• Title: Providence
  • Author: Caroline Kepnes
  • Edition: Kindle Edition
  • Published: June 19, 2018
  • Page Count: 359 pages

“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.

When Jon finally escapes, he discovers he now has an uncontrollable power that endangers anyone he has intense feelings for. Whisking us on a journey through New England and crashing these characters’ lives together in the most unexpected ways, Kepnes explores the complex relationship between love and identity, unrequited passion and obsession, self-preservation and self-destruction, and how the lines are often blurred between the two (Goodreads).”

Providence is a quiet, slow-moving, surreal, tender examination of a relationship that is near impossible to define. The creeping beauty and Kepnes’s willingness to circumvent the conventions of the young adult genre by experimenting with shades of monstrosity and classic gothic horror charmed me. Unfortunately, though I loved this hybridization of genres, the execution didn’t always work for me.

Our story begins with Jon Bronson, a curious and benevolent young boy thoroughly endeared by his best friend Chloe who “smells like cookies.” Kepnes crafts Jon’s inner child with such dexterity in the opening chapters that when we are suddenly hit with the dramatic tonal shift, it’s downright chilling. A monstrosity of a man named Roger Blair, who happens to have an obsession with Lovecraft, kidnaps Jon. We don’t linger on the kidnapping, instead we veer quickly away from a typical missing child/thriller novel and into something sinister and even a little mythical at times.

From that point on, one would imagine the plot and central conflict of Providence would revolve around finding Roger Blair and discovering exactly what he had done to Jon during his tenure in a mall basement, but Providence is a much deeper novel than that. Instead we get a character-driven tale centering around Jon and Chloe’s star-crossed relationship and a washed-up detective obsessed with the mystery of Jon Bronson, “the Basement Boy” who leaves a trail of misery wherever he goes.

Kepnes is a gifted writer, I was moved by several passages in the book, mostly those that pertained to the doomed nature of Chloe and Jon’s love. She made me empathetic to the central antagonist of this novel – who may not be who you think. However, I felt the middle of the book was aimless, the plot ambled along and branched off in too many differing directions – vigilantism, cop noir, science fiction, and yet never focused on fleshing out any of them to the degree they needed to be, or to find a balance of all three. One hundred pages could have easily been shed to assist with the pacing and perhaps create a stronger narrative direction. I finished reading it but I don’t think I could aptly summarize the core conflict. Symbols, themes, and story arcs were left too vague and open-ended. It’s okay to leave the audience guessing a little, it’s often a benefit – but Providence is too broad and left too open. We don’t get enough answers to satiate.

I do admire Kepnes for taking the risks she did with Providence. She made me believe in the love between her main characters even if I wasn’t always engaged with the overarching plot. I would recommend giving the book a read, it’s not something you’ll forget easily and it will keep keep you guessing on every single page.

Many thanks to NetGalley, Caroline Kepnes, and her publishers for allowing me to read an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

 

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