July 23, 2008

It's Not A Question

Lurlene McDaniel's work is not anything I've read before, but this book looked different from her usual, so I picked it up.

PREY is the story of the relationship between a student named Ryan and his teacher, Ms. Settles. Told in the voices of Ryan, his childhood friend, Honey, and the teacher with whom he becomes involved, the novel is short and moves quickly. The cover pretty much answers any question you might have(other than, "Is it a murder mystery." The answer to that is, "No.").

Ryan is a boy with plenty of free, unsupervised time, good looks, and a father who doesn't give him much attention. His mother died when he was young, through circumstances which aren't readily apparent. He is attracted to a gorgeous new teacher, like any male student might be.

Ms. Settle is first described as being overtly sexual, wearing miniskirts and plunging necklines and ridiculously high heels to school. Later revelations describe her last job ending with her being fired when she became involved with an under-aged teen boy.

Honey, we're told, has a desperate crush on Ryan, and she, predictably, hates Ms. Settle.

The expected relationship between Ryan and Ms. Settle progresses like a ball rolling downhill. No surprises -- and the reader can be squicked out by Ms. Settles' desperation and dark thoughts. Ryan's reaction is more honest - he's thrilled at what he perceives to be good fortune, and then he is scared and feels trapped by Ms. Settles' desperate neediness. It's not too terribly long before Honey finally blows the whistle, and the relationship ends.

It is possibly at this point that the most surprising developments in the novel occur.

Suddenly Ryan is characterized as not a victim of a sex crime, which he is, but as a perpetrator of the crime against Ms. Settle. In the epilogue he is over eighteen, and is characterized as an evil, depraved male, lying in wait for Ms. Settle to return from prison, biding his time and doing the bare minimum in life until he can entangle her again. Readers will be surprised and bewildered by this; it's as if there's a new character in the book altogether.

At the end of the novel, Honey is sent to an all-girls school, broken and depressed. Despite the fact that she was the school's star forward, and was characterized as reasonably intelligent and skilled, she is punished by the author, and twisted -- as if the reader is to believe that being rejected by Ryan has pushed her to want a world where only girls exist.

The author clearly wants the reader to take away certain things from the story, and because of this and some of the other improbable elements of this novel, I am unsure whether this is meant to be a novel, or a set up for a class discussion out of a life skills workbook.

This book seems to invite the reader to explore the question of "predator or prey," but anyone over twenty-one who has an intimate relationship with a teen, and certainly any teacher who does will always be a PREDATOR.

It's not a question. It's just not.

This book is sold at independent bookstores.


Anonymous said...

Agreed. This book is so appallingly bad and irresponsible in its "message." If teens are interested in this subject matter, they would, of course, be much better served by reading Barry Lyga's Boy Toy or RA Nelson's Teach Me.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your thoughts. I ...wow. This one really stunned me.