Title: Perfect Ruin
Author: Lauren DeStefano
Length: 356 pages
My star rating: ★ ★
The city of Internment floats high in the clouds above the ground. Once, academy student Morgan Stockhour loved her perfect, peaceful world. Now, she struggles to maintain a sense of normalcy as her family, shaken to its core by her brother’s attempt to throw himself from the Edge of the city, crumbles. She wants little more than to heal their broken hearts and to marry her government-chosen fiance in a few years’ time. After another teenage girl is found murdered, however, Internment no longer feels safe. Morgan suspects that her family and the government are both hiding things, and worst of all, the siren song of the Edge is beginning to tempt her the same way it did her brother three years earlier.
This was my first buddy read with my darling Savvy; when she posts her review, I’ll link it here.
Perfect Ruin was quite boring and very predictable. Lauren DeStefano’s writing style resembles nothing as strongly as a saltine cracker. Nothing in the novel popped: not the characters, not the setting, and definitely not the plot. The most fascinating thing in the whole book was the excerpts of the murder victim’s essay, “Intangible Gods,” that appeared at the beginning of each chapter.
In the first fifty or seventy-five pages, though it dragged terribly, I thought Ruin had some potential. It reminded me a bit of Twin Peaks: everything seems normal, even idyllic, and then bam! A young, pretty teenage girl winds up dead. Slowly, secrets are revealed and the city’s seeming innocence and harmony dissolves. But there were a few problems with this plot twist. One, the MC doesn’t know the victim; two, a suspect is identified almost immediately, and even though the MC doesn’t think he’s guilty, his quick identification and arrest stop the building tension in its tracks. Even if you take the MC at her word (and you are clearly supposed to do s0), the novel immediately resumes its plodding pace.
Oh, of course there are still elements of mystery here and there, namely: if the presumed murderer is innocent, what happened to the victim? But even going in with the knowledge that this is a dystopia, it’s one of the most uninspiring, bloodless YA dystopia novels I’ve ever read.
In the first half of the novel, a good deal of world-building is substituted for a real plot. Internment, a small landmass floating somewhere in Earth’s atmosphere, could be an interesting world, but like the majority of Perfect Ruin, it’s mostly dull. DeStefano includes some disquieting details (that she ripped off of Lois Lowry): forced abortions for women who get pregnant out of the “queue”; the termination of any unhealthy newborns or second-born twins; pre-birth betrothals; and the rather mysterious claim that “the decision-makers” somehow determine the sex of a couple’s child(ren). I would have been interested in any of these ideas being explored in more depth. And though I’m not always picky about technical scientific details, I did wonder: how did Internment get there? How do its people breathe properly? (The upper atmosphere has considerably thinner air.) Does it, perhaps, have its own atmosphere, and if so, why does it have no weather?
A lot of things have needlessly silly, simplistic names, too–“coloring” for (I presume) painting and “coloring pen” for paintbrush; “flutterling” for butterfly, and so on–which also made me think of Lois Lowry. It didn’t strike me as creative or add flavor to Internment; it just distracted me.
But of course, the novel is told in first-person–and Morgan doesn’t seem too bothered about any of these questions.
That brings me to the real downfall of Perfect Ruin: not the somewhat shaky world-building, the unmemorable writing, or the lackluster plot, but the characters.
A select few of them were actually interesting, or would have been had DeStefano bothered to develop them beyond a smattering of traits. The MC and narrator, Morgan, is the literary equivalent to lightly toasted, store-brand white bread. She is called “not stupid” and unusually curious, but I never saw proof of either claim. She lacks substance to the point that I actually kept forgetting her name. Her betrothed, the unfortunately-named Basil (though not as unfortunate as
Morgan’s other love interest Judas), proves to be more of the same. Morgan’s brother, Lex, is troubled, disabled, and grumpy but still boring, as is his concerned wife Alice. Only three sparked my interest: Morgan’s best friend, the devil-may-care artist Pen, who should by all rights have been the MC; Amy, the rather ethereal young sister of the murdered girl; and Celeste, the lonely, possibly-psychopathic princess. Those three ladies have discernible personalities that, had any of them been narrating the novel, would have at least invested me in what little story there was.
Morgan is, at least, not Special as so many YA heroines tend to be. But she is the opposite: exceedingly, excruciatingly normal. Why should I care about her? Why is this story about her? She has so little personality that she comes across as a mere stand-in for readers. I was never invested in Morgan’s struggles. I never felt her joy, love, fear, confusion, pain…I never even felt like she felt those things. I never cared what happened to her (or what didn’t, as was more often the case).
Interested as I was in Internment itself, the plot–which was sporadic, characterized by brief spurts of action and out-of-the-blue twists–and characters failed to grab me. I read the entire second half of the book feeling nothing. I had a pretty good idea of how it would end halfway in, and sure enough, I was right. How boring.
So though I would’ve liked to know the how and why behind this little dystopian world, I am unwilling to sludge through another three hundred pages full of characters towards whom I feel quite apathetic towards in hopes of discovering the answers.
It’s a shame; the idea behind Perfect Ruin was promising, but the execution of that idea really failed.