amped up emo girl, with a fascination with her Ouija board, as she tries to find out the secrets behind who Tom really is. But there is something about how tragic she is portrayed that makes her a sympathetic sort despite her constant lashing out at those who care about her. And the abuse she endures from Tom, who appears in mirrors and as an invisible force in the room with her, are some genuinely tense scenes.

But halfway through the novel, the focus shifts to Brea and how she acts as a linchpin to everything going on in the novel. Her mother is supposedly helping a land developer commit a land grab and take Harmony's mother's property away from her, a lone house in a rundown neighborhood on the outskirts of a small town. Brea also has a suitor who is the son of the land developer and the ex-boyfriend of her school bully, which leads Harmony to insist that the guy only spends time with Brea to help with the land grab by isolating the two friends from each other.

Bits of the novel come off as convoluted with the whole background conspiracies and haunting phenomena, and the sudden shift at the midway point was a bit jarring for me. The mystery behind Tom and the subplot of Brea's love life did offer some intrigue, though. A lot of the dialogue between the two girls feels real enough, and it's easy to imagine them behaving in such a way. And Harmony comes across as the most intriguing character of the bunch.

Hardly a flawless effort, but this novel shows some real promise from Frisch and I'll be curious to see how she steps it up in her second novel. Where I had the preconceived notion of this being a more straight-up horror novel, it would up being something closer to a YA paranormal mystery. Kind of like Dawson's Creek meets The Ring. In that regard, I thought it worked okay and was certainly as pleasurable a read as some other books I've read from that sub-genre. If you enjoy reading about teenagers and their weighty issues, mixed with a stark supernatural element, you might want to give this book a try.