My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Initial reaction: You know those times when you start off really liking a book but then as you go along it feels like a balloon that deflates as time goes on, which by the end it’s no longer floating but barely tracing the ground? That’s what this book did to me. Man, I sincerely thought I’d come out of this reading experience singing the praises of this book because it actually started off intriguing enough. It really did. Yet it became more ridiculous and formulaic as time went on and by the time it went towards the ending, I wanted to throw the book at several characters and events for tugging with my suspension of disbelief. That’s not to say that this novel didn’t have good moments and places in its writing, but on the whole? What a disappointment.
Oh, “Hysteria” – words cannot convey the level of disappointment I felt in finishing you, especially considering you had such a great premise and potential to make this a meaningful, eerie, and ultimately captivating read. Instead, you settled for the familiar, the cliched, the completely and utterly silly elements of shock value to lend to a muddled conclusion regarding characters that were difficult to care about in the first place.
Yeah, to say I’m disappointed with Megan Miranda’s latest effort is to note a significant understatement. I don’t say this to be crass or catty, but I think there was so much potential here, especially with the strong way this novel came out running in the very beginning. I think at some point, the fatigue or length of the narrative started to show its respective wear and petered out to a lackluster ending that did nothing with the surge of emotions and respective players and events that it could’ve handled much more in the duration of the novel. To see it stumble so far down from where it started really disappointed me, and while I was willing to speak for its respective strengths in the beginning, by the end, I kept wondering what the heck happened to make it fall so hard and fast as it did.
I’m getting ahead of myself slightly, so I’ll take a moment to briefly recap: Mallory is a young woman who killed her boyfriend and she is quite haunted by this factor. That’s perhaps enough for you to run out and pick up this work in some measures, no? (As well as that cover, which I personally thought was a nice touch to the mood of the novel.) Because that premise in itself makes you wonder two things: 1. Why/How did Mallory kill her boyfriend? and 2. What is she experiencing in her life in light of that factor?
“Hysteria” establishes itself as a bit of a mystery/psychological drama, and there are parts in this work that assert and accent itself beautifully. I was really taken by the level of emotional detachment Mallory experiences in spurts because it felt realistic, even palpable in points for her level of fear, isolation, and uncertainty. She’s not the most likable character, mind you, and her emotional filter is not going to be one that many readers latch onto readily, but for the most part, I thought Miranda started off with her rather well. There were times when I had to suspend my disbelief at certain turns and players in the story (example: Jason, who comes across as kind of this clingy jerk that you’re not sure is supposed to be a love interest, but tends to hang around Mallory even when he realizes she’s a murderer).
There were very potent images of psychological turmoil and questioning/bargaining on Mallory’s part through this novel, and the writing conveys an eeriness that suggested to me that Miranda knows how to evoke those emotions well. But somewhere along the journey of this novel, that sentiment became very lost and haphazardly drawn – lending to rather stark cliches (your typical bitch slamming, slut shaming, girl-on-girl hate parade) and some emotional turns that just didn’t make much sense. I personally didn’t mind the trading storylines of Mallory discovering what happened on the night she murdered her former boyfriend and why (considering the emotional blockage she had), but the buildup did not match the emotional payoff or coming to terms. It felt very shallow and underdeveloped once it was revealed. Also, I didn’t find the parties affected by the death to be as fully realized or full of heart as they could’ve been. Then there was another twist of fates in the book where, while I thought it was a potent thing to have Mallory facing another death in the school environment where she is and be in the criminal crosshairs again, the resolution for that particular measure came so quick and underdeveloped that I wanted to throw up my hands and say “How could you screw that up so badly?” There were parts of it that did have me on my toes, but as far as the emotional payoff was concerned? It didn’t connect nearly as much as it could’ve, and I had problems with the rather quick resolution and lacking development there.
The characters I have a very mixed reaction to. I did want to care for Mallory’s respective experiences, and there were times when I sympathized with her in some of the more direct encounters and haunted thoughts. But my investment in her quickly soured when she started acting in ways that didn’t make sense to what was put in front of her and just how insufferable she comes across in points. I didn’t really see her family’s reactions or many of her circle of friends reactions as palpable after a time either. It felt very contrived for drama and after a certain point I wanted to throw the book at all of them. Reid was a character I actually liked for a time and was probably the closest to Mallory that I actually sympathized with for a time, but even after a while, his reactions to certain things didn’t add up for me and I felt disappointed by it.
“Hysteria” really dropped the ball more in the line of its progression to the end, which wasn’t surprising for me considering Miranda did seem to struggle in the palpable aspects of her previous work “Fracture” (which I would argue was a better effort for grief, while this examined more of a fear frame on a psychological level) as it approached the end. I guess in the aftermath of reading both, I consider it a point of construction to make that Miranda’s endings could be less harried and necessitate more detailing in order to give the works more of a rounding out.
Still, I think “Hysteria” may strike some well with the intrigue and its ability to keep one guessing up until the very end, and the writing/descriptions in spurts can be eerie and beautifully drawn, but the payoff isn’t nearly as strong as it could’ve been, with characters that were never fully realized, and I was very disappointed with that.
Overall score: 2/5
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher Walker Childrens/Bloomsbury.