Preloved is the story of 16-year-old Amy Lee, a girl who lives in the fictional Australian town of Middlemore with her Chinese mother. On her school’s Eighties Theme Day, she’s dressed up as Buttercup from The Princess Bride and battling her love/hate relationship with her best friend Rebecca when she accidentally stumbles upon a silver locket with a picture of a boy from the 80s inside. Her life gets complicated when the boy’s ghost appears and begins to haunt her–but not for the usual reasons you might expect. First of all, Logan wears his collar popped. And he’s persistent. And he’s annoying. But as Amy grows closer to her ghostly companion, her heart begins to yearn for the things it cannot have. Because Amy wasn’t meant to pick up the locket at all…Rebecca was.
Distilling the essence of what this book is about doesn’t even begin to hint at the reading experience, however. Written with fast and funny prose that is bubbling over with good humor, this is a ghost story that doesn’t happen to be scary and a love story that doesn’t happen to be about dating. Amy has a lot going on in her life even before Logan appears, since she feels overshadowed by nearly everyone in her life, even though she deals with it with amusing offhandedness. She describes herself as Rebecca’s “short, awkward, Asian best friend. Which did have its advantages, because everyone instantly believed I was O-Ren Ishii from Kill Bill, with martial arts skills.” She’s also trying to figure out who she is, since she doesn’t quite fit in with the nerdy Asian kids at school, but also chafes at her mother’s superstitious adages and old-fashioned beliefs.
While Preloved is chock-full of Shirley Marr’s trademark humor and moves along at an entertaining clip, it is admittedly very different from her first novel Fury, which had a darker, more subversive edge. The plot is a little looser and more free-form as well, and the madcap zaniness of many of the scenes seem more suited to younger YA readers. There are also so many80s pop culture references that it will be interesting to see if most 13 – 18 year olds will respond to that.
|Shirley Marr in Wonderland|
Still, adult readers will likely appreciate the flashback to a more innocent time and the trip down memory lane, and it’s hard not to be won over by the author’s writing style. Her sharp observations about human behavior and quick character sketches are right on target, such as when Amy observes that her nemesis Nancy “Fancy Pants” Soo is “stereotypically good at maths” and “exactly the sort my Chinese mum would love to have as a daughter. Me? Until recently, I thought an algorithm was a type of dance move.”
I would love to see the author delve a little more into emotional themes in her next novel, however. There are so many flashes of deep feeling in Fury and we skate around the edges of some serious emotions in Preloved, but I’m convinced there are even more depths to be plumbed that the author hasn’t shown us quite yet.
“I see you, this girl who lives inside herself, invisible to everyone, even to herself. You’re hungry for your mother’s touch, hungry for your missing father. You’re hungry for life and you’re hungry to be a proper character in your own story.”
There is an appealing sweetness and sadness in Amy and in this book, and there is also an additional love story that I didn’t expect–specifically, the one between Amy and her mom, which is actually my favorite part of the story. I’ve known a lot of Asian mothers and the loving exasperation with which Amy deals with her rings very true. What may seem a bit of an exaggerated cultural aricature isn’t really exaggerated at all, nor are the occasional emotional blackmail, Amy’s consciousness of her potential unladylike behavior, her expectations for her daughter, etc. It’s a pleasure to see the wry closeness between the two of them, as well as how the relationship changes and develops as the two of them learn more about each other.
I thought about Mum’s vintage shop. How she believed that if she found something broken and lovingly put it back together, that someone would come along and love it again.
Isn’t that a lovely way to look at things? And it makes the title of the book, as well as Logan’s situation, all the more poignant. Amy is a very different character than Eliza from Fury, but she too embraces what life throws at her, even if they both do a little kicking and screaming at first. When it comes to smart, flawed, memorable characters and vivacious prose, Shirley Marr’s flux capacitor is totally functioning at full throttle–and I can’t wait to strap in for the next ride.
Rated 3.5 out of 5 stars
This review also appears on GoodReads. An advance copy was provided by the publisher. Recommended for fans of Meg Cabot’s Mediator series, Babe in Boyland, Geek High, Pink, So Over You, and for younger YA readers.
About the Book
This Aussie YA title is available in Australia and New Zealand, as well as through Fishpond.com. Check back with us next week, however, because Shirley Marr is stopping by as part of the Preloved Blog Tour! We have an autographed copy of the book as well as a beautiful prize for one of our lucky readers. This is the loveliest item we’ve ever given away and one that ties in directly with the book, so be sure not to miss it.
Check out my Preloved Inspiration Board on Pinterest, too! It might give you a little feel for the mood of the book.