So, clearly this has turned into a month not only of mystery-centered sub-genre cocktails, but of mystery-horror-centered sub-genre cocktails. Today’s post deals with a more psychological kind of horror with delightful (and not-so-delightful) Sweet Valley vibes. Caroline B. Cooney knows how to craft a truly compelling family drama with very unsettling questions about legality and ethics.
As in The Face on the Milk Carton, this story centers on a character suddenly questioning their origins and then realizing too late that they’ve opened a Pandora’s Box of deeply uncomfortable truths.
As I mentioned in my Pumpkin Spicy Romance review, this book got me through a very bad week a few years ago. I was extremely depressed and barely hanging on when I picked up this literary soap opera. Suddenly, I had a reason to get better — I wanted to know what happens. I wanted to know just how messed up the reveal would be. I wanted to know how Missy and Claire would deal with the consequences of their actions. I wanted. To watch. The train wreck.
Yes, this book is flawed. It’s Sweet Valley-esque not only in its over-the-top drama, super-convenient plot points, easily-convinced characters, and overall twin focus, but also in certain cringe messages.
Specifically, Cooney throws in a number of off-hand fat-shaming comments, relying on stereotypes like the out-of-shape gym teacher and out-of-work man who “lets himself go.” There’s even a random comment about “fat” hair, although, to be a bit fair, the character who has that thought is commenting on the bigotry of it all.
She also ponders whether skinny people are “skinny with their love,” which…I mean, theoretical points for trying, but that’s still body-shaming. It’s almost like Cooney was working through something, or maybe she was consciously using the fatphobia trope to make her soap opera as true to the classic style as possible? In any case, it’s not quite as amusingly cringe in a book about contemporary characters, published in 2010.
Which, of course, shows just how seductive the plot was, since it turned the book into a guilty pleasure instead of a DNF. It also does have lovely messages about adoption being a choice worth celebrating openly.
So! Let’s swan-dive in! #notevenalittlesorry
Caroline B. Cooney. Three Black Swans. New York: Delacorte, 2010.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Friday night sleepovers cancelled because your cousin pushed you into doing something really stupid and now you’re just waiting for your parents to see the video.
Genre: Soap Operatic Heredity Mystery Thriller
- “She Blinded Me With Science,” by Thomas Dolby. It was a class project, that’s all! She made it sound legit enough.
- “No Harm,” by Sweet Valley. It was just a prank, really; no one was supposed to take it that seriously.
- “Erase/Rewind,” by The Cardigans. If only.
- “Return to Innocence,” by Enigma. If. Only.
- “Third Time Lucky,” by Basia. And just when you thought it couldn’t get any weirder…
Coffee pairing: French Roast — a deeply bitter bean with tobacco notes that seemed like a good idea at the time. Devious, exciting, impressive AF. Now you’re all broody with existential dread and wishing you’d just gone with an innocent unicorn frappuccino.
The theory: a black swan is an incredibly unlikely and catastrophic event that’s rationalized, afterwards, as inevitable.
Missy and Claire are closer than most cousins. Their parents think it’s a bit spooky, trying to convince the girls to cool their friendship a bit. Maybe don’t do a sleepover every week. Maybe give your phones a rest. You really don’t need to dress alike.
But the girls can’t help it; there’s something magnetic between them. People are even starting to comment on how much they look alike.
Then Missy hears something on the radio that makes her wonder. It’s a crazy thought. Her parents would never, and how would she even…
And then a school assignment gives her an idea. She’s supposed to come up with a hoax and see just how convincing she can make it seem. It’s supposed to just be a thought exercise, but Missy never does anything low-key. She’s going to try an experiment. She just needs to convince Claire to play along.
What follows is a rapid succession of conveniently bad decisions and misunderstandings by everyone involved — the school’s TV announcer who posts the video to YouTube, the assistant principal who thinks rumors are still spread by word of mouth, the teacher who decides to save the parent call until Monday…
And then, of course, things get really bizarre and disturbing and multiple lives are derailed.
Intrigued, Bookwyrms? There’s not much more I can say without spoiling things, except that I love how conveniently gullible everyone is and how dramatically Missy’s classmates respond to each new development. I love a moment when a shell-shocked Claire vaguely remembers she has a crush on a guy, and when one of her parents nauseatingly asks “how’s your crush coming?”
I love how Missy calls Claire “Clairedy” and their Friday night sleepovers “Claire-overs.” And I love how this book has gotten the phrase “a matter of life and birth” forever stuck in my head.
If you’re looking for the kind of story that could be made into a TV movie that Lindsay Ellis or the Nostalgia Critic would gleefully tear apart, this is for you! It’s fast-paced, it’s melodramatic, and it’s just fascinatingly disturbing enough to keep you on the edge of your seat.
Anyhoo, what’s your favorite guilty pleasure read, Bookwyrms? What’s the weirdest and/or spookiest soap opera plot you’ve ever witnessed? What’s the most inappropriately-worded question you’ve ever seen or heard a parental character ask a teen?
Can of Worms GIF from yarn.io.
The More You Don’t Want To Know GIF from KnowYourMeme.
Purell GIF from goodreads.
I don’t feel guilty about what I read, but I did notice this fall that I haven’t looked at a People magazine since winter 2020, as I used to flip through it while waiting for haircut appointments.
That’s a good one! I never got into People myself, but I still flip through the Girls’ Lifes at my local library.
Hmmm. How intriguing! Here’s to another book added to my TBR list. I also really loved the Face on the Milk Carton books
I read the first three Milk Carton books ages ago, and was always curious about the fourth one, but never got around to it. I saw the TV movie, too. For some reason, they say she’s “allergic to milk” instead of lactose intolerant, and they act like even touching it would make Janie sick. Like, it’s not a skin irritant!
I hadn’t heard of black swans having a spooky meaning! Sounds like a very interesting read with twits at every turn!
A lot of twits, yes! 😄 As I said, the classmates are all conveniently gullible and the teachers are all conveniently inclined to pass-the-buck. The science teacher basically tries to throw Missy under the administrative bus for Understanding The Assignment too well. 😏
Oh, geez. I get the gullible classmates, but what a mean teacher!
Yeah, totally unprofessional. I get teaching teens to be accountable for their actions, but you can’t just use a sixteen-year-old as your fall guy! This teacher should learn to Always Specify!