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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

review: What Curiosity Kills by Helen Ellis

The Turning #1:
What Curiosity Kills
by Helen Ellis

Plucked from foster care, Mary Richards hit the jackpot with a loving family, an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, and a spot in the elite Purser-Lilley Academy. But she might lose it all if people find out about The Turning.
Something not human is inside Mary. Her mind is reeling and her body is rebelling. She succumbs to urges and desires she never imagined. And then there's the bizarre physical transformation...
Struggling with her metamorphosis, Mary is sought out by two boys who share her secret. Will she reject the destiny they swear is hers? Or will she find out about what curiosity kills?
young adult fiction ; urban fantasy { genre
PG-13 for violence and sexual content { rating
May 1, 2010 { first released
Sourcebooks ARC (211 pages) { review edition
received from publicist { acquisition ; ; IndieBound ; Book Depository { purchase links

Why I Read This
I assumed the main character was going to be a POC judging from the cover art (which is gorgeous either way) so I asked for an ARC when I was offered one.
I apologize to the publicist for the lateness of this review, I've missed the preferred deadline by about 4 months.

First Lines
I want to scream for help, but pain that feels like fire ants has found me. The ants crawl up and out of my knee socks and take over every bit of my flesh. They are between my toes, behind my ears, and in every crevice in between...

Overall Rating

With a surreal and overly passive narrator, this rather short beginning to The Turning series is saved by the monumentally more interesting, and diverse, side characters, as well as the pleasantly unexpected developments in its second half. The uniqueness of some of the characters makes up for the lack of character development, and the "weird" writing style can grow on you, but only in this limited 200-page dose. Not really worth the hardcover price, but do give it a chance, it's a nice surreal detour, and it's not that long.

review posted to, Book Depository, goodreads, LibraryThing, Shelfari


For a relatively short book, this novel does bring up a fair share of social issues, mostly revolving around class and race. Mary's foster parents are down-to-earth rich white people; they're not greedy or emotionally distant. They discuss issues of poverty, orphans, and racial stress around the dinner table. This book probably would have done better as a family drama than an urban fantasy.
The fantasy elements, while accentuated by the surreal writing style, are all too incredibly vague. The Turning itself was never explained, just "revealed" and described. It also left the main character incredibly one-dimensional, as the person who has to have all the magical stuff explained or dictated upon her.
Another issue I have with the story was the way the teens succumb to the "heat of the moment" so easily. They hardly blink when they see people suddenly turn into cats, and don't even complain about having to kill an animal that they were petting, like, two pages ago - and I'm sure they're pretty "nice" kids too...
Also, the cover is also WAY too misleading: Mary is a white girl, and I'm sure there are no PoC cat-girls in the story.


I'm not sure if it was the intention of the author, but the main character, Mary comes off as an excessively passive person, despite what her "orange"-ness means. She's overcome by lust for the boy(s) of her dreams, doesn't really fight or seem to care about her transformation into a CAT, and overall gives off the impression of a glorified fly-on-the-wall.
The other characters, thankfully, are much more interesting:
Mary's foster-sister, Octavia, is a fun, black girl who "renames" her every other conversation. She's a debate team captain (though that part gets undermined slightly), and extremely confident in herself and her "race card".
The sisters' best friends, the twins, are personalities in their own right with little childhood anecdotes, not confined to the "good, supporting cardboard cut-outs" that are supposed to just make the main character seem better.
"The antagonist" Ling Ling is a Chinese girl who is very mean, racist, manipulative, and slutty. It's refreshing, in a way, how the main character both hates and admires her. She develops into a more complex character towards the end of the book, balancing out her "evilness" with some "nice".
Now, for the guys...I'm actually quite surprised there is no apparent "losing" guy yet...Yoon and Nick seem evenly matched in Mary's eyes, which basically means she's trying to please both of them at the same time. I like Yoon more, he embraces the cat thing so enthusiastically and has a very feral-mature air around him - also, Korean guy as love interest FTW! Nick on the other hand I HATE. He's so patronizing, in the "I know what's best for you, do what I say and you'll be happy" way. Plus, like most high-school guy crushees, he's pretty one-dimensional on the personality scale.
Also, there are lots of cats. Scary cats. Scary murderous cats. It would have been more fun if they were the main characters...Second book maybe?


As I've mentioned before, the writing is extremely surreal..."weird" is another way to put it. I kind of put it up to Mary's "changes". It feels very much like she's disembodied (hence the fly-on-the-wall impression), and her motivations and actions are so jumbled and ill-conceived I wonder if her transformation just broke her brain. It is a rather "cool" writing style though...rather ill-fitted if you want your main character to seem sober though.
I do, however, like the complex dialogue and dynamics between the characters (excluding Mary, most of the time). It's a level above simple, flat-plot exposition, so I do appreciate the effort.


One of the only reasons I managed to reach the end of this book was because I was curious about how my favourite characters (Ling Ling and Yoon) would end up...and because the book was rather short.
I am glad I did finish though, because the ending just left so many possibilities. It's a group of kids who share this big secret (about the cats) between them, some of whom hate each other. Mary finally grows something resembling a spine. We get a better feel of Ling Ling's personality (she can be kind and desperate).
It's also one of those "shit hits the fan" endings. There's no turning back from this huge mess, and a part of me actually cares enough to want to find out what happens in the next book.

The Turning Series
#1 What Curiosity Kills (2010)

Reading Challenges
A to Z Challenge (2010) → W for What
New Author Challenge (2010) → Helen Ellis
Debut Author Challenge (2010) → Helen Ellis
TwentyTen Challenge → New in 2010
Take Another Chance Challenge (2010) → Title Word Count
Young Adult Challenge (2010)
1st in Series Challenge (2010) → The Turning

Meme Features
In My Mailbox: 2010/05/09
Cover Cravings: Eyes
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Melissa said...

The premise sounds so interesting, and I adore the cover, but the book sounds so-so...great honest review! :)

MissAttitude said...

From the cover I was so hopefully that the main character would be a poc! However I do like that the secondary characters are diverse. Ling Ling is evil so hooray! I'm all for characters that don't fit into sterotypes/boxes. Octavia sounds cool too :) Is Yoon a poc? The name is interesting (that's why I ask)....

I'm SO glad you're back to the blogsphere! We've missed you =D

Marce said...

This sounds like it could have been great but not fully executed. This is why I don't read much YA.

Thanks for the honest review, I am still intrigued.

Ah Yuan // wingstodust said...

Yeahhhh.... Even after your review I'm still feeling skeptical about this book, especially with the spoilery thing you told me about the racist characterization of Ling Ling... Also, I've been thinking about this cover, and well, the person in the cover is definitely supposed to be someone in the process of 'Turning' or otherworldy, etc, and I was wondering if the cover makers possibly either got a darker cover model or photoshopped it so to emphasize 'other-ness'? Probably reading too much into it, but I just started thinking, "they must have advertised this story like so for a REASON..." and yeah. Or, the cover makers didn't read the story properly and didn't do their jobs well. whichever.

Yeah, not reading this unless I'm forced to.


Yoon is Korean.

Betty: Reflections with Coffee said...

Another honest review.
Not sure I want to spend the moolah on this as a hardback.
here from Saturday Situations

brandileigh2003 said...

I haven't heard of this one but it sounds like a wonderful premise. I like passionate characters and it is good to be able to connect.
Thanks for the review.

Visiting from Saturday Situation!
Brandi from Blkosiner’s Book Blog