The time has come once again to wade through six YA novels, in an attempt to discover a hidden gem. The Revelry is flawed but the first couple of hundred pages is promising. Sadly, it fails to stick the landing.
The story is written in the first-person present tense, a particularly annoying style and one that has caused me to discard many a book in the past. I’ve always felt it disrupts immersion as there is no way the narrator can be writing any of this down as it happens.
But enough about that
We follow Bitsy a girl who has a name that no-one has used since 1935. It’s so infantile and immediately makes Bitsy unlikable, She and her best friend Amy are intrigued by a mysterious party that happens in their town once a year. Bitsy is terrified of breaking the rules of the party as she has lived in the town all her life and knows the consequences. Amy, who moved to the town when she was eight years old has no such qualms approximately breaking the rules. She encourages Bitsy to sneak into the “Revelry.” Then the twosome wake up the next morning with burnt clothes and wet hair.
The mystery of what happened at the revelry drives remainder of the plot, and it’s an engaging couple of hundred pages, playing out in the first-person present tense increases the tension and keeps us on edge.
Amy and Bitsy appear to be cursed by the evening, any enjoyable experience that Amy has is marred by a bad one for Bitsy. This causes a divide between the pair; Bitsy becomes obsessed with finding out what happened at the revelry while Amy is perfectly happy to move on with her life safe in the knowledge that nothing naughty happened at all.
The jealously and suspicion that Bitsy has doesn’t make her likable in the slightest, but she is still an engaging protagonist. As a reader we see that what she is doing is wrong, the way she treats her friend is unfounded, but we are still interested in what happened at the Revelry. This divide only works whether the foundation its built on is extraordinarily strong, and the author makes certain that the first 30 or so pages are all set up for Bitsy and Amy’s relationship.
The novels logical conclusion is that Bitsy’s jealousy is unfounded, that the Revelry was just a wild teenage party and that she needs to learn to allow her friend to be happy when she isn’t around. But instead, the book takes a wholly different approach, it uses a fantastical tree spirit to justify all of Bitsy’s behaviour.
You see, it turns out that the at the Revelry a tree spirit called Skyler grants a wish to one lucky teenager, and in return they must commit an unspeakable act. Skyler cursed Bitsy because she intended to manipulate her into taking throughout her role as guardian of the Revelry. This fantastical element is completely at odds with remainder of the very grounded plot, it is totally unnecessary and ruins an otherwise excellent morality tale.
The most egregious factor in this book is the vilification of Bitsy’s Grandfather. Over the book Bitsy has a close bond with her grandmother, this continues the themes of Female Friendship that are prevalent in the book, her grandmother runs the family business – an apple orchard in her back garden, her husband died a few years ago and she remembers him fondly when sat in the orchard. But we find out that this man, who is mentioned in passing twice, is in fact a brutal assassin and the only reason they have the orchard is because he buried one of his peers alive at their Revelry, this has no impact on the story as it comes so late in the novel and it is once again totally unnecessary, had this act been perpetrated by the grandmother then it would at least have left Bitsy with some consequences – deep moral questions she needs to come to terms with. Instead, an unknown family member is implicated in a crime and Bitsy just moves on, there’s no conversation on the morals of continuing the commerce – Bitsy decides she doesn’t want to be a part of it and then the book ends.
I would love to be able to recommend this book, and I think I will. With the caveat that possibly you should imagine your own ending – one without a bizarre tree spirit turning into a fox.