Jolene Hall is a normal college student matriculating at Smytheville University in the Northeastern US. She has loving parents, is besties with Lucy – her dorm roommate (a beautiful red head with a politicallyconnected mother,) and she has a volatile but loving relationship with her boyfriend, Eli. Then everything changes one evening when she has a fight with Eli on the night of a major blizzard. She foolishly decides to walk home, and the next thing she knows she’s been revived from death as a Frankenstein-like monster. Her flesh is beginning to decimate, her organs have been replaced with pumps and electrical wiring, and her blood has been swapped out for some kind of viscous fluid.
Jo by Leah Rhyne is a novel which walks several edges. It’s not exactly young adult, but it’s also not adult enough in its treatment of some of the more emotional elements to classify it as a classic thriller. It’s not a mainstream horror or sci-fi story either. There is some generic discussion of the mechanics of the lead character’s reclamation over death, but not enough to satisfy a purest; and the story only has one tropey horror scene when Jo and Lucy find themselves surrounded by reanimated zombie-like monster-girls in a poorly lighted laboratory.
There’s a lot of humor in Jo, most owing to Jo's rapidly escalating stench; and the characters interplay well and believably for the most part. In that sense, it reminded me of the recent low budget cult movie Life After Beth. As with most books in these genres, we’re left wondering about how the characters so easily deal with situations that would throw most of us into psychotic breakdown, but if we readers actually refused to suspend disbelief on that score, we’d never get past the premise of zombies or reanimated corpses at all. Would we?
A few of the story’s weaker elements include the introduction of a high-level underground conspiracy which is capable of killing and reanimating an army of fembots, but has such poor security that two college girls are able to escape and destroy their lairs not once, but twice. Also, this shadow governmental agency is peculiarly unable to capture and prevent the girls from investigating their motives despite actually having them in their sites the entire time. Also, I felt the villains were telegraphed a little too much. This could have been avoided by perhaps having a few additional ancillary characters for the others to interact with, but it didn’t really harm the story because that wasn’t really supposed to be a mystery for us to solve.
Ms Rhyne is, however, very adept at figuring out ways to explain away and conceal the smell of a cadaver and to disguise a young girl whose face and limbs are falling away every ten minutes. And the relationships between the various members of Jo’s circle are reverently treated with discreet emotion and beautifully portrayed loyalty. I enjoyed their friendships and sense of family, and it genuinely helped me to relate to and root for the characters.
Overall, I really enjoyed reading Jo, and I think it would make an excellent late October book discussion for a group of twenty-something college grad girlfriends looking for something escapist and light for their coffee klatch.
Leah's website is LeahRhyne.com and her books can be found at all online websites.
Crossing my arms across my chest, cringing at the snap-crackle-pop sound from my shoulders and elbows, I sat in the car and watched the world outside. The bird was gone from sight, and in the darkening evening sky, the lights of the emergency room bay spotlighted the emergent chaos. A father walked by, carrying a little girl who held a towel to her lip. Her face was flushed with tears, but she looked safe, riding in her daddy’s arms. Despite the terror in her eyes, I longed to be her for the fleeting moment. To be safe in my father’s arms. It sounded like heaven. An ambulance pulled beside the squad car, and technicians unloaded a gurney. On it laid a person, covered entirely by a white sheet. Dead. Blissfully dead, I thought. It must be so nice. So much better than this.
Then I cursed at myself for being weak. Outside, there were shouts and cries as the gurney slid on some ice. A smallish woman dove after it, quicker than the massive men around her. She saved it before it toppled on its side, but it tipped just enough to dump the white blankets into the filthy snow. The body lay, still strapped to the gurney,silent because it wasn’t a half-dead freak like me. The medics were paralyzed for a moment, but then, sheepish, they picked up the soggy blankets and covered the body’s face. I tried not to care that the dead body looked far more alive than I. Others came and left as the sky around the hospital darkened completely. They faded into a time-lapsed blur, and as they did I thought about Lucy. Lucy, who was inside the hospital, possibly dying from exposure and hypothermia. Lucy, who stood by my side while I literally fell to pieces. Lucy. My best friend. Please be okay, Lucy. Please be okay. Don’t be dead. I can’t handle it if you’re dead. Please be okay, Lucy. Please be okay, Lucy. It was my mantra as I stared out into the night.