Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins
|Book Name:||Rebel Belle|
|Publisher(s):||Putnam Juvenile (US) Putnam Publishing Group (UK)|
|Formatt:||Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook|
|Genre(s):||YA Fantasy / Paranormal Romance|
|Release Date:||April 8, 2014|
Harper Price has everything. She’s president of the Student Government Association, has Cotillion coming up, does well in school, has a great group of friends (and one best friend, Bee), is dating a guy who’s just about perfect for her, attends Future Business Leaders of America meetings, and is all set to be Homecoming Queen. However, on the night of the Homecoming Dance, as she ducks into a bathroom to put on some lip gloss (as no proper lady would go to a dance with “naked” lips), a janitor comes in and gives her the powers of a Paladin, a magical warrior meant to protect an Oracle, just before her history teacher barges in and tries to kill her.
From there, her life grows much more complicated.
In just about any other book, Harper would likely be made into what TV Tropes calls the “Alpha Bitch”. After all, she’s popular enough to be absolutely sure she’s going to be Homecoming Queen, and she does the typical Southern belle things of going to Cotillion and taking it seriously, and if that weren’t enough, she has a group of friends who might well be called a “posse” by another book. In Rebel Belle, however, she’s the protagonist and is given much more depth than she would be if she were in one of those other books. She does everything because she’s committed to everything. She’s president of the SGA because she believes that she can make her town of Pine Grove a happier, safer place for everyone involved. She does well in school because she wants to have a successful life after graduation. Homecoming and Cotillion are her way of showing that she’s devoted to her place in the community. The Future Business Leaders of America is only mentioned once, when she’s annoyed she has to miss a meeting because of a sudden Cotillion rehearsal, but I’m glad it was in there, since it seems like exactly the sort of thing a driven high school student would be part of. If her boyfriend, Ryan, feels like he’s coming at the bottom of the checklist, then it’s quite possible that he is.
The story launches right into the plot, with the first chapter starting just as Harper and Bee are waiting for their boyfriends to pick them up and take them to Homecoming. We don’t see much of the dance, because just about the first thing Harper does is duck into the bathroom to put on some lip gloss, and she’s almost ready to head out when the janitor, Mr. Hall, races in and locks the door. He looks panicked, and it doesn’t take long for Harper to realize that he’s been stabbed. When she goes to him to see if there’s anything she can do – or any answers she can get – he kisses her, sending something cold into her body. Moments later, Mr. DuPont, her history teacher, breaks down the door and attacks her with a scimitar. Harper, not entirely understanding how her body knows what it’s doing, fights him off with supernatural skills worth of Buffy Summers and escapes from the bathroom. When she summons up the nerve to return to it, she finds that it looks exactly the same as it always has, with an intact door and no dead bodies in sight.
Hawkins handles the plot incredibly well. The main thread, of Harper discovering how she’s going to use her powers as a Paladin to protect David Stark, who is the closest thing she has to a nemesis, is exciting and lots of fun to read. The secondary parts of the plot, involving Harper preparing for Cotillion and trying not to lose her friends and boyfriend from all the time this new part of her life is taking up, don’t override the main part and even tie into it very well. The characters are three-dimensional and have their own little motivations, especially Ryan and Mary Beth, and all of them have a distinct Southern touch, to the point where Harper bakes a hummingbird cake as an apology.
The tone of the book is light and sarcastic, but it feels real, as though these are the actual thoughts of a high school student. Harper’s aversion to swearing is a very realistic touch, as is her nervousness about saying aloud that she might well die. There are some more solemn moments, especially between Harper and her mother, where the subject of her dead sister Leigh-Anne lies heavily, but they don’t seem out of place when contrasted to the rest of the book. Overall, it reminds me a great deal of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which Harper casually mentions as she tries to figure out just what has happened to her and how she managed to jump her back fence and do a perfect handstand on top of it.
My favorite thing about the book, though, would have to be the complete lack of cattiness among the female characters. The fight between Harper and another woman has actual fighting rather than the two of them trading barbs, and while there is some relationship drama between her and Ryan that involves another girl, it never descends to the point where Harper tries to sabotage her competition. The worst she does is to decide that she will definitely go to Cotillion rather than giving the other girl a chance to ask Ryan to be her escort, and she treats the problems she and her boyfriend are having maturely, even recognizing that their relationship is something that needs a great deal of work.
This book has shown me that there are YA authors out there who know that girls can be tough and still feminine rather than having those two be opposite sides of a dichotomy. It’s the first in a trilogy, and while there are sequel hooks at the end, the last chapter feels like a resolution rather than a tease about how I’ll have to wait to read the next book. I’ll be eagerly looking forward to the second in the trilogy, but until then, I’m quite happy with where the story is now.