Teen Frankenstein by Chandler Baker is one of those books that I immediately wanted to read from its publishing announcement. This 2016 novel retells one of my favourite stories, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but adds several twists to modernize it. Instead of setting it in period the book takes place in Hollow Pines, Texas, a place where football and beauty rules over brains and academic achievements. There were some quirks with the novel but I largely enjoyed reading it and would dearly love to see if the sequel follows Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (it seems natural, considering the prominent inclusion of a character named Cassidy Hyde in this book).
It starts with a science fair project in school. Tor (Victoria) Frankenstein only wants to pursue the scientific work of her father, a man obsessed with lightning. After her father’s premature death due to a lightning strike, Tor attempts to piece together his research and make it her own. She enlists the help of her best friend, Owen, and together they attempt to use electricity to revitalize dead tissue. It isn’t until an accident provides a new test subject that Tor really knows where her work is going.
Tor creates Adam, a young man that she hit with her car, into a new person. Suffering from amnesia, Adam is the perfect blank slate. Tor records his progress both socially and personally as he slowly becomes more human. But there are murders occurring in Hollow pines, murders that begin to implicate that Adam, with all his guile, may be more monster than man.
This series has amazing promise. Taking classic horror movies and setting them in contemporary high school scenarios? Add a pinch of teenage angst, melancholia, peer pressure, and some good-old-fashioned morality and you have a recipe for amazing. This particular book serves up all of these elements up with style and the retelling works on so many levels. Baker pays particular attention to the core themes and replays them without the heavy-handed heft of its predecessor. We know that Doctor Frankenstein has a God complex and no respect for human life. Tor delivers this same ambivalence for other people. So many things are done right.
That said, there are things that happened in and towards the ending that just did not work for me. It seemed to be where Baker diverged from the origin plot to tie up her own mystery. There’s a bit of unevenness to this part of the story and I very much felt the rough road. However, this may have just been me reading it and wanting a different ending, so there is that.
Tor is a great character to follow in this story. She is perceptive and fearless in the endeavors where she feels she is morally right. She makes very wry commentary about the people surrounding her and I appreciate her particular brand of snark. There were several laugh aloud moments for me while reading this. She also has moments of complete cluelessness that flay open who she is inside – Tor is not one to pick up on social nuance and these moments of unscripted reactions from her are the best. There’s actually a rather perfect moment where one of her peers accuses her of thinking that she is better than everyone else and it couldn’t sum up her character better.
Adam has his moments of utmost sympathy pretty much from page one. He is the innocent in this story, taken advantage of by Tor at the worst time of his own life (and death). There was an obvious opportunity to make this a romance and yet Baker chose not to, something that I very much appreciated from her. Not every young adult book necessarily needs to exploit a romantic possibility and I was very glad that this one did not skew in that direction. It wouldn’t have seemed true to Mary Shelley had it gone that way.
Despite its quirks this book was fun and full of potential. I will be continuing this series in the future.
4 out of 5 stars.
– Follow the Reader –