Paranormal Young Adult
Everything Jenny Morton touches without a clothing barrier dies a horrible death. She learned this the hard way, picking up a snake when she was little thinking it would be a suitable toy only to watch in horror as bloody sores broke out all over it's body. She's never had extended skin on skin contact with anyone, forced to wear long sleeve shirts and gloves even in the balmy weather of the South.
Now starting her senior year of high school, Jenny is as alone as ever. Forever an outsider due to her quirky habit of wearing gloves to school and the lingering rumors of an unbelievable elementary school battle with popular-girl Ashleigh, she's just waiting for the moment she graduates and can get a local job away from the probing stares of her classmates. Senior year proves to be anything but easy, however, as all the past years of flying somewhat under the radar come to abrupt halt when fortuitous circumstances cause Ashleigh's boyfriend Seth to take notice of Jenny.
While wanting to avoid confrontation with Ashleigh at all costs, Jenny can't help but want to get close to Seth, having learned he possesses the ability to heal and is thereby immune to her curse. Finally she gets to experience physical contact, but her euphoria is short-lived as Ashleigh too has a unique ability, and no one will take what's hers without consequence.
Jenny Pox is a darkly fascinating story, Jenny's ability to spread infection seeming to seep through the pages themselves, searing an everlasting mark on our hearts and minds as permanent as the scars she leaves on those she touches physically. Only instead of leaving pustules in her wake as she embeds herself firmly under our skin, Jenny creates a thriving conduit through which her overwhelming loneliness, misery, and constant longing for even the briefest of touches is transferred, forever linking us together as fiction and reality come together to share a story of forlorn beauty and haunting circumstance. This tale highlights both the inspiring strengths and the abhorrent cruelties of human nature, forcing us to run through the full gamut of emotional responses and refusing to let us return to reality until everything Mr. Bryan wants us to experience has been felt, seen, and fully absorbed.
Jenny is a beautiful heroine; strong of mind and spirit, and born with a curse no human being should have to endure. Her desolation emanates from the story in thick waves, hovering around us like a suffocating cloud through which we struggle to breathe, while the torture of her necessary solitude invokes a devastating sadness in us as we wish with all our strength for a shift in her situation. Her relationship with Seth is characterized by both an undiluted elation at her moments of shared contact with another person and a scorching pain when we realize Ashleigh will retaliate for Seth's change of heart with an unparalleled vehemence. Their attempt at happiness makes us smile through a sheen of tears, but a prevalent sense of dread is our constant companion as we know the pleasure will be fleeting, replaced swiftly with a venomous attack delivered under the guise of good intention.
Ashleigh is monstrously despicable, a girl absolutely devoid of any emotional attachments and someone around whom the dangerous tentacles of blind ambition have strongly coiled. Perhaps most disturbing is her outward appearance of purity, the mask of beauty and perfection so impeccably maintained not even the faintest wisp of villainy escapes it, her true identity buried far below a dazzling smile and hypnotic eyes. Even without her added ability to create love and desire with a simple touch, it's clear the world would still fall prey to her charms, enslaving all those she meets with an expert bat of her eyelashes and a practiced sway of her hips. She is a true master of manipulation, a girl who causes bile to rise in our throats as we choke on her sickeningly saccharine public personality.
The ending is a bit of a departure from the tone of the rest of the story, the paranormal element ratcheting up a drastic notch from it's more subtle presence in the beginning, and culminating in a truly gruesome display of the extent of Jenny's capabilities. This surprisingly graphic turn of events is a bit disconcerting after the mental anguish and quiet conniving leading up to the final showdown, but Mr. Bryan adds a little twist once the horror subsides that provides a viable resolution and believable reconciliation between the events of beginning and end. Though the ages of it's characters might suggest a young adult story, it does contain several scenes that extend beyond a mere implied sexual relationship and are a bit more explicit in detail, therefore better suited to an older audience. There is also some casual drug use that is a bit bothersome at times due to its lack of necessity to the plot, but despite that shortcoming, this story is intensely emotional, brilliantly told, and absolutely worth reading.
GIVEAWAY: Mr. Bryan has agreed to provide an e-book of Jenny Pox to one lucky commenter. If you wish to be entered to win, please leave an email address in your comment so I can contact you. Contest will run through Friday, November 26th after which a winner will be chosen and announced on the blog.