Several years ago, I interviewed Missy Wilkinson about her writer life. Afterward, she sent me coffee and a mug as a thank you, and I’ve liked her ever since! Right away, I bought Wilkinson’s novel, Destroying Angel, published by Prizm Books. And I did that thing where I hang on to the book for too long! Woops. After I DNF’d several books last week, I wanted to go someplace I felt “safe,” book-wise. I remembered Wilkinson’s kindness and grabbed her novella.
The story begins with Gates, her father, and Dr. Ascuitto gathered around Gates’s mom’s bed in the hospital. The mother has just died, and while sad, Gates is more puzzled: she hears her mother’s dead body say, “find my heart.” Right away, something paranormal! After, the book proceeds normally for a while. Gates starts at a new high school — the family moved a lot to get the best medical treatment for the mother. There are two beautiful mean girls and one drippy weird girl (per the norm).
Gates tries to befriend both groups without thinking, doing both badly. It doesn’t help that her dad is the school’s new band teacher; guaranteed popularity suicide. However, this year’s drum major, John Ed, is super handsome and doesn’t fit the band geek stereotype. John Ed is invited to dinner at Gates’s house (her dad’s tradition), and readers learn that he is recovering from addiction and a drug charge, but excels at designing marching patterns to go with music.
At school, the beautiful mean girls decide to shun Gates, leaving her with the drippy weird girl, who wears unicorn sweatshirts and carries around toy ponies unironically. This is where everything gets weird! There’s a strange drug called Amanita that either kills people or takes them to a new level of consciousness where they excel in any creative talents they have. There’s a magical kingdom with a murderess ruler. A crazy doctor who steals bodies. And homecoming weekend! I loved the blend of normal and absurd in Destroying Angel, limiting the characters to normal teens who experience strange events and places. I could not guess what would happen next, and I had to keep reading.
The characterization was strong, too. Even though Wilkinson started with stereotypes, she subverts the stereotypes to make the characters unpredictable. The gorgeous guy is a band geek, helpful, and a drug addict. The mean girls need help from the narrator when trapped in a rehab facility. The drippy girl has a deadly aim and thirst for destruction. The narrator never pities herself; she keeps moving forward, and her feelings are naturally revealed instead of told. Even Gates’s father surprised me as he determines when to punish or forgive his daughter as she tells wild stories that seem impossible.
Wilkinson is an inventive, talented woman who made something new for young adult readers that is sure to appeal to adults, too. I couldn’t put this book down! Wilkinson is a small-press author, so I’m including links to support her book. Apparently, the original publisher had to close up shop amid scandal, but there are some used copies of Wilkinson’s Destroying Angel. Used books don’t benefit an author, but the book deserves love — and to be read.