Thursday, March 29, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #88: Reindeer Boy by Cassandra Jean

I try to be as polite and as upbeat as possible in these posts, and not to spew bile over anything if I can help it. (Sometimes I can't, generally because some once-strong creator has gotten lazy and obnoxious with age.) But today's entry is going to be a challenge.

Reindeer Boy makes no damn sense. No damn sense at all. And, even worse, it has some very anti-feminist (even anti-personal-choice) undertones towards the end.

I don't know creator Cassandra Jean's work, so I'm not sure what her intentions were. This feels like a manga-inspired lark -- a single-volume story mostly about people and their emotional connections, with some quirky spins on pop-culture mythology thrown in for spice. But I had trouble believing in the people, their emotional connections seemed to be assumed rather than shown, and the spin was far beyond quirk into full-on dementia.

Before I go further, let me admit I'm not a fan of whimsy to begin with. I don't think Reindeer Boy is meant to be particularly whimsical, but, to the extent it is at all, I'm a bad reader for it. (I may be a bad reader for this book in a whole lot of ways, frankly. But I did read it, and this is how it struck me.)

Quincy is a teenage girl, somewhere in a random town, presumably in the US. It's Christmas morning, and, like she has every year for about a decade, she has a dream about a little boy with antlers leaving her one present wrapped in tinfoil. And every year she gets one little present wrapped in tinfoil, which no one seems to have noticed isn't given by any one in her family, even though "her family" seems to be only her and her father. This year, the tinfoil present is a reindeer charm, on a cord to be worn around her neck.

Oh, and on Christmas morning, she also ran into a door, and got bumps on her forehead. This will be important.

Back in school after break, there's a new kid: Cupid, a boy with antlers. Yes, antlers -- seemingly extending two to three feet above his head. He's never shown hitting them on anything or stooping to get through doorways, so perhaps this fictional world has twelve-feet ceilings everywhere. It wouldn't be the least likely thing about it. Cupid starts hanging around Quincy and her friend Irena (and with Conway, the boy Quincy has a crush on but hasn't said anything to).

And Cupid tells Quincy that he's one of Santa's Reindeer, and that she is, too -- her bumps are going to grow into antlers like his. She can't stop it; she's just gotta live with a future as a reindeer. So that's a thing.

Soon, there are other antler-headed people in town -- Comet is another transfer student, and then Dasher and Blitzen also come to school. A couple of others with similarly obvious names seem to be in the mid-twenties. They all live together, even though they're not actually related. Eventually, Quincy comes and visits their house, on a road that she never saw before Cupid moved into town, and there meets their guardian, Kris Kringle.

It turns out that Kris runs a package-delivery service...somehow. It's worldwide despite no one ever having heard of it...somehow. They deliver via magical teleporting chalk, which I swear I am not making up. And Kris and the eight antler-heads are the entire staff, which includes no back-office people or order-takers or any of that boring business stuff, just a boss (Kris) and delivery people (the reindeer, who just write in chalk on the package and it goes wherever magically).

In case I wasn't clear up top: none of this makes any damn sense at all. Jean doesn't even nod in the direction of the obligatory elves, or explain what this mini-FedEx has to do with the legend of Santa, or what the hell is the deal with the antlers. It's just random stuff that vaguely resembles a popular Christmas story.

Oh, and they all just packed up from wherever they used to be and moved to this town, setting up show in this big old house, because Cupid wished for Quincy, and now he's going to get her, because that's how wishes work. (All the reindeer get a wish every Christmas, which always comes true. None of them have apparently wished for riches or superpowers or immortality or just to get free of fucking Kris Kringle at any point, because -- I assume -- they are all totally brainwashed from birth.)

Now, this was a weird and random enough story that I wasn't heavily invested in Quincy, but even I got pissed at that utter lack of respect for her as a person: she gets to make her own choices, Cupid! You don't get to claim some cute girl -- at the age of five, which is doubly creepy! -- throw antlers on her, and declare she's going to love you and work with you forever! (Apparently the target audience thinks this is "romantic," which is a definition of that word I don't understand and never care to learn.)

Oh, and the reindeer aren't immortal or anything -- Kris is, but he can't or won't extend that to the employees he keeps seeing dying over and over again for hundreds of years -- they just crop up again and again in the same families when the old ones die. And my guess is that they tend to die young, since all of them are very young right now, and what are the odds of that happening randomly?

So...yeah. Reindeer Boy set my teeth on edge in several different ways, from the blithe disregard for a young woman's autonomy to the insane worldbuilding to the dull, sparse dialogue. This is so not a book for me or anyone like me. I will not try to characterize who this is a book for, since I dislike it so much that any such characterization would turn into insults very quickly. I would not recommend this book to anyone, and I would be very quizzical about anyone I knew who liked it, because that's the kind of judgmental bastard I am.

(Jean's art is nice, though: loose and energetic in a manga-inspired style. I'd like to see her draw other things, even if I'd be leery about anything else she wrote.)

In short: Bah, humbug!

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