This is the most ridiculous thing I have ever read. This book is so ridiculous, it kind of comes out the other side of ridiculousness and becomes great.
Never Love a Libra: the book that doesn’t just jump the shark: it picks up the shark’s bloody corpse and heaves it straight at its ex-girlfriend.
This whole series is zodiac-themed, so I was braced for some astrology, but holy crap: it is shoehorned in so heavily, and at the oddest times.
The story opens with a prologue, in which an incredibly stalker-iffic guy catches sight of some girl on a ship’s deck so he stows away, vowing that she’s going to love him and he’s never, ever letting her go. It’s effective and creepy, I’ll say that much for it.
In chapter one we meet the heroine, Linda, a Capricorn who is into astrology and keeps an astro-diary, and who consistently keeps defining everyone around her in terms of their star sign. Again: I know, I know, it’s a themed series. But it gets ridiculous. Anyway, Linda is a on a cruise with her cousin Carol, a flirtatious Gemini who thinks Linda needs to get over her ex and meet someone new.
Just to hammer it home, the cruise is on a ship named the Libra, which is supposedly “state of the art”:
“This boat has everything,” Linda said to Carol. “Did you see the workout room? Two treadmills and a StairMaster. I’m going to be in the best shape of my life by the time we’re home again.” (p. 9)
So it’s just as well equipped as most suburban homes in the 90s? Wow.
At dinner they meet Justine, Marla, and Kevin, who will basically be the shittiest friend group I’ve ever seen in a YA horror novel (and it’s not really a sub-genre noted for its supportive friendships, by and large). Linda also sees a cute guy.
Justine followed Linda’s gaze.
And then the weirdest thing happened.
Justine stopped smiling. Her face turned deathly pale, and she looked as if she was about to pass out. (p. 15)
So I automatically assumed the cute guy was Justine’s ex, but in the end it’s set up as some sort of huge reveal. Am I alone in thinking it’s perfectly obvious that someone who has a dramatic reaction to the sight of a guy is going to turn out to be the answer to the HUGE MYSTERY of who on this ship could possibly already know him?
Without saying another word, he swept her onto the dance floor, his open hand firmly on her back. His touch made Linda weak in the knees. Gone was the practical Capricorn. Linda’s dreamy side had kicked in—big time. (p. 17)
Given that she literally can’t leave her room without consulting an “astro-diary,” I’m not really buying the book’s attempts to make me see Linda as “practical.” I mean, if your evidence for practicality is “I’m a Capricorn!” you may need to re-evaluate some stuff.
Cute Guy Billy is the stowaway from the prologue, of course. Tommy, who works on the boat, is letting him hide in the gym. Marla and Kevin think this is really cool and it’ll be fun to help Billy hide from the captain. Okay then.
“Be careful of a Libra’s tendency to control,” Linda read in her astro-diary later that morning. “He’ll want to give you a ring and call you his own….” (p. 33)
The romance continues, it’s like nothing she’s ever known before and really intense, and also everyone stands around talking about astrology for a while.
Billy knows his way all around the ship, and mentions he should move someplace so even Tommy doesn’t know where to find him. Okay.
Billy and Tommy keep talking about mutiny, but it’s treated as a joke by Linda and all the others. Even when he points out places they could stash the captain and crew, Linda just seems to think he’s kidding.
Then after a wonderful night of dancing with Billy, Linda finds a note under the door of her room warning her that he has a secret, and that Libra is a “double sign.” Whoever could it be from? (I mean, obviously it’s from Justine, but Linda doesn’t suspect her at all.)
Billy buys Linda a ring from the ship’s gift shop. That evening he leaves her roses and a note:
There, she found a gorgeous bouquet of a dozen roses, and a note from Billy.
The mutiny is on.
Linda’s pulse quickened. Was Billy serious? Was this the surprise he’d planned? She put on her sexiest bathing suit and was on deck at four. Maybe there was still time to talk him out of it. (pp. 46-47)
Maybe you should TELL SOMEONE, Linda. Just a thought.
But no, the surprise isn’t a mutiny. They’re just going to steal the captain’s motorboat and go diving! Linda dithers but ultimately goes along with it. There’s only one tank, so Billy tells her to dive first, and she runs out of oxygen and nearly drowns.
The surface was still thirty feet up.
There was no way she was going to make it.
She was going to drown.
As panic took over, all she could think was, I’ll never see Billy again. (p. 51)
I actually had to pause at this point and scream for a while.
Linda very very very briefly wonders if maybe it’s his fault. She immediately dismisses the idea and decides it was an accident, but Billy is angry that she suspected him (for literally less than a page) when he loves her and would never do anything to hurt her.
He proves how non-hurty and loving he is by acting like A COMPLETE DICKHEAD all the way back to the ship:
The whole time, he said no more than about two words to Linda.
For the first time, he didn’t kiss her goodbye. (p. 54)
I have to chill for a second and do some deep breathing before I throw this book out a window, but also, if you’re reading this and someone you’re dating or whatever does this I WON’T TALK TO YOU BECAUSE YOU BRIEFLY STOPPED THINKING I WAS ABOVE REPROACH thing? Dump them. Dump them and do not look back, because that is emotionally manipulative bullshit, and you should not be tolerating it from anyone who is not a small child.
She calls Tommy (I’m not even sure why) and mentions her tank running out of air, and Tommy starts to say “I told Billy…” but stops himself. So it’s fairly obvious he warned him the tank wasn’t full. Billy was either trying to kill her or (and I admit I may be reading into this because I’ve met more than one emotionally-manipulative person) Billy was trying to put her at risk to test her loyalty by seeing whether she’d blame him for putting her at risk.
Billy phones her and tells her there were only eleven roses in the bouquet he sent her, and she’ll have to meet him on the deck to get the twelfth.
That was Billy. Always charming, always confident.
Always able to make her heart beat just a little faster.
See, she told herself. Nothing’s wrong at all. (p. 56)
I have to admit, the book does a decent job of showing emotional manipulation and how people talk themselves into not trusting their own instincts.
That night they go to a concert onshore, and Billy arranges things so that he’s sitting with Marla and Kevin. Linda is stuck several rows ahead of him, in between Justine and Tommy, who are sort of a couple. Tommy spends the whole evening flirting with Linda, Justine sulks because of it, and Billy’s flirting with Marla. I hate all these people.
On the way home Billy and Tommy talk about mutiny some more.
“True,” said Tommy. “How about opening one of the hatches? Letting the ship take on some water?”
Linda was surprised as she listened to the conversation. (p. 59)
Surprised? Really? Surprised? Not alarmed, not planning to inform the nice captain (who is sort of dating Carol now), not notifying the authorities? Just surprised. Marla and Justine and Kevin are all listening to this too, and no one does anything. They’re just mildly peeved that Billy won’t tell them his plan for a “distraction” so they can take over the ship.
That night everyone’s woken by six long steamer blasts followed by six short ones (blasts of the horn, I mean, not that the horn gets mentioned), which is the signal the ship is sinking. Only the captain’s as bewildered as everyone else because the ship ISN’T sinking and he has no idea what’s going on. Linda sees Billy.
“Actually, I’m a terrible swimmer,” Billy said.
His grin widened.
Linda watched him in amazement, and she knew, even before the captain made his announcement, that the ship wasn’t sinking after all. (p. 63)
Linda: tell someone. Tell them that Billy is a stowaway, or that he’s planning to knock the captain unconscious next time, or just ANYTHING. Talk to someone other than your shitty, shitty new friends.
Then we reach what I thought, at the time I was reading this, was the most ridiculous line ever written (bolding mine):
“Billy, last night wasn’t a joke,” Linda said. “People were afraid. Maybe taking over the ship isn’t such a great idea. We don’t even know how to run it! And where are we going to go? We can’t keep the captain down in the hold forever. What about the rest of the crew? This isn’t a joke, you know.”
Billy stared at her in disbelief. “Linda, you’re not backing out, are you? Either you’re in this with me—”
“Or what?” Linda asked.
“Or you’re not,” Billy said simply. (p. 65)
Well, challenge accepted, Billy, because Linda suggests they take a break from each other. Two pages later he’s telling her they’re over, which, sorry: you can’t break up with her, Billy, she’s already dumped you.
He tells her she’ll be sorry, so I assumed the rest of this book would be some light stalking, maybe a kidnapping.
…I was thinking WAY too small. Stalking and kidnapping are only Sweet Valley High volumes 1 through 94 level batshittery. This book goes to full-on two evil twins, werewolf, Jessica dates a vampire levels of event.
But we’ll get there.
Linda gives back her ring, and by the next day she’s confiding in her astro-diary when Billy shows up and offers her a rose. He’s in the “act like nothing happened and pretend to win her back” stage of a bad break-up.She holds her ground, even though inside she’s thinking maybe she should apologize “before it’s too late.”
She also notices he’s increasingly unkempt, probably because she’s not letting him shower in her room and she’s not putting his laundry in with hers anymore, JFC. This is the first time the book mentions this and just re-reading it is making me rage incoherently. Do not, dear readers, let yourself be talked into taking responsibility for the laundry of someone you just met no matter how many damned roses they give you.
Tommy confides that Billy is really into the mutiny idea and knows where Captain Jim keeps his gun, and Linda is worried, but they both agree not to turn him in. WHY NOT.
Linda wakes from a nightmare to find her room door open, and across her open diary someone’s written imperfect, which is one of the most effectively chilling “someone’s been in my room” variants I’ve ever seen.
The next day Linda tells Carol that Billy broke in her room, but still hides the fact that he’s the stowaway. And now, let’s have the conversation from hell! Carol asks if there’s any reason to think Billy is dangerous:
“Not necessarily,” Linda said finally. “It’s just that I’m scared. It’s creepy to think about a guy breaking into your room, don’t you think?”
“That depends on what he has in mind.” Carol winked. “It could be romantic, if it’s the right guy. But seriously, Linda. You’re worrying about nothing. Billy’s the one who broke up with you. Why would be be trying to hurt you?”
Linda realized Carol was right. “I sound crazy, don’t I?” (p. 76)
No. NO NO NO NO NO. Hell no. Let me count the nope:
- When someone you care about tells you they’re scared, take that part seriously. Even if they’re being irrational, do them the courtesy of not dismissing their feelings, especially if
- they’re scared of a person they’ve been dating, because that could be a big red flashing warning sign that something is seriously wrong, and people need to be encouraged to trust their gut instincts when they feel afraid in a relationship. THAT’S A SURVIVAL INSTINCT. Don’t belittle it or dismiss it.
- “He’s the one who broke up with you!” Sorry, that’s often part of a pattern in abusive relationships, and isn’t a sign he’d never hurt you; it can indicate he’s about to try to re-earn your trust, and may turn angry and dangerous if rejected.
- Don’t put yourself down by calling yourself crazy (and don’t AGREE with your friends if they do that, Carol, you horrid person). Sometimes you might be wrong about something, or misjudging some situation, or even reacting emotionally without thinking things through. That’s not crazy, it’s human. Also, crazy as a self-put-down makes my heart hurt.
- THERE IS NOTHING ROMANTIC ABOUT SOMEONE BREAKING IN TO YOUR ROOM WHILE YOU SLEEP. Where the hell did this trope come from, and why can’t it disappear? Please.
God. This may be just fiction, but it’s doing a hell of a fine job demonstrating the ways people run themselves (and their friends) down.
They go ashore and go shopping (Carol finds “her favorite French perfume,” which, what? What the hell kind of sophisticated life does Carol lead that she already has a favorite French perfume? I’ve only ever tried about three in my lifetime), Linda thinks she’s being followed, a moped nearly runs her down, but Billy appears and shoves her out of the way.
Linda’s secretly suspicious he arranged for the moped to nearly run her down. Back on the ship, he sends drinks over to her table; she refuses hers, but Tommy, Marla, and Kevin take theirs, because being pleasant to the guy plotting a mutiny takes precedence over supporting the girl he’s stalking.
Honestly, this sort of “look, your friends think I’m being reasonable” divide-and-conquer ploy is a real thing I’ve seen someone do, and it sucks.
Tommy shrugged. “He keeps trying to make it up to her. He wants to get back together. What’s the problem?” (pp. 85-86)
Also I still hate these people.
Justine tells Linda (even though Tommy tries to stop her, telling her “it’s nothing” and “you don’t know what you’re talking about”) that Billy hurt his last girlfriend “so bad, she was never the same.” (p. 88)
Linda knows the others want her to just relax and enjoy the cruise, but she believes Justine, so she decides:
It was time to be a resourceful Capricorn. (p. 89)
Well, whatever works, I guess.
Billy apologizes, leaves her alone without staring at her for a whole evening, and sends over Baked Alaska as a peace offering. Carol eats it, and Linda eats the whipped cream. It’s poisoned, and she ends up in the infirmary, where Billy tells her he poisoned her.
Her friends and Carol all come to visit, but Billy is there and she won’t tell them in front of him that he poisoned her. WHY NOT? What’s he going to do if you turn him in? JUST TALK TO SOMEONE OMG.
Also, this creepiness happens:
Billy fed her the food the nurse brought. He read to her. He changed the channel on the television. She had no one to talk to but him, no way to explain how she was feeling. (p. 97)
She pretends to be sick again, and when he goes to get help (he’s such a kind future serial killer) she phones the captain and tells him Billy is the stowaway.
Captain Jim and Carol show up. The captain says he’ll have Billy arrested and put ashore to face charges, but Billy overhears and runs. He’s somewhere in the ship, and no one can find him.
Except Tommy, Linda realizes: Tommy might know where he is. She has to TALK TOMMY INTO HELPING HER by reminding him Billy just poisoned her. He says it might be too late anyway, because now Billy has the captain’s gun.
In the middle of this, Tommy puts his hands on her shoulders and then kisses her, because everyone in this book is a horrible person. It’s like taking a cruise somehow condemned her to the worst friend group imaginable.
Then Billy shows up, of course, and knocks Tommy unconscious with an oar before heaving him overboard. And Linda BLAMES HERSELF FOR THIS, thinking if she had resisted Tommy’s kiss, maybe she could have saved Tommy’s life.
Just recapping this is stressful, honestly. Luckily this is the point where the book veers abruptly from “excruciating examples of abuse and internalized victimhood” to “hilariously over-the-top nonsense,” because I don’t think I could take any more scenes where Linda blames herself for something awful someone else does.
Billy starts chasing her and shooting at her. Linda hides in a lifeboat, but he lowers it to the water (and this is also when he tosses Tommy’s body in, actually). Linda rows alongside the ship, and finally someone sees her and gets help.
She tells Carol and Captain Jim what happened, and the captain has the ship searched and they find Billy. He’s arrested, and the captain promises her that the very next day they’ll put him ashore. The captain claims that because they can’t find Tommy’s body, there’s a chance Billy won’t be prosecuted. WHAT.
Billy’s taken ashore, and Linda tries to enjoy what’s left of the cruise. She keeps imagining she hears his voice. Someone locks her in the sauna, and she hears Billy say that now she’s his prisoner before he walks away (leaving the door unlocked again).
Carol doesn’t believe her. Linda starts to spend all her time hiding in their cabin. Carol convinces her to go swimming, but on her way back from the pool someone opens some hatches and floods the section of the ship Linda’s in (like, just a very small section, because no one else is affected apparently).
This time, Linda vowed, she was going to get even.
Up until now, she’d been letting the Libra have all the fun. But Linda was a competitive Capricorn, and it was time to show her stuff. (p. 130)
Every single time the author remembers to throw in some astrological reference it makes me burst out laughing.
We have a new entry in the “just how craptacular can these “friends” be” category:
Marla frowned, but for some reason Kevin smiled slightly. “Should we tell her?” he asked. “Don’t you think it’s time she found out?”
“Found out what?” Linda asked, totally confused.
“Actually, Linda, Billy is on the boat,” Marla confessed. “Kevin and I helped him get back on board.” (p. 132)
Their reason for this is that he asked for their help, and they never thought he was a maniac. HE POISONED LINDA AND KILLED TOMMY.
Kevin leaned toward Linda and put a hand on her knee. “What harm did we do, really?” (p. 133)
Linda sets a trap, preparing her cabin for a date and leaving Billy a note (at Kevin’s cabin) that says Dinner at eight. Don’t be late. Love, Linda. Okay, but I would have gone with “have the captain arrest Kevin for freeing a prisoner and demand that he turn Billy in.”
She wears her sexiest outfit, a floor length pink gown, and Billy shows up in a tuxedo. He’s definitely the best dressed stowaway. When she uncovers his plate there are a hundred cockroaches there, which raise so many questions for me about WHAT THE HELL and also WHERE DID YOU EVEN GET THOSE, YOU’RE ON A BOAT.
She ties him to a chair and goes to get the captain (and Carol, who must literally be living with him at this point because she sure as hell wasn’t in the room while Linda set up the cockroaches). When they get back, Billy has escaped, and the Captain sees the cockroaches, and neither of them quite believe Linda this time.
Linda goes prowling around the deck alone, looking for Billy. He’s at the very top of the mast at the prow of the boat, thirty feet above deck, so she…climbs up with him. JFC.
He asks her to marry him and she says yes, if hell come down and back her up by telling everyone what happened. But he says no, and leaps off the platform, taking her with him.
Her long dress clung to her legs. As much as she hated to do it, Linda ripped the skirt from the dress, sacrificing it to the ocean. There was no way she could swim with it dragging her down. (p. 145)
As much as she hated to do it. Honestly, Linda, I’m impressed you can manage to care about a dress at this point.
They’re in the sea! Surrounded by sharks! Okay, two sharks, but two’s plenty.
Linda punches a shark in the nose. I repeat, Linda punches a shark in the nose. She knocks it unconscious.
Billy’s having trouble swimming, and she remembers him telling her he wasn’t a very good swimmer.
The shark stopped circling—and zeroed in. It charged. Billy let out a long wail. Linda froze. She had to do something! But what?
“Help!” Billy cried.
Linda watched in horror as Billy shot up high in the air. Then the shark sucked him down into the dark waters, and Billy disappeared. (p. 148)
I’m laughing so hard I’m in pain.
Linda gets pulled back on board, again. There’s some crying, and Carol and Jim comfort her. Then she heads back to her cabin alone, intending to take a hot shower, only there’s a bloody trail leading to her room…
The door flung open. Billy stood there, his face a pulpy mess.
At his feet was a mangled…thing. At first, Linda couldn’t tell what it was. But then she realized. The shark.
“That’s right, Linda,” Billy managed to say. An awful smile spread across his blood-soaked face. “I beat the shark—and I’ll beat you too.” (p. 151)
I really thought this was going to be the high point of this book. What the hell could top that? I’ll tell you what: shark throwing.
Linda shrieked as Billy hurled the shark carcass at her. The shark knocked Linda sideways. She fell to the ground, and Billy loomed over her. (p. 152)
He kidnaps her, again, and tries to force her to walk a plank he improvises somehow. Like, he literally sets it up in front of her, tying a board to the ship with the same ropes she used to capture him in her cabin. He’s obviously good with his hands, okay?
If he wasn’t such a pouting manipulative silent-treatment-giving manipulative bastard I’d kind of love him by now, to be honest. But he was, so no, even shark-tossing and woodwork can’t win me over now.
And then someone Billy calls “his accomplice” shows up, and it’s Justine. I can’t even muster an exclamation point. It was obviously always going to be Justine.
She’s wearing Linda’s ring, and claims to have gotten back with Billy. But, in a twist I’m too emotionally exhausted to appreciate at this point, Justine announces she wants her revenge against Billy.
Unfortunately that involves making both Billy and Linda walk the plank. This would have been a great moment for some girl-power loyalty, but no, she’s going to kill Linda too. You suck, Justine.
“Unfortunately for you, Linda. you’re a witness.” She shrugged, displaying her Sagittarian matter-of-factness. (p. 163)
Linda saves Billy with one hand when he nearly falls off the plank, and then punches Justine in the stomach with her other hand. Justine falls into the ocean, and doesn’t resurface. Linda hauls the nearly-unconscious Billy to safety.
Wait, is there time to squeeze in more astrology?
This time, Linda knew Billy wouldn’t harm her.
Even a Libra had to give up sometime.
“Leave it to a Capricorn to do the right thing,” he said, his eyelids fluttering open just an inch. “You should have let me die, Linda. Don’t you know you’ll live to regret it?” (p. 169)
And that’s how it ends.