Jennifer Strange by Cat Scully
Publication Date: July 21, 2020
Source: ARC via Netgalley
Jennifer Strange is cursed with the ability to give ghosts and demons a corporeal body with just the touch of her hand. All she wants is to learn how to control her new gift. Instead, her father drops her in the care of her older sister Liz, leaving only his journal as an explanation.
Jennifer and Liz haven’t spoken to each other since their mother died, but when the supernatural residents of Savannah, Georgia find Jennifer and her powerful gift, the sisters must learn to trust each other again and uncover the truth about their parents. If they can’t sort out their differences, they’ll not only destroy the veil between the living and the dead but fall into the hands of a rival family who wants to claim the Sparrow power for themselves.
JENNIFER STRANGE is an illustrated novel – a campy romp for fans of BUFFY, EVIL DEAD, and SUPERNATURAL. Cat’s illustrations unveil the story of Jennifer’s family history in the form of a journal with an art style akin to SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK.
I want to start my review by saying that the main reason I didn’t like this book was that I was under the (false) impression that it was a graphic novel, since that’s how it was categorized on Netgalley. This is not a graphic novel. It is a novel with the occasional illustration. And by “occasional,” I mean maybe one every two or three chapters.
The concept of this book is good. It reminds me of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which I love, and Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins, which I thought was a ton of fun. In this book, Jennifer is a normal teenage girl until demons start showing up around her. She has no idea what’s going on and all she has is a mysterious journal that her father gave her before unceremoniously dumping her on her older sister.
Unfortunately, I can’t help but think that this story would have been a thousand times better if it were told in graphic novel format.
Because, the thing is, the writing is pretty weak. Instead of worldbuilding that feels natural, we get a lot of infodumps through dialogue. Jennifer meets characters who magically know everything that she doesn’t, and even though she has a journal from her father that contains all of the information she needs, she just casually pages through instead of, you know, sitting down to read it so she can stop complaining about how she doesn’t know anything. There’s also a strange lack of emotion in the book, like when a character is taken and someone says, “Damn it. The Banshee got her.” Shouldn’t there be an exclamation point in there somewhere? Maybe some fear? Any kind of feeling?
The story is also very jumpy, hopping kind of haphazardly between normal events like eating breakfast and taking a shower and, like, demons destroying the city. The transition between the two is typically someone throwing up, which I think I counted seven times within the first 25% of the book, at which point I stopped counting. I wish it would have had more of a transition, or just any kind of transition other than constant vomiting. I’m just not sure why that was necessary.
Anyway, back to my point on the graphic novel. I think it would have hidden a lot of the problems with the writing, and it would also have looked pretty cool. The brief snippets of art we get are really good and I imagine that they’d translate really well into a full graphic novel format. It’s just a shame that it’s miscategorized on Netgalley. I hope it won’t be marketed incorrectly to the general public, because I could see that causing a lot of problems.
Have you read Jennifer Strange? Have you ever thought you’d like a story better if it were told in a different format?
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