Oh. My. Goodness. What did I just read? I thought it was a typical paranormal romance, then suddenly HORROR popped out of nowhere, and then Bryan came in and stuck a band-aid on me and says, “Just kidding, why would this be horror?” I am so completely mindblown. It’s like that time I accidentally watched The Saw at my friend’s twelfth birthday party and couldn’t look in my closet for days, except my post-read feels are fading, so I probably just won’t pick up a paranormal book for the next few hours. Warning: there’s sex, gore, horror, and violence in this, so if you think you’re in for some relaxing light-reading on a Saturday night (like I was, what was I thinking), YOU’RE WRONG.
Jenny Morton’s touch kills. Whoever she touches develops a fast onset of smallpox, leading to death. (By the way, don’t Wikipedia “smallpox” when you’re eating.) Ever since Jenny was a child, her dad instructed her to never touch anyone except for him – a rule that she broke in fourth grade when she accidentally touched Ashleigh Goodling, the popular girl. Jenny’s nickname of “Jenny pox” from that incident changed into “Jenny Mittens” over the years as people began to forget about the event and as Jenny began wearing gloves to protect people from her touch.
Fast forward to senior year of high school, and Ashleigh’s running for class president with her boyfriend Seth Barrett by her side, while Jenny’s just trying to make it through the year. In an accidental encounter, Jenny discovers that Seth’s touch also holds power, and she becomes obsessed with him. Like borderline stalkerish, not-normal obsessed. And she’s bold enough to pull him out of class and invite him to, uh, hang out:
“There is this,” Jenny said. “This big rock in my woods. It’s bigger than a house. Sometimes there’s a stream, if it’s been raining. I could show you. If you want to see that. It’s just a rock, but really big. You can climb up and sit on it and everything.”
And if you think Jenny’s brain cells don’t function properly when she’s near Seth, wait until she finds out that she can actually touch Seth and not cause him to die. (SEX SEX SEX!) But Ashleigh has secrets of her own and bigger plans than the small town of Fallen Oak, South Carolina, and she won’t let Seth go without a fight.
The story is told from a third-person perspective, which is a refreshing change from the usual first-person perspective in paranormal books. However, sometimes we get to view events from Jenny’s perspective and, other times, from Ashleigh’s perspective, and the shifts can be distracting. Ashleigh is your normal conniving bitch with genius tendencies (aced the SAT? I want her brains!), and I’m constantly surprised by how far ahead she plans and her brilliant plots to sabotage Jenny and Seth. Jenny and Seth did not have instant love, but they did have instant lust (upon contact), which leads me to my next problem: sex, drugs, and smoking seem to be predominant themes in Jenny Pox, with a boner or a joint in every other page. I’m not sure how necessary it was, and the prevalence of all three seems to reaffirm the bad rap that teenagers get.
But main characters aside, I thought that the pacing of Jenny Pox was really strange – the story didn’t end where I thought it would, and instead, it spiralled into some grotesque scene inspired by The Ring and zombie apocalypses, and I was suddenly dumped on my butt in some horror novel. WTF, J. L. Bryan! I didn’t sign up for this! (Did I mention that I hate horror movies?)
And then just when the story might end AGAIN, it doesn’t. There’s a backstory and a moment of enlightenment, then back to reality (fiction?). Bryan decides that he’s tortured me enough and throws me a bone: a happy ending. I’m left confused and disturbed, but strangely wanting to read the sequel (even though I know I shouldn’t because I’ll have nightmares).
Jenny Pox is like a roller coaster ride – the kind that abruptly goes from too fast to too slow, then loops upside down and up and down and then back up again until you puke your guts out. And you don’t know if you enjoyed it or never want to go on it again. I didn’t want to give too much of the story away, since the most mindblowing aspects of the book are the twists and turns in the plot. If you like disturbing surprises and horror in general, read Jenny Pox. Otherwise, go look at pictures of cute animals and tell yourself that the world is a happy place and that paranormal-horror is a nonexistent thing. I already got a head start: