Usually when I review a book I review the whole book after finishing it. While I think I can do fairly decent job of summarizing my thoughts about the book often I feel like there are things I have to forgo talking about. And quite frankly, I sort of get annoyed with this even though it’s a necessary evil. So I’ve decided to try something new. Recently, I started reading a little book called Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini. I know that many of you have heard about or read this book already. I realized after reading about two pages of it, I’m going to have a things to discuss about it. So I decided instead of just writing one big review about it I’d break my review up into sections. I’m going to now discuss what I thought about the first five chapters of this book. Note, if you want an even more detailed look at how I view books while I read them check out my Goodreads page (usually for books like this, I give pretty detailed status updates).
Okay, so what did I learn from the first five chapters of Starcrossed besides the fact that Helen likes lasagna, sleeping outside, and having a weird aversion to blue eyed transfer students from Spain. Not much, other than the fact that Angelini has a very odd take on characters.
To be specific, I’m talking about Helen. To be quite honest I wasn’t sure if Helen was suppose to: A) A Mary Sue, B) A character with severe mental illness, or C) Just plain Stupid. I’ve decided to test each of these theories in this mini review.
A) Mary Sue
The actual test can be found here. But since I don’t have the space or time to analyze each one hundred and something questions I’ll just do the basics here:
1)Is you’re character pretty even though she doesn’t believe herself to be?
Oh, boy yes. Helen is frequently described as being supermodel hot, but doesn’t believe in her own beauty. Don’t believe me. Well, here are some random quotes from Starcrossed:
“Some of the Labor Day tourists were staring at her, not unusual, so Helen tried to turn her face away as subtly as she could. When Helen looked in a mirror, all she saw were the basics-two eyes, a nose and a mouth-but strangers form off island tended to stare which was really annoying.” (Angleni, 2).
Okay, so this particular quote doesn’t explicitly state she’s pretty. Just stare worthy. For all we know she could be deformed. However a few pages later….
“Salespeople were always telling her how lucky she was, but not even they could find her trousers that fitted. Helen had resigned herself to the fact that in order to buy affordable jeans that were long enough she had to go a few sizes big, but if she didn’t want them to fall off her hips, she had to put up with a mild breeze flapping around her ankles. Helen was pretty sure that the ‘wicked jealous’ salesgirls didn’t’ walk around with chilly ankles. Or with their butt cracks showing.” (5)
Okay, so she has difficulty buying clothes. But who doesn’t? My sister and I, who both have different body types, each have problems buying jeans. In fact, everyone I know has problems buying jeans and most of them aren’t Amazons. Helen, let me give you a hint, just buy quality jeans and you won’t have this problem. Yeah, it might be a little expensive but in the long run you’ll appreciate having garments that fit. Or if you don’t want to spend that much on jeans just wear dresses and skirts. That’s what I usually do.
And just to solidify Helen’s model body type one more time Angelini has to go and do this:
“Kate was a bit shorter and plumper than Helen, but that didn’t make her either short or fat. Helen always thought of the word zaftig when she saw Kate, which she had a notion mean ‘sexy curvy’. She never used it, though, in case Kate took it the wrong way.” (11)
In other words, Helen thinks Kate is fat. Though she’s trying to cover it up by using the whole sexy curvy lingo that the media has tried to use to be P.C. when they’re really just making me roll my eyes. Um, no I can see what you’re really saying media/Angelini. And yeah, you didn’t use the word curvaceous or voluptuous (Thank God). But still, this whole paragraph is a little insulting. Don’t you think?
I could go on taking quotes from the first five chapters. But I need to discuss other things. But I’ll just leave you with this bit of information for food for thought. You know whose name was also also Helen. Helen of Troy. Most beautiful woman on Earth that men fought a war over. I don’t think it’s that difficult to put two together where Angelini got Helen’s name from.
2) Does she have powers that no one else has?
Oh yeah. We’re constantly informed about how Helen doesn’t apply herself to her fullest potential and how she views herself as a freak because she’s soooo different. Here are some quotes:
“Secretly, Helen had always felt she was different, but when she thought she had done a pretty good job of hiding it her whole life. Apparently, without realizing it, she’d been sending out hints of that buried freak inside her. She had to try to keep her head down, but she wondered how she was going to do that when she kept getting taller and taller each damn day.” (25).
So, she’s a freak. We’re literally told this. What does freak mean, usually I think it means someone who’s different. And I would be right since the narration goes on to explain that Helen is different than everyone else in her stupid little town. You know, Helen there is always an oddball in every town. Don’t believe me. Listen to this:
“Coach Tar gave her a shocked look when she recorded the run time.” (33)
Broke a school record and wasn’t even trying…yawn. Definite check in the Mary Sue category.
“Helen didn’t want to leave her, but she couldn’t very well pick Kate up and reveal her freakish strength in front of so many people, so she finally went inside alone.” (71).
So, you’d rather let your friend die than come up with some lie why you have freakish strength. What a selfish bitch. Sorry, had to say it. I bet you’d never see Superman or Clark Kent leave Lois Lane to die just because he’s afraid his powers are going to be revealed. Just go get yourself a pair of glasses, Helen they’ll fool everyone.
See, not that difficult.
3) Is your character so sanctimonious that you want to slap the shit out of her?
“Helen rolled her eyes when she heard the parts of the gossip that elevated the Delos family to mythic proportions. In fact, she could barely stand it.” (13).
Small towns talk. It’s just an annoying part of life. And really, who can blame a small community for being interested in their new neighbors. Being annoyed with the fact that they’re talking about random strangers who you have no connection to whatsoever makes you look a little judging. And okay, I know that people aren’t suppose to gossip but still…everyone does it.
“A part of her felt bad for him. She would have pitied him more if he wasn’t so combative towards her.” (22).
Oh, yes, pity your enemy. Please, Helen doesn’t pity Zach she hates him. Just saying she pities him is an excuse for her to put him down.
” In the parking lot she saw a gigantic luxury SUV and shook her head disapprovingly at it.” (82)
Seriously, I get why people get annoyed with SUVs but I just don’t randomly shake my head and belittle people for driving one. Then again, I do live in Texas and if anyone says something about your truck or SUV you’ll be sure there will be hell to pay.
4) Is there insta love, forbidden love, or is there a love triangle involved with your character?
The love plot hasn’t moved a lot yet. But from what I can see we’re going in the direction of forbidden love. Here are some quotes. Feel free to make up your own mind:
“Meeting his eyes was an awakening. For the first time in Helen’s life she knew what pure, heart poisoning was.” (46)
Okay, so it’s not instant love. But they always say hate is close to love, right? Plus, it doesn’t help that a paragraph before Angelini was vividly describing said hate at first sight boy. We all know where this is going….
” ‘What the hell is it with you and this Lucas kid?’ Jerry said after a moment completely flabbergasted. Then a thought occurred to him, ‘Are you two dating?'”
Yep, that seals it parent pimping out the kid. We have an insta love relationship in the making. Plus, I think Jerry Hamilton gets the coveted Golden Charlie Swan award for bad parenting.
B) Mental Issues:
As much as Helen annoys me, there was a part of me that wondered that if based on her behavior if she was suffering from severe mental illness. Although, I am not a psychologist or a psychology major I still am aware of the DSM IV and that it is used to diagnose mental illness. I decided to look and see if Helen’s behavior be diagnosed as having mental disorder. Specifically schizophrenia. Note, the criteria I am using to judge her behavior can be found here.
In order to be diagnosed with the disorder Helen would have to meet at least two out of four of the criteria. To repeat, I’m not a psychiatrist so my thoughts regarding symptoms do not really pertain any validity:
Is Helen delusional? Well, if trying to beat the shit out of a stranger is any indication then yes she is.
This one is pretty self explanatory. A hallucination is something that’s obvious not there. Hallucinations can be auditory or visual. Meaning, a hallucination can be either something you hear or see. Does Helen have hallucinations. You betcha:
“She was tired enough to sleep but every time she started to drift off she would hear whispering.
At first she thought that it was real that someone was playing a trick on her…” (37)
Obviously, no one is here. You could sort of understand this. I mean, sometimes people think they hear something and they don’t. But this behavior just escalates as seen in the next quote.
“And then what? A little voice in her head asked. Choke the life out of him! Answered another.” (47)
Yeah, that doesn’t sound healthy to me.
“She was not aware of the fact that she was running towards him, but she could hear the voices of the three sobering sisters rise into a keening wail, she could see them standing behind the tall, dark boy she knew was Lucas, and the smaller, brown-haired boy next to him. The sister s were tearing at their hair until it came out of their scalps in bloody hanks.” (46)
Of course, later these so called delusions are haphazardly explained being the result of some paranormal experience. However, Helen buys this with very little proof. If I was her, at the very least I’d want to see a shrink to make sure everything was okay and Lucas wasn’t like making fun of her or whatever.
3) Disorganized Speech: Does Helen have disorganized speech for the most part no. But she does babble. As seen in her panic attacks. And when she is having a nightmare, she does rant about random things. However, I’m not sure if the stuff you rant about in nightmares would qualify under this.
4)Grossly disorganized or catatonic behavior: Yes, I think fighting random people would put a check here. Might be wrong though.
5) Negative Symptoms (affective flattening, alogia, or avolition)
For those of you who aren’t psychology majors and don’t want to waste your time with Google here’s what the following mean:
Affective Flattening: Affective flattening essentially means no emotional reaction. Essentially you appear apathetic. I really don’t know if Helen showed symptoms of this. I mean, she reacts to things in a pretty odd way. But she does show emotions. Inappropriate emotions, but emotions.
Alogia: Is characterized by lack of speech or inappropriate speech. For example, when asked a question a patient will answer very sparsely and often the subject matter will be inappropriate. I think arguably make the case that Helen is experiencing this symptom. For example, when her friend talking her about the Delos’s. Helen has a random outburst where she states the following:
” ‘No! And I think it’s pathetic that this entire town is standing around gawking at them like a bunch of hicks!’ Helen shouted.”
What’s so random about this outburst is that it came out of nowhere. There is no reason for Helen to be upset with her friend yet she just pops off. Is this alogia. Probably not. But I think you might be able to make an argument that it is.
Avolition: Is a general lack or motivation to pursue meaningful goals. Oh yes, there’s a definite check here. As I mentioned earlier, Helen refuses to apply herself in school, lamely using her after school job as an excuse. When her track teacher tries to get her to apply herself by running with the boys team what does Helen do. Well, let’s see:
“The thought of displaying her speed for the world to see had a physical effect on Helen. She was so afraid that she was going to get some kind of cramp or bellyache that she started to have a mini panic attack. She began to babble. “I’ll do it, I’ll win races, just please don’t single me out like that,’ she pleaded, the words tumbling out in a rush as she held her breath to hold back the pain.’ ” (31).
Okay, at the very least I think this quote shows that Helen is experiencing extreme self esteem/anxiety issues if anything else. However, it also makes me wonder if this outburst wouldn’t just qualify as avoltion but as alogia. Once again, I’m not a psychologist so I really don’t know.
C) Just Plain Stupid:
There’s not an actual test to give out here since Helen isn’t a real person and I really can’t administer an IQ test to her. But let’s talk about some of her dumber moments:
“She flapped her elbows like chicken wings, trying to catch a whiff of herself as she rode, and was relieved to smell the fruity power scent of some kind of protection.” (18)
Okay, maybe this isn’t stupid as much as bad social etiquette. But seriously, must we read about Helen smelling her B.O. You’d think this would’ve been marked out in one of the various edits that goes on before publication. I guess they left it in here to humanize Helen. But it doesn’t humanize her to me. Instead, it just sort of grosses me out.
” ‘If you take AP classes and do well on your SATs you will stand a better chance of getting enough money to school through a scholarship than by working for minimum wage at your father’s shop.’
‘My dad needs me. We aren’t rich like everyone else on this island, but we are there for each other,’ she said defensively (23-24).
Essentially what is going on here is a teacher is trying to get Helen to apply herself so that she won’t have to take out an obscene amount of student loans in the coming years. However, instead of listening to him Helen blows him off in a way that really makes no sense. I mean, yes I get you need to work Helen but seriously if you have to work your in obvious need of a scholarship so it might be nice to apply herself.
Though given the fact that this is YA, Helen will probably end up with a scholarship to a top tier university even if she has a D- average.
“Kate was breathing evenly but she was still unconscious. Helen risked picking her up and hoped she was doing the right thing by moving her. She gently laid Kate down in the back of the car, and then ran round to the driver’s seat as she dialed her dad’s cellphone number.” (71)
WTF! Seriously, WTF. Anyone, who is supposedly as smart as Helen should know that you never, never, never move someone who could have a possible head injury (a.k.a. anyone who’s unconscious). Furthermore, in this case moving her contaminated a crime scene.
Does her high school not offer Health and Safety?
Honestly, I’m not sure about Helen. At this point of the story while she heavily grates on my nerves, I’m not sure if I should feel sorry for her or not. While there are a lot of things about her that scream Mary Sue. I can’t help but think that this character might be suffering from mental illness. Even if she doesn’t, I really wish that there would be a proactive character in the novel who would at least make her see a psychologist. Also, I really wonder about how smart Helen is. Some of her decisions make no sense to me and either she’s one of those smart people who lacks common sense or she’s a dumb ass (I’m leaning towards dumb ass).
I’d like to hear your thoughts about this though. Is Helen a Mary Sue, mentally ill, plain stupid, or something else?
Angelini, Josephine. Starcrossed. New York: HarperTeen, 2011.