The Sweet Revenge of Celia Door by Karen Finneyfrock

sweet revengeCelia Door has turned Dark.  After powerful popular girls  Sandy and Mandy did something unspeakable to her at the end of eighth grade, Celia spent the summer transforming herself into Celia the Dark with big black boots and a heart bent on revenge.  But then the attractive & stylish new boy Drake approaches her despite her carefully constructed Darkness and suddenly Celia has a friend other than her trusty poetry notebook.  However, even when Drake entrusts Celia with his deepest secret, she can’t bring herself to share her own hidden obsession with revenge and soon she will have to make a decision: is her personal quest for justice worth risking her new friendship with Drake?

In her first foray in to fiction, poet Karen Finneyfrock has crafted a poignant debut as full of pain, hope, fear, and confusion as that universally awkward freshman year of high school.  Celia Door bursts onto the YA lit scene with the determined thud of combat boots, the whisper of notebook pages, and the vibrant voice of brave rebel and an injured soul.  She’s unforgettable and her story will stick with readers long after they finish reading its final pages.

But why am I gushing?  What’s so great about this novel, with its quirky title and its teenage angst-filled summary?  Well, allow me to explain.

10 Things I Adore About The Sweet Revenge of Celia Door

1. Celia is a smart, word-obsessed, bibliophile who views libraries as her sanctuaries and has found salvation in poetry.  But, she doesn’t always get the last word; her instinctual comebacks to bullies aren’t long witty sentences but the rare cuss word or blunt statements.  She’s an intelligently snarky narrator but she’s not continuously pithy in conversation.

2. Did I mention she loves libraries–and books?  She’s got a literary crush designated in each genre and has decided to read her way through every Dewey Decimal section of the library.  She’s my kind of girl 🙂

3. Now it might seem a little bizarre to connect this book with Elizabeth C. Wein’s brilliant historical thriller Code Name Verity but bear with me for a moment.  Like Code Name Verity, Celia Door is a story about the transforming power of friendship.  While two novels have virtually nothing else in common, the two story share the key feature that their protagonists find their lives utterly altered by a friendship–rather than a romance.

4. The adults are alternately wonderful, frustrating, imperfect, and life-saving.  The adults in Celia’s life–from her head-in-the-clouds mom and her suddenly distant dad to her memorable eighth grade English teacher and her seemingly strict ninth grade language arts teacher–are all different and none are simple, cartoon villains.

5. Celia keeps secrets–even from the readers! While Celia refers to the traumatizing events of the previous year early on, we don’t find out the full truth until the final act of the story, when she chooses to share her secret with Drake.

6.  The story paints a painful realistic picture of bullying and its effect on an individual.  However, this doesn’t read as a problem novel or a single issue story;  it’s a much more complex narrative about a range of topics (including familial change, social isolation, depression, homophobia, and first love) where bullying plays a significant role in the protagonist’s journey.  Additionally, as an educator working with middle and high school girls, many aspects of the bullying portrayed here sounded sadly familiar.

7. Poetry is powerful!  Celia is a poet–and as her creator is also a poet, we get to read many of Celia’s poems.  And not only do they fit very organically into Celia’s narration–they’re also just plain great! The story eventually reveals that poetry has become more than Celia’s hobby–poetry saved her life.

8.  While she has many admirable qualities, our intrepid protagonist is far from flawless.  While her obsession with revenge is understandable and sympathetic, it leads her to make a series of unwise decisions.  She makes mistakes–and learns from them.

9. Celia and Drake are incredibly lovable, sympathetic, and interesting characters.  They sneak into your heart & mind and absolutely refuse to leave.  I celebrated with their triumphs, got teary eyed during their heartbreaks, and chewed my fingernails ragged during their moments of crisis.  I was cheering for Celia and Drake–and for their newborn connection–from the first chapter.

10.  The writing is sharp and lyrical.  Finneyfrock’s poetic roots show through in her use of vivid language and unexpected but highly visual metaphors.  I’m looking forward to seeing more from this bold new voice in young adult literature.

Readalikes:  This novel could be handed off to younger fans of John Green–or even some David Levithan–for its literary wit, quirky characters, snappy writing, and balance of light & dark topics.  It also might work well with novels in verse or stories about creative souls.

A big 5/5 stars from me!

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