Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Godling Club (Stephen Penner)

The Godling Club
Stephen Penner
Ring of Fire Publishing
Fiction, YA Fantasy
*** (Okay)

DESCRIPTION: On her fourteenth birthday, Jeni Tanaka finally has a chance to join the coolest clique in school, if she can impress them with her party. That means telling her best-friend-since-forever Kyle to show up an hour late (not that she doesn't like him, but he's about a zero point five on the popularity meter), and giving her own mother the brush-off (even when she's being all goopy about some strange gift she means to give her daughter at the exact moment she was born), but this is too important for sentimentality: her social life, and therefore her future, is at stake. Then, on the very cusp of success, everything falls apart. Some unknown force attacks her, sending her into a seizure (and chasing away her one chance at coolness) as she struggles to fight it off. Then a strange boy shows up, introducing himself as the "godling" Tommy Bluehorse. He tells that her mother's been kidnapped, and that the force was actually the spirit of a Japanese creation goddess seeking a new host - turning Jeni herself into a godling like Tommy. By rejecting the deity, Jeni has inadvertently destroyed the balance between creation and destruction; using her mother, the goddess's former host, an evil man aims to exploit this unbalance for untold power. Jeni, her uncool friend Kyle, and the mysterious Tommy race to stop him, but they may already be too late... especially when everyone else has a god's power to draw on and Jeni has nothing but herself.

REVIEW: A lightweight fantasy adventure, The Godling Club leans too heavily on silliness and cliches, to the point where I could almost hear the dippy TV movie soundtrack as I read. Jeni starts out unlikeably obsessed with coolness, a shallow introduction that made it hard for me to care about her. Her best friend, Kyle, comes straight from the stock bin of Goofy Sidekicks, though in many ways he's more useful throughout the book than Jeni herself is. Then again, Kyle isn't the only stock character or situation she encounters. The whole crisis that kicks off the plot could've been avoided with a simple heart-to-heart with her mom some time before the last minute - or even an upbringing that honored her Japanese ancestry, leaving hints in her subconscious - yet somehow everyone blames Jeni for defending herself from a psychic attack she didn't see coming. (Yeah, she's a shallow and selfish kid, but frankly her mother bears a fair share of the blame for the fiasco. The woman had fourteen years to say something, after all.) But it's part of the formula for this kind of story that adults don't tell kids things they need to know until it's too late. The group circles the globe, contacting godlings from various cultures... of which, inexplicably, there are only twenty-four, hosting twelve creation and twelve destruction deities, despite the myriad cultures on Earth from which to choose. Along the way, personalities clash, stale attempts at humor abound, and enemies pop up at the most convenient times, complicated by the possibility of traitors in their midst. Through most of it, Jeni's fairly oblivious, ignorant of cultures and the powers of the various godlings she encounters... making it a bit hard to swallow when she suddenly grows a backbone and steps up to square off against the bad guys. By then, at least, the momentum had picked up and some of the silliness had died down. In the end, while I can't say I was wholly satisfied with the tale, it just barely managed to squeak by with a flat Okay rating... though it was right on the line.

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