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Innocence

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Overview

In her electrifying follow-up to the acclaimed bestseller, I Was Amelia Earhart, Jane Mendelsohn delivers a modern gothic coming-of-age story, a devastating X-ray of American culture, and a piercing, playful, and poetic exploration of the inner life of a teenage girl growing up in New York City.

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Innocence

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Overview

In her electrifying follow-up to the acclaimed bestseller, I Was Amelia Earhart, Jane Mendelsohn delivers a modern gothic coming-of-age story, a devastating X-ray of American culture, and a piercing, playful, and poetic exploration of the inner life of a teenage girl growing up in New York City.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Bookseller Reviews

A strong novel by author of I Am Amelia Earhart. Though only fourteen years-old, Becket leads a life that most would daunt most adults. Living with her widowed father in New York City, she sees herself perpetually on the edge of the world she surveys; an outsider peering in at cynical teachers and the in-crowd Beautiful Girls. Drawn to an omnipotent school nurse in a way she can't quite understand, Becket cobbles together a flickering social circle characterized more by shared alienation than by common interests. Uncertain, yet self-contained, she moves from little nightmare to little nightmare without setting off adult sirens. Teens know this toughness.

From The Critics
Mendelsohn's first novel, I Was Amelia Earhart, the famous aviatrix crashed on a desert isle, fell in love with her navigator and experienced the salvation of human love. In her newest book, Mendelsohn explores another kind of crack up. This sad, disturbing tale of lost mental control revolves around a teen-ager nicknamed Beckett, who experiences "coming of age" as if she's inside a horror film. Beckett purports to offer insight into a generation of teen-agers destroyed by fantasy, fiction and movies while decrying a country that does not defend its children. The book seethes with boredom, narcissism and violence: the psychiatrist gets stabbed in the eye, the stepmother in the heart. One wonders how an author of such breathtaking talent could release a novel that is, by turns, bloody, tedious, tortuous, confusing, disturbing and overwritten.
—Ethel Hammer
Library Journal
Adolescence is a tough time for most people, and it is especially hard for 14-year-old Beckett, whose mother was killed in a drunk-driving accident in the suburbs. After the accident, her father, Miles, decides to move to an apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, enrolling Beckett in an exclusive private school. Strange things are happening at this school--several girls have formed suicide pacts, and three girls kill themselves shortly after Beckett begins school. It is through these events that Beckett meets Pam, the school nurse, who begins dating Miles and eventually becomes Beckett's new stepmother. Part modern Gothic, the novel flows along in a stream-of-consciousness narrative that reveals Beckett's inner turmoil. We also learn that all is not as it seems with Pam and the strange events at school. The book offers an interesting spin on the traditional coming-of-age story as it keeps the reader wondering, Is this fantasy or is this reality? Suitable for adults, this second novel by the author of I Was Amelia Earhart might also appeal to a mature young adult reader. Recommended for public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/00.]--Robin Nesbitt, Columbus Metropolitan Lib., OH Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Gia Kourlas
Mendelsohn's story makes for a wild ride. And lest you think it's entirely silly, Innocence comes with a message: Beckett decides that it just might be better to be pretty on the inside after all.,br>—Time Out New York
Janet Steen
A surprisingly unique mystery novel. Told in spare, melodramatic vignettes, the book has elements of both an epic poem and a horror-film screenplay...
Time Out New York
Kirkus Reviews
Growing up in Manhattan can be hell, especially if you're the haunted heroine of this scary, tricky neo-gothic thriller. It's bad enough that Rebecca Warner's mother was killed by a drunk driver. But when her father decided to move back to the city with his daughter, he promptly fell for Pamela Reeve, Beckett's school nurse, and now everything is one long nightmare. Or rather a series of short, MTV-style nightmares in which the murders of three new school friends are indistinguishable from the onset of Beckett's first period, and the melted chocolate ice cream in the family freezer just might be frozen blood. Is Beckett hallucinating because her imagination has been sent spiraling into overdrive by the pills Pamela is constantly popping into her? Or is Pamela really a vampire whose life depends on a diet of virgins' menstrual blood? Is Beckett's waking nightmare, which she keeps plangently insisting is true, a train of once-in-a-lifetime coincidences (on his way over to spend the night with her, and perhaps save her life by deflowering her, her boyfriend Tobey is beaten so savagely in a restroom that he sinks into a coma)—or the result of a fiendish conspiracy between her father, her stepmother, and her psychiatrist—or an anthology of metaphors for a normal American coming-of-age in the infant century? Invoking a battery of analogues favoring the pop-culture heroines of Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, Lolita, and Halloween, Mendelsohn (I Was Amelia Earhart, 1996) isolates her plucky heroine so fearfully via sparse paragraphs and an underpeopled world that even the most preposterous threats leap out of the movie frame tofuel ashriek of pure paranoia. Must reading for anybody who thinks teenagers today have gotten bloated with entitlement: a scarlet will-o'-the-wisp fantasy in which adults and adulthood aren't stupid stiffs but agents of unimaginable evil. Author tour
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781573228749
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 5/8/2001
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 529,930
  • Product dimensions: 7.00 (w) x 5.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Jane Mendelsohn
Jane Mendelsohn was born in New York City, and graduated from Yale. Her first novel, I Was Amelia Earhart, spent fourteen weeks on the New York Times hardcover bestseller list. She is married and lives in New York with her husband, filmmaker Nick Davis.
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1
They were all dead. I was the only one left.
They'd done something awful with a pink plastic razor, two of them on the bed and one on the floor. The music was still lapping on the player. I think I mouthed the words.
Outside, it was one of those sunsets that nobody looks at, a red and orange and purple massacre, spilling its guts out above the city.
I don't understand why nobody notices. Those sunsets, they bleed all over.
I ran. I ran as fast as I could through the park as the sun set. First the sky turned gray, like smudged newsprint-there seemed to be words up there-and then it all faded to blue. The leaves on the trees went from green to purple. The street lamps turned on. As I ran out of the park behind the museum, night fell. I could hear it. Everything became quieter. The cabs stopped honking and slid by with their secret passengers. Lights arrived in the buildings like stars. Traffic moved in one wave downtown. It was Friday night. The sky went black as a limousine.
Why was I running? I was running from images: a sneaker, a mirror, two words. I remember blood hanging in strings off the bottom of a shoe like gum. I remember two words scrawled across a mirror.
Two words: drink me.
I ran. I ran past the front of the museum where the fountains glowed green from their swimming-pool lights. On the steps of the museum, a group of kids. I ran across fifth avenue. A bus pulled by and stopped, and heaved like an old accordion. I turned onto a street and then down park avenue through the dark canyon of buildings. Behind me I felt the presence of someone, something, but I knew I couldn't turn around or stop. That's when it started raining. I let the rain drip through my hair and down the ends of it, onto my shirt. My sneakers filled with water. It was raining so hard I could have missed the building, but I stopped out of instinct. At first, the doorman didn't want to let me up without buzzing. But I flirted a little. I let him stare at my shirt.
Upstairs, outside the elevator, I dug my fingers into the dirt of the plant. I found the key. I slipped into the apartment. I could tell by the quiet that Tobey's parents were out, and I followed the sound of the television to his room. He was watching an old movie. Voices crying across time. I followed the blue light.
The blue light cast a glow over his sleeping face. Raindrops slid down the walls like tears. I looked at him, at his innocent face. He must have felt my presence, my fear. He woke up.
Beckett, he said with his eyes, what are you doing here?
I took off my t-shirt. I dropped it on the floor.
Then I said: fuck me.

2
How can I get you to believe me, to believe the unbelievable? I want so much for you to understand. But you can't make someone believe you. Trust is a secret combination to a lock. Two turns of faith, one turn of fantasy, half a turn of truth. Trust me. It sounds so false.
What if I tell you that I'm still running? I'm running and remembering. Branches cut my legs, wet leaves stick to my clothes, and memories tangle in my hair. I'm running through a park, and then a city, and then a building. I hear strange languages, words of despair. The things I see along the way frighten me, but I can't look away.
Persephone, Dorothy, Lolita, the final girl, all went down to hell. Persephone, Dorothy, Lolita, the final girl: I'm following you. Wait for me.

3 Great heroines have dead mothers. That's what I told myself when she died. After she died (highway, drunk driver), my father decided that we should move back to the city. He took an apartment on the upper west side and enrolled me in a fancy school. I remember the first day, my terror.
I was scared when I walked into the cafeteria, the talking, the groups of friends. I walked into the cafeteria and saw them, mermaids washed up on shore. I saw the girls in their wide-legged jeans, the thin strings around their wrists, and I felt frightened. Their hair swung down like rope. I watched the boys sharing headphones; I studied their glances, the t-shirts covered with writing, their eyelashes, the muscles on their arms.
There I am, sitting alone. I'm the ugly girl, the smart girl, the boyish girl, the loser. I'm the one who knows too much.
I sat listening while I stared intently at my lunch. I was listening to the beautiful girls. Their names were Sunday, Morgan, and Myrrh. Every now and then I looked up through my stringy hair and watched them talking. Nobody looked at me.
You know that girl I was talking about? Sunday said.
Yeah, just a minute ago?
Yeah. Well, apparently, when she went down on him she forgot that she was chewing gum.
You're kidding.
No, I'm not.
That's hysterical.
It was a total mess.
The mermaids laughed in catty euphoria. The thunder of the lunchroom rose up behind them.
I'd like to tell you that I was better than they were, that they were dead souls, lost girls, superficial. But I wanted nothing more than to be like them. I wanted hair that swung down like rope.
This is what's happening: I'm running away. Away from these memories, away from myself. But the faster I run, the faster they follow me, until they're ahead of me and I'm running into them. I run into them like a girl stepping inside the movie screen. I run into them, and my world turns from black-and-white to color.
I run straight inside my eye. It's ten feet tall.
He walked into the cafeteria with his hands in his pockets and the strap of his bag across the front of his chest like a sash. The cafeteria was noisy and the tables were full and the women behind the food counter were wearing hair nets and bending over and scooping tuna fish out with ice cream scoops. He stood on line, accepted what they offered, and then walked slowly in my direction to the table with the beautiful girls. He laid down his tray and nodded and lifted the strap over his head and set his bag down gently on a seat. He sat down and put his elbows on the table and leaned forward and smiled with his eyes.
Sunday stuck out her arm in front of his face.
Smell my perfume. Isn't it amazing?
Yeah, amazing. He took a swig of soda.
Who's your friend?
Sunday shook her hair out behind her and pulled her knees up to rest against the table.
Why don't you find out? She said.
He took a bite of food and a long sip of soda.
You guys are friendly, he said. Then, showing them how it's done: I'm Tobey. What's your name?
I lifted my eyes. My face went hot, a stick of cartoon dynamite exploding inside my head.
Beckett.
I heard the girls laugh under their breath.
Hi, Beckett. This is Sunday, Morgan, and Myrrh.
The three girls glanced at me, nodded, and glanced away. He was enjoying playing the adult.
Where you from? What school?
You wouldn't know it, it's far away.
He waited for more. Long island. Way out on the North Fork.
He nodded and took another mouthful of food. Sunday squirmed in her seat and lowered her eyelids. Myrrh was wearing a wool cap and a tank top with her bra straps showing, and she stood up and walked over behind Sunday and started playing with Sunday's hair.
I took a deep breath.
Myrrh, I said. That's a cool name. How did you get it?
Parents were hippies.
Used to be.
Now they just buy a lot of CDs.
Sunday shook her hair.
Wow, Tobey said. What insight. You guys are so ironic and self-aware.
Oh, please, said Morgan.
I have to go, said myrrh.
Sunday left without saying anything.
Oh, well, he said. I guess it's just us.
I could have watched the smooth human machinery of his hands all day. But I picked up my tray and my book bag and left.

4
There's a character in every horror movie who doesn't die. She's the survivor, the Final Girl. She's the one who finds the bodies of her friends and understands that she is in danger. She is the one who runs and suffers. She is the one who shrieks and falls. Her friends understand what is happening to them for no more than an instant before they are killed. But the final girl knows for hours, maybe days, that she is going to die. She feels death coming. She hears it. She sees it.
Welcome to my nightmare.

Reprinted from Innocence by Jane Mendelsohn by permission of Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2000 by Jane Mendelsohn. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

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Reading Group Guide

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:
  1. Toward the end of Innocence, Beckett says, "What matters isn't whether something is real. What matters is if it is true." What do you think she means? What might the difference be between a "real" story and a "true" story? What do you think the author wants you to believe about this story?

  2. Beckett's relationship with Pamela is complicated by her need for a mother figure and conflicting fear of losing her father. Discuss the way in which her feelings change when she starts menstruation. Does this event bring her closer to Pamela? Is her relationship with her father affected? If so, how?

  3. As Beckett matures physically, she becomes more beautiful. But she also begins to suffer dark visions and bleak thoughts. What do you think Mendelsohn is implying about the relationship between youth and innocence/maturity and worldliness? How else does she demonstrate this theme in the book?

  4. As narrator, Beckett maintains an ironic tone. Does this make her appear more credible, or less?

  5. Beckett seems to believe that the pills she is given weaken her hold on reality. Discuss the roles that medication and altered states of mind play in Innocence. What do you think the scene at the water fountain suggests about teens and antidepressants?

  6. Since Innocence is narrated by a teenager, it may not be surprising that there are no good adults in this novel. Even Beckett's father betrays her. Discuss the implications of this. Does the author suggest that the common "us versus them" mentality of teens results from a lack of understanding by adults?

  7. Beckett is haunted by foreboding dreams. Discuss the relationship between these dreams and Beckett's reality. Can you tell where one ends and the other begins, or is it confusing? How does this affect your reading of the story?

  8. "There's a character in every horror movie who doesn't die. She's the survivor, the Final Girl." What does Beckett mean when she describes herself as the Final Girl on page 7? What do you think it says about teen culture and values?

  9. Mendelsohn's writing is full of startlingly fresh imagery. Discuss how she uses this imagery-for instance on the opening and next-to-last pages-to reflect Beckett's state of mind and character development.

  10. Throughout the novel, Mendelsohn alludes to classic works of literature and film (from Alice in Wonderland to Rosemary's Baby). How does Mendelsohn use these references to comment on contemporary teenage life? Discuss the role movie imagery plays in the novel.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 26 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(16)

4 Star

(5)

3 Star

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2 Star

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 26 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 2, 2005

    A quick, but great, read

    I bought this book in a bargain bin at a Book Warehouse and read it in one day. Wow...The sentences read like poetry, but I think most important is that this author really nailed her subject matter. Not only is it truthful but also suspenseful...a great read!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 25, 2002

    I was...

    Amazed by the way this book was written.All the short,but descriptive, sentences.I thought the emotional stress the main character goes through is strongly expressed.This is one of my favourite books now,it's one of the few books I've read that can bring me into the book and feel every thing the book is about.I love the dreamy way Mendelsohn writes.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 10, 2014

    Not a great book.

    This book is not written very well. With out quotation marks it is hard to tell when characters are actually speaking. Doesn't get interesting until the end. It is a very quick read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 9, 2014

    READ THIS BOOK!!!!!

    Amazing! At first I thought it was confusing, but then it all came together. It was beautifully written and I fell in love not knowing where reality stopped and where imagination started. The way I was guessing until the very last page made me rip through the book. Even though I am only in middle school I thought that this was one of the most brilliant, if not most disturbing book I have ever read. I recommend this book to anyone who wants a thrill.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 5, 2014

    Hunuuum nj gn un yn ju nbyun uh

    Unnjnunm jnjiujmuj uny n. Jj. Njhuh. unhu mnjjnn. Hnu njnu nhbj uibh h.jjym.ujhjunnyj nj nunhnni jbm hu jjinhnjnjun u h ju h i. .hij jn nji nhunh iujnj nh. Unu n njun hjj uj nunj.jjjujnhu j hn hhmumhnmnu mujn n. .m uhmujnjNI nhunu n h j jn y h j. N u UjHn n njnjbu..mg
    juuyyhb umn jjnu inuh uyn. J u
    NhNjuumhinu. Uunu n. Nbn.kuunnju h m uhhinjn hnnnh .uu. hyj mb u. Jhn.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted May 14, 2010

    beautiful and strange

    this strange and gothicky novel is a quick read- so quick you may not be sure of what happened at its end. the prose is more like poetry in its dreaminess, and yet the narrator is so blatantly straight forward in her emotions- not unlike reading sylvia plath's journals or fiction.
    i clutched this coming of age tale to my chest in high school (when it was first published)...and to this day still remember how much i loved reading it.
    this is not for people who like super-defined stories or clarity. reading this is more like weaving into a dream. detached yet still with the ability to be horrifying, i feel like there is nothing i've read that is like it. it is too bad that mendelsohn got bad reviews from the type of readers/critics that expect a certain type of writing and story framing. this is probably why she hasn't published anything since. all i can say is, as a lost teen, i loved every moment of it.

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  • Posted February 16, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    great book!

    My cousin recommended this book to me. I couldn't put it down. I read it in one night. It was so good.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 18, 2005

    amazing

    this book was amazing i have now read it for the 12th time. i can never seem to put it down. the first time i read it i got confused so had to read it again ,and now i am completely enthrtalled within it. mendelsohns' use of real life situations helps the reader become more involved . i would recommend this book to anyone . if you dont like the boring old english books you have to read for class you will love this. it will take you on the ride of your life with its unexpected turns

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2005

    one of my favourite books out of the many i've read...

    i've read a lot of books, and this was one of my favourite ones. i loved this book, and i encourage many people to do so aswell. picked up on a whim and because i was running out of time, i found this at a library. i read it that same afternoon, and was upset that it was over (i wan't upset with the ending though ^.^), upset because i'd read it so quickly (a bad habit of mine. i like to savour the words, so i'm trying to leran how to 'pace' myself during reading) please, you don't have to buy it, but at least read it once.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 31, 2004

    Don't Waste Your Time

    I decided to read this book after seeing a lot of other reviewers review. They were very mixed. I shouldn't of wasted my time. The book was a fast, but terrible read. With so much decent literature out there...Don't Waste Your Time On This Book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 22, 2003

    Great Comming of age Book

    I think this book is great, because it was fast paced. it pulled me in from the first page.Even if you dont like reading like me, you'll love this book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 23, 2003

    I loved Innocence!

    I loved this book. It wasn't like anything I've read before and I couldnt stop reaidng it once I started. It wasn't real long which was nice but it was still really good.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 6, 2002

    a true page turner

    it was really good to read. the writer was so descriptive...its makes u believe she was a teenager who an autobiographical story. i could totally relate to how beckett, the main character feels and think. it makes u wanna read it and find out whats gonna happen next. shes a girl maturing into a womnen, but has to face some challenges along the way. its action packed, dramatized, and more!!!! u should definitely check it out!!!!!!!! plus.. its not that long.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 18, 2002

    No thanks

    In a word, pretentious. On the upside, it's a quick read to knock off in an afternoon. On the downside, it's a waste of two hours.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 24, 2002

    Twisted and Engaging

    Mendelsohn's writing style is stunning, she elicits such beauty while exposing such darkness. I have read both her books and I, as a lover of writing, am so impressed by her unique style which is at times breath-taking. Her words are illustrious.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 17, 2001

    In absolutle awe

    I chose this particular book at random this summer but nothing about the book itself is random. I am a psuedo-writer myself and I am deeply impressed with Jane Mendelsohns' prose style of writing. Her words stimulate the imagination forcing the reader to continue reading. The author has a rare talent of allowing her readers to empathize with the characters in this book. It is a true testament of what most young girls feel and think at that age. Bravo. I would definitely recommend this book to others.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 26, 2001

    'it doesn't matter whether something is real. what matters is whether it's true.'

    I just randomly picked up this book at the bookstore and when I started reading it, I couldn't put it down. It was so rich with imagery and symbolism that I was amazed that one person could think of such a story. It appears to be a simple storyline- a teenage girl struggling with becoming a woman, dealing with the typical issues of the in crowd, being pretty, and boys- but the view that Beckett has on the world is one that every teenage girl has had but have never spoken of. Truly this book demonstrated the end of innocence in a real, twisted way. There are a few things I don't quite understand, for example, if the bats in the book are supposed to be symbolic of something in society. Anyone who would like to talk about this book feel free to email. Anyone who has not read this book should read it and be ready for a wild and truthful ride.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 23, 2001

    A Hopeful Maddness

    I had seen this book on a trip to Barnes and Nobles with a friend of mine. It was out then only in hard-back, but I waited and had it special ordered for myself at a bookstore at which I work. I began reading it the night I recieved it and I simply couldn't put it down. I found myself relating a lot to Beckette and her struggles to understand and fit in with our culture. There's a lot of things she was right in thinking and fearing. In the end she found herself. She found that there is peace within even after such horrors she survived.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2001

    Innonce: Pure.

    After the first few minutes of this book, you immedialty get addicted. It is such an insight to the teenage world of horror, yet so originol. Fabulous.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 7, 2001

    It was too 'out there' for me.

    I'm usually an Oprah book kinda gal, but I'm a teen so I saw this book and ordered it from my book club. Yes, it hooks you from page one, but it was just too strange. Hint: Vampires. It is a dreamy, gothic, modern novel. Some people may love it, but it just wasn't for me.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 26 Customer Reviews

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