Good review – bad review Rollercoaster Rides

The charismatic villain in DORIANNA

I had two books launch last fall, and reviews are coming in. I hate to admit it, but as seasoned as I am, reviews can deflate and anger me, or totally make my day. And yes, I do read them. Sometimes the gap between how one reader reacts to how another reacts is beyond baffling! I’ll give you an example. The following review of Dorianna thrilled me because this Netgalley reader totally got what I was trying to do. However, the next was a painful two-star one. Feels as if they read two different books. But hey, I just put on my big girl pants and take it. Because that what writers do, right? See what you think…

Review #1 – 5 stars from a Netgalley reader:
“So I’m just going to assume I don’t need to point out that a gender-swapped YA version ofA Picture of Dorian Gray is basically the greatest thing ever, right? Good. Just making sure we’re all on the same page here.

I’ve never read Dorian Gray, but I am familiar with his character. Even after 100+ years Wilde’s flamboyant, sexy, hedonistic asshole of an anti-hero still somehow manages to work his way into pop culture. And honestly, it’s fucking great. Dorianna takes a unique and clever twist on Dorian’s character and creates a smart and terrifying novel of lust and power. It’s dark, creepy, and full of glamour that hides a sinister grin.

The main character is Dorianna, a girl fresh off the boat from the Hoosier State and plopped right in the middle of Brooklyn. Honestly, the first twenty some pages were pretty annoying, because all Dorianna did was talk about how plain she is. We get enough of that “plain Jane” speech from every other YA heroine and we defiantly don’t need it here. Thankfully, her character because a lot more…well interesting to say the least, but we’ll get to that eventually.

Our Plain Jane attracts the attention of Ander, her love interest. What was interesting about him, is that Dorianna knew he was using her to get back at Lacey, his ex-girlfriend. As the story progresses, we get to see just how fucked their relationship is. Because this is YA, we need some semblance of a love triangle, which is where Wilson comes in. He’s our suave, melodramatic, Victorian-era dressing bad boy of the book, who convinces Dorianna to sell her soul to him in exchange for eternal beauty and internet followers. While I may have my own qualms about Dorianna’s character in the beginning, I could see how desperate she was to fit in, but the moment she makes that deal with Wilson…BAM. She’s a million times more interesting and complex.

Stine does not shy away. This new Dorianna is bitchy, materialistic, manipulative, and downright cruel. She’s ambitious and is willing to crush anyone underneath her boot to get more followers. While she’s not likable, she’s complex. Her drive and ambition give her layers. To her, the power and fame is addictive, but somewhere in the back of her mind, she knows what she’s doing is wrong, but justifies it at every turn. As her powers grow, so does her ambition. Soon she can’t control either of them. 

From what I’ve heard, it took a while for Dorian Gray to realize something was wrong, but in Dorianna her powers are evident. She has heightened senses, read and control minds, and even burn people with her jealously and hate. Dorianna knows it’s wrong to manipulate her followers, but, in her mind, the end justifies the means, and eventually grows to enjoy and relish in the manipulation.

Dorianna is the perfect anti-heroine. Her internal struggle against her own demons and trying to maintain her humanity gives this book depth. No matter how bad things get, she always chooses her fame over the people who actually care about her. And honestly, that’s what makes Dorianna an amazing character. She’s relatable. We’ve all wanted to be famous and no matter how much we lie to ourselves, we know that if it got to that point, we would turn our backs on the ones who care about us if it meant retaining our fame. Dorianna is a blunt look on how anyone can turn to darkness if it meant they can still hold onto that taste of fame.

The concept of using her YouTube videos as the picture of her soul is brilliant. Those scenes of her videos are truly bone chilling and terrifying. Readers can truly feel how sinister Dorianna has become without Dorianna realizing it herself. Stine’s writing style has a contemporary feel to it, but easily transverses into a realm of dark fantasy and horror in the blink of an eye.

The other strong point of this novel is Dorianna’s interaction with Lacey. Lacey is the Queen Bee (you know the trope) and Dorianna is the new girl (again, you know the trope), but as the book progresses, Stine manages to flesh out Lacey and Dorianna into something akin to mirror images. Both girls use every supporting character as a pawn in their power play. Dorianna and Lacey both think the other is bad, and thus justifies destroying her opponent. The parallels between Lacey and Dorianna are subtle, but it’s obvious that they’re essentially one in the same. Both awful.

The romance was okay. Both Wilson and Ander were used as props in Dorianna’s rise to fame, and I truly believed that they both got what they deserved in the end. The original Dorian Gray ends on a rather obvious note, but Dorianna takes a different approach I honestly wasn’t expecting. It worked perfectly with the story and I honestly want to buy a physical edition of this book, I loved it so much.

This book is about a girl’s ambition and rise to fame, and the horror she becomes on her way to the top. It’s dark. It’s horrifying. It’s Dorianna!”

Review #2 – 2 stars from another Netgalley reader:
With a nod to Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Catherine Stine’s novel imparts the message that, while popularity, youth, and beauty are important in a superficial society – like high school, for example – the price one pays for them is exceedingly high.

In the middle of her junior year of high school, Dorianna’s father is incarcerated. With her household ripped apart, she is sent to live with her aunt in New York. The drastic change from Indiana gives her the chance she needs to reinvent herself and start over.

She meets Ander at the lockers on her first day of school, and is immediately smitten. A casual friendship grows between them, and her crush turns into obsession. However, by the time Dorianna learns Ander is the ex-boyfriend of Lacey, the most popular girl in school, Dorianna is already far too emotionally invested to follow the rules of high school hierarchy.

Plain, shy, and unsure of herself, Dorianna is desperate to gain the love of Ander and the admiration of everyone around her. Seeing the perfect opportunity to do so, she enters into a pact that will change her – and her life – forever. The question is: Will she change for better, or for worse?
The idea was an excellent one but poorly executed. To begin with, the main character is incredibly obnoxious. I did not see a single redeemable aspect to her personality and, as a result, the novel was hard to read… Second, I am all for fantastical plots – which is, after all, what this novel’s plot is – but there does need to be a realistic foundation upon with the plot is built. I did not find that in this novel. It is highly unlikely that the parents of these characters just let them do whatever they wanted, which means it is extremely doubtful that any of the events in this novel would have taken place.

All that being said, the writing was pretty good and the pace was steady. It could have been executed better, as I said, but I still wanted to know what would happen next. I read the entirety of the novel in one evening. HOWEVER, a male character being described in narrative as a “fruitcake”, the unnecessary mention/subplot (it could have been any other crime), and the unnecessary attempted rape (towards the end) all made it REALLY hard for me to give this the three stars that I wanted to award it.

To this reviewer’s line: “The main character is incredibly obnoxious. I did not see a single redeemable aspect to her personality”…

My reaction: She’s invaded by a DEMON, folks! Why would she be all light and sunshine?!

My reaction to a bad review

Ok, trying to calm down… taking deep breaths, and maybe even chuckling over the whole thing because the reviews for Dorianna are mostly fabulous.

Do you read reviews? If so, how do you handle getting past “bad” ones? Are you as cool about it as Jeff Bridges?

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