When a friend passed me a copy of Abandon by Meg Cabot, I was reasonably excited. I enjoy Meg Cabot’s work well enough, particularly her All-American Girl series. I’ve mentioned before my love of retellings and reimaginings, not to mention mythology, and this book was promising to be a “darkly reimagined” version of the Persephone myth, one of my favorites. So I was excited. Spoilers to follow…

Instead, what followed seemed to be the messy scribbles of a popular author with a lot of good ideas and not a lot of time to get them all down effectively before deadline. The copy I had in hand didn’t specify that this was the first book in a series (specifically, a trilogy), but that became quickly apparent when I was more than halfway through and nothing of any significance had happened. Prior to the book’s start, our heroine Pierce Oliviera drowns, goes to the underworld, is made the consort of a death deity, and then escapes, to be revived in the hospital a changed and somewhat emotionally damaged young woman. Shortly after that, supposedly, Pierce gets into a fight (that we never see) with her best friend (that we never see), who later overdoses on sleeping pills after getting dumped by the high school basketball coach. Pierce goes undercover to investigate, almost getting sexually assaulted, before she’s saved by her death deity pseudo-boyfriend. All of this sounds like it would be very entertaining, but all of this is only vaguely referred to, before finally happening haphazardly in flashback. The real story is after Pierce’s parents divorce, where she and her mother move to the fictional Key West island town of Pierce’s mother’s childhood. Pierce’s past behavior (getting accused of putting the basketball coach/math teacher/teen girl sexual assaulter in the hospital) gets her put in the program for problem children, but her famous and wealthy father gets the attention of the popular kids at school, which in turn puts Pierce at odds with her cousin Alex, who hates the popular kids for unknown reasons. Rather than doing anything logical like asking questions, Pierce decides to go ‘undercover’ to ‘solve the mystery’ of this pointless animosity. None of these characters are well-developed, or really developed at all, so it’s hard to get invested in it. Much like it’s hard to get invested in the supposed suicide of Pierce’s former best friend, who gets, near as I can tell, zero dialogue.

The pacing is awkward and the major (and most interesting) events are told in flashback. If this book was designed to be the first in the series, there’s no real excuse for cramming everything in as awkwardly as it’s crammed. We’re not trying to get more graham into Golden Grahams, here. It relies heavily on my least favorite trope, the one I like to call the ‘twelve hours earlier’ (official terminology may differ), where the reader/viewer is planted in the middle of a major event and then has to backtrack to however many hours/days/months earlier, to see how we got there. This is an irritating trope with established characters and worse with brand-new ones. The most important events kicking off the start of the story are Pierce’s first meeting at age 7 with the death deity (whose name, upsettingly, is John) and her death at age 15. Those would make a good prologue instead of the vague one we get instead, where Pierce dismisses the Persephone myth as child’s play compared to her own story, “What happened to me? That’s no myth.” The first half of the book is a lot of pages of hinting about the backstories of characters we don’t care about, instead of actually giving us backstories so that we might care about them. It’s a shame all around.