24. A book you’ve heard bad things about: The Host by Stephenie Meyer
List Progress: 29/30
The only thing more frustrating than a bad book is a bad book with good parts. For the first two hundred pages or so, The Host by Stephenie Meyer is pretty good. It follows Wanderer, an alien invader from a species that has taken over Earth and now lives inside a young woman named Melanie. In the other alien races the “souls” have taken over, and with most humans, the host brains go quiet when they are infested, but Melanie is still speaking, trapped inside her own head and fighting Wanderer at every turn. This section of the book was some solid, if soft, sci-fi, and I was wondering if the critics were holding the much-derided Twilight series against Meyer when judging The Host.
But when Wanderer escapes her society and falls in with a group of free rebel humans, the book takes a quick nosedive and stays there for most of the remaining page space. I have not read any of the Twilight books, but I do not hesitate to say that Meyer is bad at writing relationships. Wanderer ends up in a love triangle with two young men (more of a love square with Melanie involved) and both of them are controlling, emotionally stunted and violent. I was shocked at some of the contrived lengths the narrative went to so that the love interests could hit, punch, grab and manhandle Wanderer/Melanie while still being sympathetic on the surface. Not to mention that Meyer clearly has a pet interest in barely-legal teenagers being soulmates with men in their twenties. But even beyond the romantic relationships, the writing suffered. I liked Wanderer as a character, but I ended up siding most often with the humans who wanted to kill her, just because her allies were so obnoxious and refused to articulate their positions at all. Melanie’s uncle Jeb is a deeply infuriating character, a survivalist on a power trip, and her fourteen year old brother Jamie reads more like he’s ten than a teenager.
The last hundred pages did do some redeeming work, when more of the focus was put back on the aliens and less on the rebel humans, but the story had to do some very sloppy maneuvers to contrive a happy ending for everyone. And above all, I came to the realization that the parts I liked most about The Host were the parts that were most closely “inspired” by the Animorphs series by K.A. Applegate. Those first two hundred pages read like a fanfic writer’s original Yeerk character and I was there for it. And when she is not trying to write violently abusive romances, Meyer’s prose moves quickly and has some solid, evocative imagery. But while some issues, like the bloated six hundred page length, could be solved with a good editor, her core pet interests are so repellent to me that I put myself firmly on the side of the critics with this one. There is a lot of solid sci-fi out there, including ones where the love interest doesn’t “have to” bash the main character’s face with a rock*.
Would I Recommend It: No. But I will sing the praises of Animorphs by K.A. Applegate until my dying day.
*Yes, that is a literal example.