Book review: Providence by Caroline Kepnes

Wednesday, July 11, 2018 Permalink

The backcover blurb for this book makes it clear it’s not like Caroline Kepnes’ fabulous debut novel You, or its sequel, Hidden Bodies. So I was prepared for something quite different.

And it starts well. Our main characters are interesting, the disappearance of Jon (and even his reappearance) intriguing. But it seemed to get a bit lost after that and I wasn’t sure even Kepnes knew where she wanted to take us.

Book review: Providence by Caroline KepnesProvidence
by Caroline Kepnes
Published by Lenny, Simon & Schuster UK
on July 1st 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Thriller / Suspense
ISBN: 0399591435, 9780399591433
Pages: 400

Growing up as best friends in small-town New Hampshire, Jon and Chloe are the only ones who truly understand each other, though they can never find the words to tell one another the depth of their feelings. When Jon is finally ready to confess his feelings, he's suddenly kidnapped by his substitute teacher who is obsessed with H.P. Lovecraft and has a plot to save humanity.

Mourning the disappearance of Jon and facing the reality he may never return, Chloe tries to navigate the rites of entering young adulthood and "fit in" with the popular crowd, but thoughts of Jon are never far away.

When Jon finally escapes, he discovers he now has an uncontrollable power that endangers anyone he has intense feelings for. He runs away to protect Chloe and find the answers to his new identity--but he's soon being tracked by a detective who is fascinated by a series of vigilante killings that appear connected.

I’m not a fan of books featuring the supernatural or falling within the fantasy genre (despite watching A LOT of it on television). Although – in this case it wasn’t that element that I found unsettling.

I know I’m a lover-of-logic and ‘need’ to understand things, but I don’t really feel as if Jon’s predicament was ever explained in a way that seemed even vaguely feasible. And the parallels with the (HP Lovecraft) book containing his captors note just didn’t ‘do’ it for me.

I wish it could be simpler, that some bully freak kidnapped me and locked me up, me against him. But the thing about the book, the letter, now he’s made me a part of something. pp 43-44

And I must admit I felt a bit the same way. God forbid… had someone kidnapped Jon for some sordid purpose it would probably have made more sense!

The book blurb hints at this so I’m not offering up any spoilers by saying that essentially people seem to be allergic to Jon on his return from captivity. In small doses he’s fine, but after prolonged exposure, or if he’s angry, then…. beware.

I’m guessing Kepnes wanted to write about love, not just lust or the very passionate kind, but a connectedness, and how it can survive even the most dire of situations. Or something.

Perhaps she also wanted to get readers thinking about what happens when someone’s best intentions go awry (the teacher / genius / mad scientist we don’t-really-meet here is a prime example, as well as his creation of course). There’s vague reference at one point to kids being DNA tested by the mad scientist when he taught Jon and his friends… so I wondered if he’d found something in Jon’s DNA he liked…. or was it just that he saw potential in the kid others bullied?

A colleague of his kidnapper explains his experiments – which we assume he somehow tested on Jon.

A tree doesn’t just randomly grow tall, with one central branch. The central branch fights the others to become what it is. Nothing is arbitrary about power. The branch with apical dominance grows more strongly than the others, which in turn establishes them as weak. The dominant branch is stronger because the others are weak. p 215

So this book is also about power. Who has it, who wants it and how they get it.

Ironically young bullied Jon didn’t care much about power or what others had that he didn’t. (Which almost sends me on a whole separate tangent about power vs strength!)

I don’t want to diss this book entirely. Kepnes is a talented writer and storyteller and we get to know our two leads (Chloe and Jon) fairly well. They’re engaging and introspective enough that they ponder on their own behaviour and motivation, considering what they could and should change.

So, I think there was potential here… I didn’t mind the journey into Dexter-land (ie. vigilante killer of baddies) but we kept getting drawn back into childhood love triangles and never really got any answers or explanations re John’s powers.

I kept thinking there could have been some hidden meaning or metaphor I was missing. The DNA thing and nose bleeds reminded me of an old episode of The X-Files so I wondered if there was something other-worldly at play, rather than something to do with a vine and a mad scientist.

Providence by Caroline Kepnes was published in Australia by Simon & Schuster and is now available.

2.5 – 3 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.


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