Story collections like LOVE IS HELL allow readers to find some writing from such popular authors as Scott Westerfeld (PEEPS) and Melissa Marr (WICKED LOVELY) while waiting for their next books to be released, and it's an opportunity to sample new authors who will become favorites. Plus, this particular book benefits College Summit, a non-profit organization that helps school districts, especially in low-income areas, send more young people to college.
While there is already a lot to like here, the themes will be irresistible to fantasy and romance fans: Love is hard enough between humans, but what if you love someone who is not human or you live in a time where love is not allowed?
Laurie Faria Stolarz kicks off the collection with "Sleeping with the Spirit," in which Brenda can't explain why she keeps waking up in the middle of the night with bruises. Her family feels she's depressed over the move to a new house and high school, but she knows something even weirder is happening here. Brenda's new friends, Raina and Craig, tell her that a 17-year-old boy was murdered by his stepfather in her new house. Brenda finds information about the dead teen, Travis Slather, and realizes she's been dreaming about him. She begins falling for him and his beautiful blue eyes, though he's not haunting her just for romance. Travis needs her help so he can cross over, but Brenda knows he will go away forever if she assists him.
In "Stupid Perfect World," Scott Westerfeld introduces a future where teen bodies are totally regulated --- there are no hormonal imbalances, sleep isn't needed, diseases don't exist, and passion and intensity are absent. Kiernan is supposed to do something "old-fashioned" for his Scarcity class, so he chooses to sleep every night, which no one has ever needed to do. Maria, another student, decides to go off the hormonal regulator to feel her body's natural urges and needs. Neither thinks the two weeks of the assignment will be a big deal, until Maria starts becoming insulted more easily and actually yells. And Kiernan begins experiencing dreams like he never imagined he could. The two argue and realize that other feelings are emerging in this humorous romance.
Justine Larbalestier, in "Thinner Than Water," brings readers to a primitive time when girls like Jean, who may want to go to college, are forced instead either to handfast to a boy from the village or work for her family bakery forever. Jean dreams of being a doctor, yet when the handsome and almost magical Robbie asks her to handfast, she agrees. The village doesn't like Robbie, saying he's from the fairy world, but Jean loves him and enjoys studying and living simply with him. When her family takes him away, Jean tries to escape the village, only to be stopped. Her broken heart numbs her even as she handfasts to another boy who is not interested in women. They join forces in an effort to leave the village when Jean suddenly is offered another wrenching choice and must decide which world is her future.
In Gabrielle Zevin's "Fan Fictions, Paige thinks no one can really see her in her high school. Tired of being the second choice for dates to dances, or the friend of girls whose best friends have just moved away, she starts hiding in the school library when the librarian practically forces her to read THE IMMORTALS. A handsome boy with violet eyes begins talking to her about the book. They become friends and then more, but Aaron only comes to her house or the library and has never expressed an interest in seeing her family or friends. When Paige asks him to go to a dance, he says he can't because of a secret; some make fun of her, saying she has a made-up boyfriend. The school librarian continues to hound Paige, urging her to join a book club. When she hears the group talk about THE IMMORTALS, Paige realizes the plot sounds very familiar. She knows Aaron is real --- what else would he be?
Selchies come to life from the sea in "Love Struck" by Melissa Marr. Alana doesn't know that by picking up a fur from a man at the beach when she was cold, they have now becomes betrothed. Murrin had been watching her for a while and knew she was his mate, but she can't accept it. It all seems like something from her grandmother's stories. He quietly persists in getting to know her, and they fall for each other. But their differences may force them apart, as Alana doesn't want to pull Murrin from his home in the sea forever and they struggle to be together, in this sweet fantasy love story.
Many magical twists on love and heartbreak appear in these five selections. While short, each of the stories is unique and memorable in their creative settings. Fans of vampire tales, romance, fantasy and science fiction will find plenty to enjoy in LOVE IS HELL.
--- Reviewed by Amy Alessio