- The Good: Female friendship, mind-reading powers, and a story that begins and ends with blood
- The Bad: Depressingly realistic, with a focus on abuse and social media
- The Literary: Alternating POV chapters between Bernie and her rival Katie
Now fifty years old and entering menopause, Bernie Moon feels invisible, even from her husband and son. The menopausal symptoms are getting worse. Her emotions and the hot flashes surge when a young woman is killed in the park near her house, and her rage sparks a talent she had as a child—a talent for reading people’s minds and even implanting ideas.
I love when stories explore protagonists who aren’t young people. Why do teenagers get to have all the coming-of-age stories? Surely every transition in life deserves to be celebrated as something from which we can grow and change. This surely happens for Bernie, as she exits the phase of life for child-bearing and her hormones go wild. I also like that the physical and hormonal changes initiate a talent of superheroic proportions that Bernie once had as a child, as if only the young and the sort-of-old are worthy.
The focus is not so much on the powers, which put the novel is a magical realism category, but centers around the murder of the young woman, and, more importantly, on the abuse of women. This is quite a serious book about feminism, misogyny, and toxic masculinity. The setting feels extremely real. Bernie spends most of her time on social media, living a quiet life with low self-esteem, with the knowledge that her husband’s password is Katiedreamgirl—a reference to an old friend with whom her husband once had an affair. Bernie has no friends; and her grown son barely speaks to her.
A woman is murdered while jogging through a park. Bernie witnesses someone getting their drink spiked. Memories of rape occur several times. Very few men in the story turn out to be good guys, and a gender war unfolds when a friend of her husband starts a YouTube conspiracy channel about a new drug called MK2 being used against men. I tend not to read books that are quite so dark in a realistic way, and this book reminded me why. Without a single cis-male character who respects women, the book was a little too lopsided. Bernie does join a running club and makes several friends as she gains confidence from her new power, and the positive support of friendship, encouragement, and validation keeps the novel from being too dark.
I do enjoy a parallel to the movie Carrie, as both Carrie and Bernie’s stories begin with menstrual blood and end with a prom, although Bernie’s is a high school reunion. They are both about the shame and ignorance of a normal physical process that half the population endures. And that both have special powers that necessitate a big climax.
I’ll be sticking to Joanne Harris’ fantasy, fairy tales, and mythology works going forward.