Content Warning: This book has detailed depictions of torture and abuse.
Cover Story: Creeptastic
Kudos to this cover designer because the longer I stare at this cover, the creepier it gets. The sickly green color paired with the fog and the desolate woods, and picturing myself as one of those two people having to walk around in it? Yeah, I’m good. I’ll be home, under the covers.
When she was a freshmen, Liv’s dad walked out into town square in nothing but his birthday suit, ranting about being abducted by aliens. Talk about traumatizing AND embarrassing. A year later, he disappears for good. Now it’s the beginning of senior year and Liv is just trying to make it through the next few months so she can leave her small town of Bloughton, Iowa and start life where she isn’t the disgraced English teacher’s daughter.
But there are people who won’t let her forget it, like her best friend, Doug, who pushes her to go out into the woods every week with him to go reset her father’s alien traps. Liv knows she has to put a stop to this—because it’s way unhealthy—but she’s all Doug has left now that her dad is gone.
Then one afternoon, Liv goes to check on the traps…and there’s some thing stuck in one. Maybe her dad was right all along…
BFF Charm: Hell No
Look, I feel for Liv, as her dad didn’t “only” get abducted; he was around for a whole year draining the family’s savings account building Wile E. Coyote contraptions out in the woods and training her and Doug on alien evasive maneuvers before disappearing to his probable death, which caused her mother to spiral and become an alcoholic. BUT. Liv doesn’t need a friend, she needs a psychiatrist. And when the chips are down, she is a pushover. I wouldn’t get any loyalty or support from being her friend, because she crumples like a paper bag in the face of adversity. I know some weird shizz is happening to her, but I cannot condone her actions throughout this book in the slightest.
Oh, and, Doug? You can go die in a fire, you sadistic little incel. Thanks.
Swoonworthy Scale: 0
Liv meets an observational and chatty new student who thinks he can see beyond her high school facade to the person she is underneath the trauma, but I can’t get any tingles from their interactions because a) they’re not written to be very romantic and b) literally EVERYTHING ELSE happening in this book.
Talky Talk: Psychologically Disturbed
I’d like to get this review out of me as fast as possible so I can forget I ever read this book. You know how there’s just some things you read, see, or hear about that give you a deep-seated uneasiness? We all have different thresholds of what does this to us. For example, I am a horror fan, so I feel that, generally, I can withstand and enjoy a lot of creepy things, but the torture-porn sub-genre—such as the Saw franchise—just bothers me, along with anything Tim Burton (it’s like my body rejects his aesthetic).
I mention all this because THAT is what this book did to me. It wasn’t an enjoyable level of discomfort, like when you watch a scary movie and you’re tense waiting for the jump scare. I went into this thinking it was going to be an alien/science-fiction kinda story, but that is not what we got. I was uncomfortable with what DID happen and felt icky being a part of it. I had to skim through the second half because I just wanted it to be over with (but I also had to see if my suspicions were correct about where the plot was heading).
I can’t say Bent Heavens wasn’t well-written, because that wasn’t my problem with it. Others may think the subject is fascinating, so obviously take my opinion as just that. But while I understand what the author was going for (our human nature is the scariest thing of all), I feel sort of hoodwinked, because this was not the story I thought I was signing up for. And while sometimes a bait-and-switch can be invigorating or delightfully surprising, if I had an inkling of what the plot would actually be about, I would not have picked this up.
Anti-Bonus Factor: Torture
I don’t feel like I can adequately explain why I didn’t like this book without spoiling some things, so if you are curious and know you won’t read this book, or don’t mind spoilers, highlight below:
Liv and Doug find an “alien” in one of her father’s traps, which proves to them that her dad was right all along about being abducted. They tie it up in her father’s shed and they’re both so angry at it for taking her dad away that they beat it up. Then they go back and beat it up several more times. THEN Doug begins to “study up” on various ways to torture based on Bush-era CIA tactics that have since been denounced and starts to go full-on future serial killer on this poor alien. Eventually this starts to wear on Liv and she does some digging and ultimately finds out that this “alien” is HER FATHER who has been transformed due to a top-secret military experimentation program that he joined because he had incurable cancer. So Liv and Doug have been torturing her father the entire time!! Aside from that mind-fuck, the fact that these two are so cavalierly okay with beating a helpless, injured creature with zero guilt or doubts for SO long is sickening. I didn’t consent to be a part of this!
Relationship Status: Running Scared
You’re unsettling and emotionally abusive, Book, and I am staying far, far away from you.
Honestly, I’m not particularly interested in finding books similar to this one, so we’re skipping Literary Matchmaking this time.
FTC Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from Henry Holt & Co. I received neither money nor peanut butter cups in exchange for this review. Bent Heavens is available now.