101 – Ten by Gretchen McNeil

Purchase Ten at Amazon.com SHHHH!
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Three-day weekend. Party at White Rock House on Henry Island.
You do NOT want to miss it.

It was supposed to be the weekend of their lives—an exclusive house party on Henry Island. Best friends Meg and Minnie each have their reasons for being there (which involve T.J., the school’s most eligible bachelor) and look forward to three glorious days of boys, booze and fun-filled luxury.

But what they expect is definitely not what they get, and what starts out as fun turns dark and twisted after the discovery of a DVD with a sinister message: Vengeance is mine.

Suddenly people are dying, and with a storm raging, the teens are cut off from the outside world. No electricity, no phones, no internet, and a ferry that isn’t scheduled to return for two days. As the deaths become more violent and the teens turn on each other, can Meg find the killer before more people die? Or is the killer closer to her than she could ever imagine?
Well, I know which book is going to end up being the most forgettable thing I’ve read this season. It hasn’t even been three days and I’m already having to remind myself that this thing existed and that I read it.

Ten is a modern YA retelling of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, which is a concept I dig. I love whodunnits, especially the kind that involve mysterious invitations to private murder parties. Sordid histories, cutthroat paranoia, deadly revenge, how could this possibly go wrong? maybe? By being stupid, that’s how. By being frustratingly, predictably, implausibly stupid. dammit Here are the problems:

  • The characters are all stupid
    So look, I get that when you’re doing a re-telling, it’s absolutely within the acceptability playbook to play it straight. I get that not every remake is going to be a deconstruction of the original, and that’s fine, but as a reader, it becomes a problem for me when the story that you’re re-telling is literary primordial ooze like And Then There Were None. This fucker is in the DNA of a million different mystery and horror narratives across all mediums, and it seems near-impossible to me that anyone would have made it to young adult-hood without being exposed to the tropes present in this story in some form or another.

    So the decision to have these kids behave as though they’ve never even conceived of a situation similar to the one that they find themselves in completely boggles my mind. I mean, I don’t expect everyone to be Randy or Abed, ok, but I do feel like it’s reasonable for a certain level of general competency to be expected from the characters in order to keep the reader from wanting to throw the book against a fucking wall.

    Which is why I don’t think I’m being unfairly critical when I say that these characters are contrivedly fucking unreasonable. It takes a mysterious power outage, a cut internet cable, the conspicuous absence of their host, a threatening DVD, a nearly-deadly “accident”, two suspicious deaths, one actual, indisputable murder, and a partridge in a fucking pear tree before they will even consider the possibility that someone may be killing them off one by one, EVEN THOUGH all the while, bloody lines have appeared on the wall after every murder. The killer is literally ticking the murders off right in front of their faces, and it still takes four more deaths AND the heroine presenting a diary that explains in detail why all of this is happening before the characters start being proactive about protecting themselves.

    And THEN, their version of proactive is wandering the house like lost children, checking it for murderers in such a way as to easily end up separated and dead. They have the survival instincts of lemmings.

  • The mystery is predictable
    …AKA the easiest way to make this whole book an exercise in tedium. The “why” is by far the most interesting part of one of these closed-circle mysteries, and we know why the characters have been gathered for slaughter less than halfway in. In fact, savvy readers will probably figure out why within the first few chapters, since they’re littered with expositional conversations that, in adherence with the Rules of Writing, must eventually be important, otherwise they wouldn’t be there. But just in case you missed those, halfway in we get a fucking diary that gives context to all of those pointed conversations and spells out the motive, because why in god’s name would we want mystery in a mystery novel?

    In the end, it doesn’t even matter who is actually doing the killing, because we already know why, and obviously it’s going to tie in to that in some bullshit ~twisty~ way. I kept hoping that there would be a different bullshit twist – that the diary would be a smokescreen, or the heroine would have a closer connection to the murders, hell, even the old unreliable narrator trick would have been something. But no, it was the same sort of boring, and as far as I could tell, completely un-foreshadowed, gotcha! reveal that you’d get in any generic slasher flick.

    Oh, and speaking of slashers:

  • The execution of the murders is preposterous, and even if it weren’t preposterous, it would be dumb
    This is the part that really made me just slam myself face-first into my desk with despair. SPOILERS WARNING.

    So, the idea is that every person gathered on the island was in some way perceived to be responsible for the suicide of a bullied teenage girl. All of their interactions with her are conveniently documented in her diary, utilizing seemingly normal words and phrases like “shot through the heart”, “choke on those words,” and “backstabbing.”

    So, guess what it TOTALLY makes sense to base the central murder gimmick around?

    That’s right, ridiculously commonly-used, meaningless phrases occasionally orchestrated into absurdly over the top deathtraps!

    This is the dumbest fucking slasher gimmick I’ve ever seen. Dumb and so unimpressive that you don’t even realize there IS a gimmick to the murders until like the fourth or fifth death, where the heroine retroactively assigns symbolic meaning to the deaths that have already occurred.

    I have to run this down for you, because it’s just so…simultaneously contrived, and yet lazily executed.

    Death Crime “Symbolism”
    Hung herself, suicide note written on sheet music Stole bullied girl’s choir solo Crushed vocal cords
    Fell off cliff, impaled (postmortem?) on log Bullied girl off debate team “Backstabbing”
    Allergic reaction Taunted bullied girl “I want to make him choke on those words.”
    Shot through the heart Dated the girl to get the answers to a test “He said if I really loved him, I’d help him because if I didn’t it would be like I was shooting him through the heart.”
    Bludgeoned on back of head Complicity in dating/cheating scheme “Idiot. Someone should just beat him over the head.”
    Electrocuted Threw girl under the bus on failed science test Test involved electricity
    Shot in the head Said “I’d rather shoot myself in the head than get stuck taking that chick to Homecoming.” Got shot in the head
    Shot through the throat Yelled at bullied girl Throat=talking??
    Burned Taunted girl, followed taunts up with “BURN!” Was literally burned
    To be fair, that last guy deserved it. Who the fuck screams “BURN!!!” after every one-liner? Fuckin’ tool.

    But you see what I mean, right? This shit is dumb. Not only is it really improbable (how do you orchestrate it so that someone not only falls off a cliff, but falls off a cliff and then impales herself back-first on a log? or do you go back afterwards and stab her with the log? Good fuckin’ luck, stabbing someone with a LOG.), but it’s the thinnest of symbolic meaning. “Oh, that guy said I was a dick? Well, guess who’s being suffocated with a dildo!” It’s almost like the murders were originally just supposed to be whatever was easiest to execute and get away with, but then the heroine read way too much in to the diary, so the killer just went with it because it made him look smarter.

    Honestly, this shit would not be out of place in a Wayans brothers parody.

  • ~Diversity~
    Ten is a late addition to the Halloween Spooktacular set. I added it after coming across a list of “diverse YA horror novels”, because the premise piqued my interest, and I’m always up for a diverse read. And yes, as promised, Ten does feature a relatively diverse cast: the primary love interest is black, two of the female characters are Asian, another male character is Polynesian, and our heroine’s BFF, Minnie, is bi-polar. And to its credit, the book does make a practice of calling out the sort of casual racism and homophobia that is common among teenagers.

    But. There were still issues.

    We kicked it off with this description:

    A short Asian girl slipped up behind Gunner. She was a punkish pixie in a black T-shirt and striped arm warmers, with a fat streak of magenta hair sweeping over her eyes.
    Which caught my attention thanks to the discussion that’s been going on recently about this type of visual character trope. Chart by Shroom Also of note that two Asian characters happened to be related, because I guess we need to justify having two Asian women in the same group of friends, amirite?

    Second, misogyny is thick in this motherfucker. Most, if not all of the conflict for our heroine stems from other girls – specifically characterized as “crazy” – being jealous of the one boy who is in to her. The biggest wedge between her and her bff? A boy they’re both in love with. The crime that got her invited to this murder party in the first place? Being into the boy who was also the object of the bullied girl’s obsessive affection.

    The female characters are without exception snipey and catty with one another, and while almost all of the boys come in bro-y pairs, only Minnie and our heroine are actually “friends”, and that relationship is so fraught that it barely counts.

    Speaking of, the madonna/whore dynamic between Minnie and our MC is the most fucking blatant I’ve seen in a long while.

    “What?” Minnie pulled a strapless dress out of her wheelie bag and laid it out on her bed. “I was just voicing an observation.”

    Meg grabbed some T-shirts and a pair of jeans from her backpack and shoved them in a drawer, leaving her journal and laptop at the bottom of the bag. “I’m not interested in T.J.”
    swiftgif Meg, our heroine, is a quiet, bookish, conventionally attractive brunette who is smart and secretly super-witty, but just can’t get along with people because no one appreciates her amazing sense of humor. She’s head-over-heels in love with a boy, but she can’t openly go after him because he’s also the longtime crush of her bff, so she suffers in silence, being the martyr-y-est martyr who ever martyred. She’s also literally a virgin.

    “And you’re not into Teej?”

    “Didn’t we just pinky swear?”

    Minnie hugged her for a second then broke away. “Because, if you were interested…”

    “Minnie!”

    “If you were,” she continued with a smirk, “I’d have to warn you—that boy has the biggest—”

    “Mins!” Meg plugged her ears with both index fingers. She did not want to hear a firsthand account of T.J.’s boy parts, especially not from Minnie. It was bad enough to know that Minnie and T.J. had drunkenly hooked up at a party, worse hearing a replay of it. “I’m not listening. I’m not listening. I’m not listening.”

    Minnie flopped on her bed in a paroxysm of laughter. “I just meant—” she gasped. “For your first time you might want—”

    “I’m not listening!”
    Minnie, on the over hand, is a lively, outgoing blond girl whose sole interest, as far as we’re shown, is trying to get her crush’s attention by any means necessary, be it relentlessly hitting on him, dating his friends, or conspicuously trying to hook up with other boys right in front of his face. And we all know what that means. whooooooore Minnie is also bi-polar, which plays hugely into her characterization in the story, and what limited arc she has. Basically, Meg is desperate to escape to school in California, because Minnie is clingy and needy, and she doesn’t want to be responsible for her anymore. Minnie is also pretty exclusively portrayed as being selfish, self-centered, and completely unconcerned with Meg’s feelings, and any time someone who isn’t Meg brings her up in conversation, it’s to tell Meg how shit Minnie treats her.

    “Is she always like that?”

    “Who?”

    “Minnie. […] I mean, Gunner said she could be a little … erratic. But she was kinda psycho back there.” Meg bristled. As true as the statement was, she didn’t like her best friend referred to as a “psycho.” Besides, it wasn’t Minnie’s fault that she was bipolar. It’s not like she chose to be that way. And even though Minnie’s mom tried to ignore the fact that something was wrong with her daughter, Minnie’s dad had made sure she saw a therapist and got the right prescriptions. He’d even had a private talk with Meg about it, asking her to look out for Minnie and make sure she was taking her medications.

    No one else knew about it. Just Meg. And she was fiercely protective of Minnie’s secret. “It’s not her fault,” she said firmly.

    T.J. stopped and turned around. “Not her fault she treats you like crap? Like you’re her sidekick or something?” Meg winced. That hit a little too close to home.

    If T.J. noticed, it didn’t deter him. “Not her fault that she clearly has no respect for you? That she only thinks of herself?”

    Meg sighed. “She’s not always like that.”

    “That’s not an excuse. Not for you or for her.”

    “You don’t understand.”

    “I understand that she expects you to always be there for her yet can’t or won’t return the favor. But what I don’t understand is why you put up with it.”

    “Look, I can’t …” Meg’s face grew hot. I can’t tell you. It was more embarrassing than anything. Meg thought she was the only one who noticed the way Minnie had been treating her lately. Apparently not.

    “You can’t what?” he asked.

    Meg opened her mouth to protest, then stopped. He was right, at least on some counts. It wasn’t that Minnie was a bad friend, only that most days she couldn’t really see past her own pain and her own needs. And that was partly Meg’s fault, because she’d been enabling Minnie for so long she didn’t know what other kind of friend to be. “You deserve”—T.J. took a step toward her—“better.”
    To her credit, Meg never stops defending her friend, but I don’t think we’re actually meant to have much sympathy for her. As the book goes on, Minnie pulls further and further away from Meg as the tension over the boy comes between them. The shock of the deaths sends her spiraling into an episode that she can’t recover from, thanks to her medications having been stolen, and most of her appearances involve undue hostility and screaming.

    “You’ve always been jealous of me,” Minnie said, spitting out every word as fast as she could. “Always. Boys, clothes—you always had to have what was mine.”

    T.J. threw up his hands. “I was never yours!”

    “And you tried to bring me down, to undermine my confidence. I was fine before I met you. I wasn’t depressed. I didn’t have to take all these medications.” Minnie was on a roll now. “That was you. That was all your fault. You did this to me. But you didn’t break me, Meg Pritchard. You will never break me.”
    It’s not like there isn’t so much that could be done with this storyline, and I’m all for complicated relationships between friends, but that’s not the focus of the story, and I’m honestly kind of confused as to why it was involved at all when it’s never properly dealth with. Minnie never recovers from her episode, and her story actually ends with her emotionally broken, holding Meg at gunpoint.

    Meg looked up from the control panel. Minnie stood in the doorway of the pilothouse, the gun grasped in both hands, pointed straight at Meg. She shook visibly, and even in the dim light, Meg could see that Minnie had broken out in a full sweat.

    “He said it was you,” Minnie repeated. “That you’d killed everyone. […] He said you were jealous of me. That’s why you pretended to be my friend. That’s why you were leaving me to go to LA. […] He said you’d try to kill me.”
    They get a brief scene to almost-sort-of-reconcile, then:

    Minnie sucked in an erratic breath. “I’m so sorry,” she sobbed. “I’m so sorry.”

    A creepy feeling trickled down Meg’s neck, a cross between fear and disbelief. “Sorry because you’re about to shoot me?”

    “This is all my fault. I shouldn’t have made us come here. And I shouldn’t have listened to him.”

    “Mins, it’s okay. T.J. had us all fooled.”

    Minnie lowered the gun. “Not T.J.”

    Meg’s mouth went dry. Not T.J.? “Minnie, what the hell are you talking about?”

    “It wasn’t T.J.,” Minnie said, her voice calm and even. “The killer is—”

    There was a click, followed by a rush of air. Then a crunch, like a knife passing through bone, a flash of metal followed by a splattering of blood as something ripped through the pale white skin of Minnie’s throat.
    …aaaaaaand that’s it. Bam, just dead. Having served her purpose in obstructing Meg and TJ’s star-cross’d relationship, Minnie’s corpse can now gracefully fall aside, and let the two have their happily ever after.

    Done. Done and dead. But as nightmarish as the whole weekend had been, as horrifying and painful and life-altering in a way that even years of therapy wouldn’t be able to cure her of, it had done one beautiful thing. It had brought her and T.J. together.

    She bent her head to his and kissed him. Whatever they’d become after the weekend at White Rock House, they’d become it together.
    well I'm glad it was worth it Yeah. So, not a terribly positive portrayal of someone with a mental illness, is what I’m saying. Adding in bullied girl Claire’s similarly unbalanced, obsessive behavior, and it’s not a terribly positive portrayal of people with mental illnesses. Or girls. Girls in general. And I don’t think it was all that interested in being one to start with.

  • Also it wasn’t scary
    That should probably be clear by now.

All in all, I was super disappointed by this one. It had a really cool premise, and it just blew it with a whole boatload of stupidity. There’s just no substance to the thing, nothing to hold on to or take from it, and I can’t even bring myself to be that angry about it, it’s just dumb and bad. I’m glad to be finished with it, and I look forward to letting it completely disappear from my memory.

One Star


 

One Response

  1. Elspeth Grey

    November 6, 2014 10:19 pm, Reply

    I feel cheated by the idea of an adaptation of And Then There Were None where some of the characters survive.

    I don’t care if it’s YA, the POINT is to kill people!

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