BOOK REPORT for What Curiosity Kills (The Turning Book 1) by Helen Ellis
BFF Charm: Yes, But . . .
Swoonworthy Scale: 4
Talky Talk: Straight Up Gossip Girl
Bonus Factors: Turf Wars,
Tommyknockers, Marijuana, Craziest Library Evs
Relationship Status: Waiting In Line for Lois
Sixteen year old Mary is a fairly normal girl and sort of an outcast, both at her posh NYC private school and in life. Her sister Octavia (more on her in a minute) has the tendency to anger the teachers and students, their mother stays busy thinking up ways to kill people, Mary's crush doesn't notice her at all, and changes are coming over Mary's body. She's tired all the time during the day, she has weird cravings, she can't stand running water . . .
No, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking what I thought. "Oh, great. She's turning into a vampire." But, no. You're wrong.
She's turning into a cat.
So, yeah, that's a little awkward. Particularly when she has narcolepsy fits in the middle of gym class, when hair starts sprouting from unusual places (I mean, more unsual places than normal), and she has to come clean to her sister Octavia, who HATES cats.
Soon, Mary is caught up in the mysterious underground of the Upper East Side, and she has to decide what she's going to do about her life. Because you only get a little time to decide . . . and time is running out.
BFF Charm: Yes, But . . .
So, here's the thing. Mary's okay, and I think she'd be a good friend to have, when she's not, like, ditching me to make out with Nick on my balcony. BUT. I would really only want to be her friend so that I could ingratiate myself into her family and become BEST FRIENDS FOREVER with Octavia. OCTAVIA! Girl, you are FIERCE! Why isn't this book about how fucking awesome Octavia is? I kind of want Octavia to just start showing up in every book I read, so that she can drop some wisdom on characters when they're being stupid. I picture her just randomly appearing in scenes of famous books:
To Darcy: "Are you high? That's no way to propose to someone you love! All your fancy schoolin' and you can't even bumble through without insulting the girl? Bitch, PLEASE."
To Bella: "Girl. You need to check yourself before you wreck yourself. Why are you mumbling so much? Speak the fuck up, ain't you got anything worthwhile to say?"
To Kitty in Anna Karenina: "WHAT THE HELL. Would you please quit spending all of your time bitchin' and moanin' about that stupid Vronsky guy and get on fucking Levin already? That bitch is all over your ass!"
Anyway. I digress. Point being, Octavia is awesome, even if she is (for good reason) terrified of cats.
Swoonworthy Scale: 4
There were some pretty swoony moments between Mary and Nick, her longtime crush and now her Obi-Wan Kenobi of cat life. But considering that one or two of those moments came when Mary was in cat form - not just cat form! Kitten form! - um, I just couldn't rate it any higher. I mean, don't get me wrong. I love my own cat, Herr Schrodinger, aka The Ottoman, but I don't love my cat. ("Like, I like my Sketchers, but I love my Prada backpack.")
Talky Talk: Straight Up Gossip Girl
Helen Ellis does prep frankness well. Mary is a pretty awesome, honest narrator of the events around her, and she describes her fellow private school in ways that really let the reader know how ridiculous they are.
And then there's Octavia, my forever hero, who mercifully stops short of being Sassy Black Friend, but who still does not put up with shit from anyone. It's a thin line to walk, and Helen Ellis walks it - and writes it - well.
Bonus Factor: Turf Wars
So, there's this whole mythology of cat life that Helen Ellis has built, and it's pretty interesting, even to someone like me who maybe hates almost any book dealing with supernatural bullshit (books narrated by Death are a notable exception). Basically, NYC is divided up into two turfs - natural cats, and teenagers who've undergone The Turning. And they're always scrapping! So maybe when you see two feral cats fighting on your street, they're actually teenagers! And you should scream, "Get off my lawn, you stupid kids!" whilst shaking your fist with rage.
There are a lot of things I should like and don't. I should like babies, I suppose, but I find them sort of weird-looking and smelly, even babies who are related to me. I should think Jude Law is attractive, but I've always found him on some spectrum between bland to outright ugly. And I should like Stephen King novels, but I don't. I have tried to read them and failed on numerous occassions, though I will watch the movies based on his books (except for It, because, clowns, and also The Green Mile because I hate Tom Hanks. Oh, maybe I should add Tom Hanks to my previous list. I should like Tom Hanks! But I don't! HIS FACE IS THE FACE OF A GUMMY BEAR! Although he is also in two of my v. favorite movies of all time: Big and Joe vs The Volcano.).
All this to say that, while reading this book, I was like, "This is just like that Stephen King book Tommyknockers which I've never read but saw the movie that one time!" And I was all set to draw this elaborate comparison to Tommyknockers, the evil cat-people menace, etc, and then I Googled Tommyknockers cause I couldn't remember the second part of the "Tommyknockers, tommyknockers, knocking at your door" poem and THEN I found out that actually I was thinking of the Stephen King movie Sleepwalkers, and that perhaps I need a stiff drink and a long nap.
Bonus Factor: Marijuana
Can I just give MAJOR PROPS to Helen Ellis for keeping it real? Real AWESOME, that is! Hey, guess what slows down the transition from human to cat and keeps people calm and cats happy? Yeah, that's right. Everyone's favorite herbal substance. (Well, my favorite herbal substance is rosemary, followed closely by thyme, but that's because I'm a nerd who likes to cook a lot.)
Actually, it's like amarijuana-adjacent herb from Greece but WHATEVER, you can smoke it in the marijuana cigarette and probably get high.
Random story time! My dad, who used to be really cool, had all these awesome jobs growing up, like events coordinator for his university (which meant he got to book - and then hang out with - people like Joan Baez and Janis Joplin and John Belushi), but his VERY COOLEST JOB was also his first job at age 13 - harvesting marijuana from the Ole Miss research facility. I mean, WHAT. There's no way they'd let kids have jobs like that now.
Bonus Factor: Craziest Library Evs
So, Octavia, my forever love, is also a debate champion and can kick anyone's ass at Trivial Pursuit. She does her studying and information-gathering at this awesome library in NYC, which I won't go into too much detail about, because it would ruin the ending of the book. Still. I WANT TO GO THERE.
Rooney Mara as Mary
I can't help it! Whenever I think "sort of Plain-Jane girl with SECRETS," I immediately think of Rooney Mara.
Dana Davis as Octavia
We all know how much I adore the show 10 Things I Hate About You, and the girl who played Chastity was one of the best parts of it. She'd have to lose the squeaky-cute voice to be able to effectively play Octavia, but I have faith in her powers of being a tiny, adorable, kickass master debater.
Zach Galifianakis as Nick
Okay, I started thinking about Greek actors, and the only ones I could think of were that guy who played Kostas in the Traveling Pants movies (who isn't even Greek, but whatever), Tina Fey, and Zack Galifianakis. Originally I was just going to cast Kostas and be done with it (he IS very hot), but then I thought, "How fucking hysterical would it be for Zack Galifianakis to play a teenage boy who turns into a cat?" Answer: SO FUCKING HYSTERICAL.
Also because I'm in love with him. (I like 'em bearded and chubby, what can I say?)
Relationship Status: Like Standing In Line For Lois
I live in Houston (attention, stalkers!), and this summer we were GRIPPED with Lois fever. Who is Lois, you ask? She's our corpse flower. A corpse flower is this type of plant that rarely blooms in North America, and is so named because it gives off a smell that is most often compared to rotting, horrible death. Fun, right?
So, anyway, the Houston Museum of Natural Science (or HouMu Natty Sci, as I like to call it) has a corpse flower, the aforementioned Lois, who bloomed this summer. And this city went, like, Lois-crazy, with tons of people lining up just to catch a glimpse - and a whiff - of this giant flower.
At first, I was skeptical of Lois, but as she unfolded and the buzz got crazier, I found myself caught up in Lois Fever! And it was much the same with this book. I fully admit to not particularly liking it for the first sixty pages or so. In fact, over glasses of champers, I confided to Sarah: "Sarah, I'm reading a book about a girl who turns into a cat. A CAT, Sarah." Then we finished our champagne, shook our heads, and wondered why people weren't as fabulous as us.
But, much to my surprise, around page 70 or so, my eyes cleared, my head perked up, and my brain asked itself a question, "WHAT THE EFF IS THIS CRAZY AWESOMENESS?" And from there on out, my brain was taken on a magical mystery tour, guided mostly by Octavia's crazy genius, and leaving me craving cuddle time with my kitty and, uh, special snacks.
Ultimately this book ended just when the getting was good - much like Lois - but as it's a series, I'm excited to see how it all plays out. As long as Octavia is still around. That's a deal-maker, Helen Ellis.
FTC Full Disclosure: My review copy was a free ARC I received from Helen Ellis and Sourcebooks. I received neither money nor cocktails for writing this review (dammit!). The Turning: What Curiosity Kills is already available in stores.