Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Heroines

The Heroines is a book published for adults but with considerable teen appeal. The narrator is fourteen-year-old Penny Entwhistle who has just reached a very rebellious stage. Penny has unanswered questions about her unknown father, self-confidence issues about her undeveloped body, and jealousy issues with her single mum. In short, Penny feels like her mother cares more about her boarders--the heroines--than she cares about Penny.

Why do they call their boarders "heroines"? Well, because that's what they are. Literally. The great secret of Penny's life is that the bed and breakfast her mother runs is also a place of refuge for characters from famous novels. Penny and her mom can't explain it; all they know is that when the heroines need a little break from their plot lines, they arrive at the Bed and Breakfast looking for a comforting shoulder to cry on. Yes, the heroines tend to require a lot of pampering, wrapped up as they are in the tragedies of their various story lines. Interestingly, they have no idea they're fictional. Penny's mother insists that she and her daughter never interfere in the plots of the characters' lives; after all, a slip of the tongue could change the outcome of Jane Eyre. Penny has known about the heroines since she was very small --at age five, Hester Prynne and Pearl came for a visit--and she has always guarded her mother's secrets. But now Penny is sick of playing second fiddle to fictional characters. Some of them are such a pain too. Case in point: Scarlett O'Hara, who tried to steal all the silverware.

As the book opens, we find Penny deep in the forest, a place she has been warned against by her mother. This is a warning that Penny regularly disregards. For the first time though, she comes to regret that disregard when she bumps into a Hero--a large, bloodthirsty Celtic King who is furious that his heroine, Deidre, has abandoned him. He's followed Deidre out of the pages of her story and to the edges of the forest, where Deidre's Druid spells have ensnared him. But now King Colin has found Penny and demands that Penny give up Deirdre. Penny agrees but by the time she reaches home, she's hours late, the police have been summoned and when Penny rattles off a tale of a Celtic King abducting her, she's thrown into a juvenile mental hospital. Soon the question becomes: can Penny escape her imprisonment and resume the plot line of her own life?

I enjoyed this quite a bit. It's fun and fluffy, but not overly fluffy. I loved seeing such heroines as Catherine Earnshaw, Scarlet O'Hara and Franny Glass behave outside the pages of their own novels. And Penny is such an enjoyable narrator. She's selfish and jealous and can be a bit of a brat, but she's also brave and resourceful. Penny's ruminations on her first romantic feelings--for the wrong guy, of course--are wonderfully captured in all of their confusion and excitement. I guessed early on the secret of Penny's fatherhood, but even guessing it didn't spoil the plot for me.

A fun romp for a book lover. Pleasantly entertaining.

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