Catholic school teenager Bridget Liu has problems, least of which is her recent discovery that she has the power to banish demons. Nine months after her father’s peculiar murder, her mother seems to be dating her dad’s best friend. Meanwhile, Bridget’s boy-next-door childhood playmate, Matt, is showing uncomfortably mature interest in the grieving Bridget, much to the chagrin of his ice queen ex-girlfriend. Oh, and she has just incurred the wrath of one of Hell’s most powerful demons – just in time for the Homecoming dance.
Possess, the YA paranormal novel from Gretchen McNeil, is chock full of addictive storytelling elements: cross-wired unrequited love, Christian occult intrigue, suspenseful whodunit mystery solving, and a creepy doll shop scene which might make you switch on a few lights for comfort. It is the kind of book that reads quickly and pleasantly. Once you pick up Possess, you may not put it down until you finish, into the small hours of the night, fending off sleep, eager to know what happens in the end. It took me 3 sittings to read McNeil’s book, only because I was forced to stop reading – a mere 25 pages from the end! – because I had to go to work. (Though I will admit that I had lost track of time and ended up late to work because of this page-turner. I kind of felt like Bastian hiding in the school house attic during The Neverending Story.)
Gretchen McNeil balances vibrant characters with suspenseful, entertaining storytelling, blending in just enough occult research to tickle my nerd itch with a feather. She takes you inside of Bridget’s world with enough texture that you really feel for Bridget. I found myself truly wishing Bridget would tell off her mom or that Matt, the well-meaning but overbearing jock, would just leave her alone like she wished he would. McNeil conjures the atmosphere of adolescence deftly, with all of its confusing passions: anger, loneliness, desire, sarcasm, vulnerability, and, ultimately, the discovery of inner strength.
But once you pass beyond the sphere of Bridget’s character, the narrative atmosphere is less palpable. There is something about Bridget’s character in particular which is a lot more powerful and believable than the other characters in the novel. The most compelling, interesting scenes in Possess are the ones punctuated by Bridget’s peanut-gallery commentary. Set against the evocative (and sometimes foggy) backdrop of San Francisco, Possess communicates very strongly through places and scenes. It is laid out visually, like a film or TV series. While reading Possess, I found myself wishing that someone would make a movie out of it.
For my nerd contingent out there, Possess is not exactly a novel of ideas. It is not the sort of book which will make you pause to make margin notes, inspiring some deep insight into history, society, or culture. But the McNeil’s Possess is a tremendous amount of fun. It is an artfully balanced piece of suspenseful and entertaining storytelling, exploring with acuity the emotional landscape of adolescence.