Jenny Pox by JL Bryan
Jenny Pox is one of the latest in a seemingly endless supply of teen supernatural romances. But in its defence, it couldn’t be further from the over-done, love struck tripe which has spawned from the success of Twilight.
If you were to simply read the blurb for Jenny Pox, you could easily make the mistake of thinking that this is just another paranormal teen romance, full of angst and the usual clichés – a misunderstood girl has a crush on the most popular guy in school, who is obviously dating the prettiest and most popular girl in school, who just so happens to be the arch enemy of our heroine. Except in this case, the heroine Jenny has the power to spread the plague onto anyone she touches, causing horrific deaths involving boils, sores and extreme pain - hence the nickname ‘Jenny Pox’. The boy Seth has the power to heal, so by happy coincidence is the only one able to touch Jenny, while his psychotic girlfriend Ashleigh has the ability to spread feelings of love and adoration (which turned out to be more dangerous than I originally thought).
Jenny Pox is different to other YA novels I’ve read, and not just because of the graphic descriptions of horror and gore, the frequent drug use, or the rather explicit sex scenes. It’s because Jenny is not the typical heroine. Traditionally, she would be the evil villain since she has such a nasty superpower. Instead, what we get is a lonely and outcast teenager, who can’t get close to anyone for fear of hurting them. She can’t even hug her dad or pat her dog. But this loneliness has given her an independent and strong personality, which is one of the main reasons I really enjoyed reading her story. Normally the female character in this type of genre is a meek wallflower that’s happy to go along with the flow, or a quirky misfit (who’s always strange in an endearingly cute way, never in a truly weird way). Jenny is most definitely the protagonist, who takes action instead of waiting around to be saved. She can certainly think for herself, and although there’s the element of romance in the novel, Jenny doesn’t depend on it and the book doesn’t rely on it being the main plot line.
The other reason I enjoyed this book so much was because of Ashleigh, the enemy. She was a real piece of work, and brilliantly developed by Bryan. She starts off being the usual preppy ‘all American girl’, but in fact Ashleigh is the true monster. Ashleigh is not just manipulative, she’s downright vicious. She has the heart of the most ruthless politician, which combined with her power of love, makes her an evil genius. Ashleigh has the entire town under her spell, and can make anyone she touches fall in instant love, or lust, with her. She uses this power of temptation and seduction to control everyone around her, and has no problem disposing of them once they have served their purpose in her master plan to climb the power ladder. She creates opportunity out of every tragedy, and thrives in others misery. The only person she can’t control is Jenny, who she cannot touch. At first Ashleigh only suspects that Jenny has an ability, after Jenny accidently gave her a small dose of ‘Jenny Pox’ when they were younger, but it soon becomes clear that Jenny is a threat. When Jenny catches the attention of Ashleigh’s boyfriend Seth, who is merely another pawn in Ashleigh’s grand schemes, Jenny suddenly becomes the target for Ashleigh’s psychotic wrath.
A huge bonus of Jenny Pox is how easy it is to read. I read it within two days and found it has a really good pace and, bar or two small scenes, it all flows together very nicely. But do not be fooled! It may read like it was meant for a prepubescent age range at the start, but it is definitely aimed at 18+ due to the sex and drug scenes.
My only real issue with the book is the ‘stuffing’ in between the major plot points. There were quite a few scenes in this book which weren’t completely necessary. The biggest culprit was Jenny’s initial attempt at flirting with Seth, wherein she invites him out to the woods to smoke weed. Not the smoothest move Jenny! But for reasons best known to Seth, he agrees to go with her, and thus the romance begins. The second biggest offender was when Jenny gatecrashes Ashleigh’s party in an attempt to steal Seth, which predictably fails – although it does serve as a wakeup call for Jenny as to how powerful Ashleigh really is. I just feel that Bryan missed an opportunity here to get Jenny to explore her powers a bit more. Even if she’s meant to be scared of them and a bit hesitant to use them, it would have been a very nice build up to the finale where all hell breaks loose during Jenny’s revenging spree.
There is a lot more to the book than just supernatural powers and teen romance. There are several layers within the series, and there are several interesting points raised by the author, such as the danger of political and religious power, as well as the inequalities between the rich and poor. Jenny Pox is the first in The Paranormals series. Although Jenny Pox can be read as a standalone book, it does contain the initial stages of several key themes and issues which are explored later in the series, such as the origins of their powers, and how it is no coincidence that they ended up in the same small town. Throughout the book, there are few scenes which seem quite random and a bit pointless at first, but they become very relevant later in the series. Hint: there’s more involved in the ghost grandfather story than you think.
Overall, I think that Jenny Pox was a very enjoyable read with a pleasantly surprising ending. It was a breath of fresh air from the recent trend of predictable, brooding romance novels currently being published en mass, so I definitely recommend giving it a try.
This Jenny Pox book review was written by Ceimone Kercher
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