Tuesday, October 23, 2012

"Break My Heart 1,000 Times" by Daniel Waters-- Good Horror Story, but Slightly Undermined by YA Elements

Ghost stories and Halloween go hand-in-hand and when I saw Break My Heart 1,000 Times by Daniel Waters I was excited at the prospect of a book that heavily featured this spooky staple. But my enthusiasm was stifled a bit by YA elements that detracted from was otherwise an excellent horror story.

Set in a nebulous near-future world "Break My Heart 1,000 Times" envisions a world after a vague "Event" kills millions of people and and many of their ghosts return to haunt the living. Veronica Calder wakes up every morning to see her father's ghost at the breakfast table drinking his coffee and reading the paper. The visitation, like most others, only lasts a short time and revisits the same moment over and over. No one knows if the hauntings are actual spirits or simply ghostly images of a person's life that play back like a recording.

Reactions to the ghosts vary. Veronica is intrigued while her best friend is scared to death--others still are driven mad by the apparitions. Veronica doesn't know it, but a man obsessed with the idea of bringing his dead daughter back to life has decided Veronica is the perfect vessel for her resurrection. Soon it will be February 29th, a time when the veil between this world and theirs is at it's thinnest, and that's when her stalker plans to strike.

"Break My Heart 1,000 Times" is very good when it goes for the creepier elements. The ghosts are never a fully explained phenomenon, which is frustrating at times, but when they deviate from their set patterns it is genuinely chilling. Waters adds the unusual element of telling part of the story from the perspective of one ghost and, while it is an interesting device, it doesn't offer any insight into the ghostly visitations and feels somewhat wasted in the overall narrative-- and that's a shame because the ghosts are the most intriguing part of this story.

Veronica is an uneven protagonist. In the beginning she's generally a likable character. She's a flirt, but also a loyal friend. She dates a lot of boys but never develops a bad reputation because she's good at keeping them at arms-length. She's also smart and inquisitive. But when the story hits its stride and Veronica finds a boy she might really like, she becomes petulant and spoiled when she doesn't get her way. Not only did it make her less likable, but it detracted from the story because I couldn't tell if her behavior was meant to evoke genuine personality characteristics or if it was only a narrative device to move the story in a certain direction. Her relationship with Kirk, the love interest, is slightly unsatisfying because she seems more interested in the young boy who haunts her bathroom and essentially treats Kirk as a convenience.

Waters did score points with me in how he dealt with the adult characters. Instead of making them stupid or out-of-touch, he gave them distinct personalities that varied from awkward to terrifying. Like most YA the adults are somewhat out-of-sync with the younger characters, but Waters gives them credit for being astute even when they're annoying or downright evil.

"Break My Heart 1,000 Times" succeeds when it focuses on the ghosts, but loses momentum because the "Event" that brought them into the waking world in such a big way is never explained. The Event is referred to quite a bit but it appears the author chose to keep the details to a minimum in order to focus on how the characters react to the ghosts. However, it is such an integral part of the story that letting it remain a mystery doesn't appear to serve any purpose other than to frustrate the reader. Waters also touches on the the idea of an afterlife, wisely avoiding too much navel-gazing over that issue, and tantalizes readers with ghostly behavior that sometimes seems aware of the mortal world while implying that not all of the ghosts have some kind of consciousness. I liked that particular aspect because it allows the reader to come to their own conclusions and doesn't try to offend any particular belief system.

I liked many things about "Break My Heart 1,000 Times" but can't say it's a great book because there are too many gaps in the narrative to leave the reader with a feeling of completeness when they turn the last page. I wish Waters had taken a broader look at the ghostly phenomenon and at at least explained how the Event occurred and how it effected the world beyond the small town where Veronica lives. The inconstancies in Veronica's personality also has the affect of jarring the reader outside of the story and doesn't allow for any real connection to her. The ghost story itself is great and I wanted more of it. The book is somewhat open-ended and could allow for a sequel, though there aren't any real loose ends that require more of the story to be told. If Waters does choose to make the book into a series I would definitely read the next installment with the hope of seeing The Event more fully defined.

3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars

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