Monday, September 2, 2013

Review: Bad Houses by Sara Ryan

160 pages, will be published on November 12, 2013 by Dark Horse Comics
Teenager Anne Cole is a photographer, fascinated by abandoned spaces and things left behind. Lewis works with his mother managing estate sales in the small town of Failin, Oregon. When Anne tries to explore the left behind items at an estate sale, she and Lewis click instantly. But Bad Houses extends much further than a teenage love story as Anne and Lewis struggle with family and identity in their economically failing town. Anne’s mother, Danica, and Lewis’s mother, Cat, add their own unique storylines to Bad Houses, with their relationships to Lewis and Anne taking center stage.
Bad Houses is, above all, about the connections between people who love each other and the objects that fill their lives. Danica is a hoarder, filling her home with an endless stream of random objects to which she assigns profound meaning. Anne is intrigued by what people leave behind and experiments with shoplifting, curious if she’ll feel the “thrill” of stealing what doesn’t belong to her. Cat feels most comfortable when she’s ordering other people’s belongings into a display that will appeal to customers. And Lewis is almost an object himself, constantly being controlled by his mother and desperate to escape.
I enjoyed Bad Houses more than I first anticipated. I’ll admit that I was thrown a bit by the cover of Bad Houses. I really liked Carla Speed McNeil’s illustrations, but the coloring on the cover seemed a bit too bright and cartoonish. I think McNeil’s work translates better in black and white, especially given the tone of this story. Once I got past the cover and started reading, I found a compelling study of family, love, and the power we give to the things in our lives. But Bad Housesisn’t without faults. Lewis’s character is sadly underdeveloped, aside from a weak storyline about his absent father. The flashback sequence seemed unnecessary, throwing together Cat, Lewis’s father, and the town’s grouchy antique store owner, Fred, for a few scenes from high school. And Danica’s boyfriend AJ, along with his pill pushing business, didn’t add much to the story. Even with these weaknesses, Sara Ryan has created characters that are real, flawed individuals, capable of tugging at the heartstrings of the reader. We can’t always admit to our own struggles – with both people and objects – but it’s easy to see ourselves in any one of Ryan’s characters.
Rating: 4/5
**I received on ARC of Bad Houses through NetGalley.

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