Review: My Name is Venus Black

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Review for "My Name is Venus Black" by Heather Lloyd (to be published on 27 February 2018)

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Meh, I didn’t care for this book.

“My Name is Venus Black” opens with 13-year-old Venus locked up for a crime that she refuses to elaborate on. For the sake of not spoiling the novel I won’t tell you what the crime is either, other than to say that she spends a little over five years in a juvenile facility for it. During Venus’ incarceration, her younger brother Leo, who is developmentally disabled, is kidnapped by a family member (this is not a spoiler–part of the novel is told from his perspective). Her mother Inez, with whom Venus has a contentious relationship, blames her for Leo’s disappearance and the police do not succeed in locating him. Eventually, Venus emerges as an adult from juvenile prison. She proceeds to get a fake name, a job, rents a room in a boarding house, and tries to acquire some sense of normalcy. She does not get past her longing to find her brother, which grows as the story goes on.

This is a novel about moving on from the past and finding forgiveness. There are problems here though, and none of them have anything to do with the plot. First, this book has an identity problem. The publisher is clearly marketing it as literary/general fiction, but the tone, characterization, the language (and yes, the plot) very much read like a YA novel. Not that I have a problem with YA–I love YA–but this book does not seem as if it were written for adults. As a matter of fact, I could put this book and pretty much any YA novel out right now side by side and find about 10 points of similarity to rest my case on. The categorization of this book seems like an glaring error, like maybe it was originally intended as YA and someone stuck it in the general lit category at the last minute.

There’s also strange shifts in points of view here. Venus’ POV is always first person, but everyone else’s thoughts are presented in a third person omniscient voice, which changes often–sometimes in the same chapter. And oddly enough, at least 3 of the perspectives told consistently here are of adults. Which brings me back to the genre problem I was just talking about. Could it be that some editor made a suggestion and stuck this in the general lit category just because of the inclusion of adult perspectives? If so, that was an ill-advised decision.

And oh yeah, the ending. The details of Venus’ crime aren’t revealed until the last few pages of the book. By then, with all the hints dropped, I pretty much already knew what had happened anyway. This delay seemed unnecessary, like bad suspense. The end was also kinda Lifetime movie-ish. You know, like when you’ve watched the drama go down and then all the so-angry-at-each-other characters end up sitting around drinking lemonade together while the credits roll? Zzzz.

Overall, it’s not a bad book, but there were too many issues here to give it more than 2 stars.

This book has a pretty cover. I like stars.

[Note: An advance electronic copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher, Dial Press, as well as NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

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