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The Perfume - Caroline B Cooney

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Paperback: 176 pages / Publisher: Scholastic Point / Published: 16 July 1993

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      29.06.2013 21:03
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      A memory lane jaunt

      So...Twilight has a lot to answer for. Not only did it bring us the continuing gossip column nonsense about whether two moody overgrown teenage thesps are or are not still at it, it also reputedly inspired The Hunger Games and that huge travesty of our literary times, 50 Shades Of Shove Off And Stop Moaning (Not In A Good Way).

      Throw in the similar momentum behind young adult books and you have a big cultural movement. It is of course great that people are writing books these days that do not condescend transient-age youths but stimulate their intellectual and creative minds. But seeing so much media attention and so many reviews did make me think back to when I was a "younger" adult. Specifically, from a year from my life where memories get instantly thrown back at me by any song from Oasis's What's The Story, Morning Glory? album (even though in the Battle of the Bands itself, I was firmly on Blur's side), where for some reason I don't recall a spring or a winter but just a lovely summer, and a certain series of books were included in the fad that went through my school peers and I that year. We were attending the last year of a small countryside village primary and there were six girls in the year. Remember when those book companies would take over your school hall with openable shelves of books that you would then badger your parents - who had been kindly "invited" to see the offerings after school - to buy? Well once upon a time, in my school, one of those books had been a three-books-in-one offering from the then-mega-trendy-but-dare-we-read-them series, Point Horror.

      Of course, the whole stock they had was sold into our year. We were the grown up girls, so we could read horror. Our poor parents. Between us we must have swept like locusts through the whole back catalogue that year.

      ***WHY AM I TELLING YOU THIS?***
      Because when I got thinking about what I used to read, inspired by the opening discussion in this review, Point Horror was the series I recalled fondly. Well alright, they were young adult horrors, but I remember that time of life fondly, and how we dared each other to read certain books, or read by torchlight whilst camping in our gardens.

      And after a few glasses of the white stuff (not the type you can skim), I found myself egged on by Mr Rarr to try to see how rubbish the books actually are viewed in a modern light. So I tracked down a copy of one that I recalled reading but couldn't remember the plot from, and ordered it from a second hand seller on ebay. Would my childhood memories be crushed by the terrible prose and light-as-a-feather horror touches, or would I still remember the good times we six girls had reading these books when they were oh-so-cool?

      The fact that the one of those girls who I still am close friends with reacted to my purchase by texting "OH MY GOD! I am so going to do that" was fairly encouraging.

      ***POINT HORROR***
      Basically a series of novels and novellas by a collection of American writers who crafted soft horror aimed at the young teen market starting in 1990 and gradually growing to a massive popularity. Among the writers were Richie Tankersley Cusick, Christopher Pike and R. L. Stine.

      What I was amazed to be reminded by as my second hand copy arrived was that these retailed at £2.99. Imagine any book costing that new! I recall the delight of running out of W. H. Smith and devouring one of these books in a night so that I could tell everyone of my daring the next day - and gain revenge on the girl who blurted the end to a book that I had been mid-way through the week before.

      Amazingly, Wikipedia shows that I am not the only one displaying a hint of melancholy. Reportedly there was a plan to release some new titles in May of this year, and more to follow. It seems very much an attempt to bring the brand back for the modern teen era - supposed titles were Defriended, Identity Theft and Wickedpedia. Sure enough, having just done a little digging, Defriended is on Amazon. Anyway, on to my trip down (the dark and spooky) memory lane. Would I enjoy revisiting my childhood, and would I ever want to read any more?

      ***THE PERFUME***
      Written by Caroline B. Cooney, The Perfume was published in 1992 although I think I read it a little later. I dimly think that I recall this was one of the earlier ones I read from the series, so when I was searching through the available titles on ebay, I latched onto the cover, swirling greens and a glass perfume bottle shaped like a snake. Looking a little dated, but then frankly, so am I.

      You can still get this on Kindle for over £5 - possibly an attempt to cash in on the relaunch of the series?

      This is 176 pages long, published by Scholastic Point, ISBN 978-0590551939

      ***THE PLOT***
      Set as virtually - if not entirely - all of the titles in the Point Horror range were, we meet some teenagers in an American high school.

      Dove is our lead character. She sees an advert for a new perfume, wants to resist it and feels unnerved by the bottle, the advert. She doesn't want to go to the trendy, dry-ice filled store that retails it in her local mall, but she follows her friends as they let their curiosity guide the way. Funny thing is, shy and quiet Dove, the good girl with the distant, work-a-holic parents, the girl who didn't want the perfume yet felt something in her stir at the advert, was the one who left the store with the gift bag, not her two more adventurous friends who thought the scent unlikeable and quickly went off the idea.

      Not long after Dove starts to experience strange things. First, her own behaviour - a weird feeling and bolting to the attic room of her family home to open the skylight - then the strange "shuffling" feeling inside, a weird sensation that her body was suddenly crowded, that...she wasn't alone.

      Christ, I should be writing their blurbs for the new ones.

      Anyway, upshot is, Dove has a pretty bad time of it, learns a story about her past - before her birth - that she had no idea of - and her life looks to be ripped apart by another version of her. Is it an evil twin, a psychosis, or her own latent personality bursting through...and can she fight it?

      ***MY THOUGHTS***
      Well, all of that packed into such a slim little book. And yet it is quite a good story. Yes it reads in a slightly dated fashion - nobody even has a mobile, let alone an iPhone - but Cooney conveys the confusion and panic of Dove, as well as her solitary life, rather well.

      I basically devoured this like I did when I was a kid, with a bit of salt and some salad dressing. Okay, I mean I read it in little more than one sitting. I started it one night when I had the day off the next day, and finished it off in bed the next morning. And I didn't feel it lagged. Yes it is far-fetched, and the 90s writing is a little clunky not only to someone who now prefers 700+ page historical epics and thundering sarcasm, but because of the natural development of society and also the fact that this was originally written for an American audience which further removes it from us - I wouldn't necessarily suggest that this is a recommendation for giving to your 11-year-old niece as she might have trouble identifying in this day and age, but it does make me wonder that if the new Point Horror series was to embrace the English approach to horror or dark storytelling, the inspirations of Dr Who, Sherlock, our mythology and our mentality and approach to life might breath further new life into the series.

      Amazingly I didn't think this was a boring read. It was short, sweet, to the point and the characterisation, whilst flat (in that kind of page number restraint, characterisation and horror elements I suppose had to be well balanced) were very readable. You did feel for the protagonists, however short their plot devices were, so it was effectively well written.

      I suppose having not read the new Point Horrors I can't compare but if you happen to have a young female relative who is tentatively looking at reading the books, you could do a lot worse than mention, if you do, that you have a vintage copy kicking about in the attic - the contrast might be quite fun for someone of the right age to appreciate it. These days they are virtually harmless although, having said that, I would be pleased to find that if I read a couple more out of fond curiosity, I might even be a little spooked by one. But it has been pleasant to see that my childhood reading wasn't wasted and wasn't poorly crafted for its time, and if this brings back any memories for you then maybe you'll feel the same. It may not apply to many things in life, but sometimes a jaunt down memory lane can be quite good fun.

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