Portraits of Celina by Sue Whiting
Published April 2013 by Walker Books
Source: the publisher
Rating: 2 stars
From the blurb: Celina O’Malley was sixteen years old when she disappeared. Now, almost forty years later, Bayley is sleeping in Celina’s room, wearing her clothes, hearing her voice. What does Celina want? And who will suffer because of it?A ghost story. A love story. A story of revenge.Portraits of Celina by Sue Whiting is set in the fictional rural town of Tallowood. Sixteen year old Bayley Alexander and her family have moved there, leaving behind the beachside Sydney suburb of Cronulla. Her father died eight months ago and Bayley feels as though she's the one being relied upon to keep the family together. Her little brother has anxiety, her older sister is binge drinking, and her mum quit her job and decided to move them to an old family home beside a lake. Almost forty years ago Celina O'Malley, a distant relative of Bayley's, disappeared from the house and was never found. Now Bayley thinks she's being haunted and needs to figure out what Celina wants.
I've had Portraits of Celina on my shelf for three years and thought I'd finally get around to reading it over the end of year holidays. Unfortunately this book and I did not gel at all. I wanted to quit pretty early on but forced myself to keep reading in the hopes it would improve, finally I skim read the ending just to get it over with.
One of the first things I noticed was the overuse of the characters' names. During almost every conversation, each character is repeatedly named. No one talks like that in real life, it's more of a tv/movie trope, and it continued throughout the entire book.
The repetition continued with Bayley's thoughts. All she thinks about is Celina, often repeating her full name, Celina O'Malley, again and again. Not to mention thinking and talking about the peace chest and the clothing it contained. Perhaps this repetition could be seen as Celina's ghostly presence taking over Bayley's life, but it made for dull reading because it wasn't really Bayley's story, it was Celina's.
Another issue I had was the language. I'll list the ableist language below, but Bayley was constantly referring to herself as an idiot/moron/lunatic, and she also used these insults towards Oliver, the boy she has an insta-crush on, and in return her called her 'crazy eyes'. Told in first person, the reader unfortunately spends a lot of time in Bayley's had, and this habit really grated on me. Not only was she always insulting herself and others, she was constantly question-talking to herself - this is always jarring and interrupts the narrative.
A lot of the plot felt manufactured, as if certain elements had been shoved in to provide a typical YA read. The romance felt forced, there was no spark between Bayley and Oliver. They interacted but their dialogue never sounded authentic, and often their encounters ended in one of them flouncing off (there were a lot of overly dramatic scenes in this story). The ghostly element never felt spooky or scary. The murderer was obvious from the beginning of the book, and the final scene was predictable and anticlimactic.
Ableist language: crazy, cracked, nutter, idiot, mental, pinhead, wacko, psycho, lame, loony, fool, dumb, insane, moron.
Ultimately, Portraits of Celina didn't work for me at all. The setting and main story arc had potential, but unfortunately they were let down by the slow pace and all the repetition.
Thank you to Walker Books for my review copy.