Rage – Jackie Morse Kessler (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011)
In Rage, Jackie Morse Kessler continues her utterly compelling and highly original stories of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, a saga begun in the excellent Hunger. While the first book envisioned the Horseman Famine in the guise of a young girl struggling with an eating disorder, Rage focuses on Missy, a troubled Goth girl who finds solace in cutting. When her secret self-mutilation becomes public domain and Missy can’t see any way out except going under the knife – permanently – she is visited by the captivating and decidedly attractive figure of Death, who assigns her the job of the Horseman War. Missy is initially way less doubtful and mistrusting of her mission than her counterpart Lisa (Famine), and indeed, she gleefully takes up the mantle of War to exact revenge on her classmates and ex-boyfriend. As with Lisa, however, Missy’s mission is far more complicated and important than merely getting even: it’s about gaining self-respect and control of her emotional well-being. Kessler handles Missy’s education as deftly as in the first novel, cleverly meshing the Horsemen reality with the human world as Missy’s travels through both become increasingly entwined. It’s a piece of tight writing with a highly suitable ending, and given that I was absolutely enraptured with the first book, I should have felt the same way about this one. Rage, however, felt a bit strained, like there was a deadline looming and Kessler had to force it out. It simply lacked the gleam of brilliance of the first book, that shine of inspiration – but then again, that sometimes happens to sequels. (Kessler admits in the back of the book that Rage did not, initially, come easily to her). I still adored it; I still think it’s one of the best series out there for young adults (and some of us not-so-YA). I still anxiously anticipate the next book, if only to once again encounter the charming character of Death (I know! But he’s so lovely, I can’t help it).