The Sweet Revenge of Celia Door
When Celia Door starts high school, she emblazons her new moniker on her locker: Celia the Dark. The letters are cut out of newspapers, like a ransom note. This isn’t the kind of “Dark” that makes you cringe when someone trots out your old social media selfies. Celia’s Darkness is a shield. Middle school left her gutted, and the girl responsible had better watch her back; Celia is taking no prisoners. All she needs now is a sweet revenge plan.
"Celia is a different kind of outcast. She has spine to spare. But her toughness comes from pain, not confidence, so we know that she has some growing up to do before the novel ends."
THE SWEET REVENGE OF CELIA DOOR, Karen Finneyfrock’s first novel, begins on Celia’s first day of high school. When we meet Celia, she has already sworn to the Darkness and fixated on vengeance. Her aforementioned enemy, Sandy Firestone, sits next to her in English class. Little by little, Celia reveals her reasons for hating Sandy and her flunky, Mandy. (When chosen as Sandy’s number two, Mandy shortened her name from Amanda so that her name would rhyme with Sandy’s. We can practically hear Celia gag when she relates this information.) While Celia’s ultimate revelation of Sandy and Mandy’s crime aches with the tender hurt inflicted by such casual cruelty, bullying is not the only weight that Celia carries with her to high school. She is also dealing with the loss of a best friend and conflict between her parents. Sandy’s bullying makes her feel even more isolated than she already did, and Celia can never forgive her for it.
But high school might not be all bad. The new boy is cute, from New York and actually talks to Celia. This boy, Drake, tells her that her classmates just aren’t cool enough to understand her. Still, she is getting mixed messages about whether he wants to date her. They develop an intimate friendship based on mutual trust and support. Friendship between teens of different sexes does not often feature as a protagonist’s main relationship in young adult fiction, but Finneyfrock bucks this trend with great success. Celia’s friendship with Drake bears all of the pain, joy, doubt and comfort of any romance story. Aided by Drake’s newfound affection for a self-help author, the two of them embark on a quest to achieve their dreams. Celia says that her dream is to be a poet. Really, her dream is to get revenge, but she doesn’t tell Drake.
Poetry, though, would definitely be her second most important dream. Ever since her beloved eighth grade teacher told her that she had a gift for writing, Celia has been filling notebook after notebook with poems. She writes about everything from whales to chocolate (she lives in Hershey, Pennsylvania) to the intimate friendship she shares with Drake. She likes the expressive freedom of poetry, and she puts words together in just the right ways. She doesn’t worry about obfuscating her meaning behind elaborate metaphors, but instead just writes what she observes. She doesn’t try to rhyme, because every amateur tries to rhyme; Celia doesn’t want to sound like anyone else. Like Celia, Finneyfrock fell in love with poetry in high school and has since published two books of poetry. The poems she writes for Celia have all of the drama and immediacy that one would expect from a high school poet, but are also legitimately poignant. We believe that Celia has an ear for the poetic.
Her poetry tends to stay private, but Celia writes emails to her cousin, Dorathea, when she needs advice. Dorathea is a student at UC Berkeley, and boy, is she a student at UC Berkley. Her emails to Celia are touching and often funny because they are such a loving caricature-esque representation of the fiercely nonconformist, equality-hungry activist that intelligent college students often become, and whose idealistic qualities they hopefully retain after they receive their diplomas.
Perhaps the best quality of THE SWEET REVENGE OF CELIA DOOR is Celia Door herself. First of all, her name is like phonemic candy. Writers and linguists often say that “cellar door” is the most beautiful phrase in the English language. Celia’s name almost matches. “Cellar door” is a renowned phrase purely for its euphonious sound, and not for the material reality it describes. In reality, a door to a cellar is likely either unremarkable or rather dark and even dank. This is an interesting distinction in light of Celia’s revenge aspirations, around which she bases her identity: they sound grand and poetic, but are they really?
More importantly, Celia’s voice vivifies the familiar “mean girls” storyline. Enveloped in her armor of Darkness, she meets taunts with shouted retorts and rebuffs snide comments with kicks to the offender’s desk. We have read the story of the timid victim who learns to stand up for herself too often. Celia is a different kind of outcast. She has spine to spare. But her toughness comes from pain, not confidence, so we know that she has some growing up to do before the novel ends.
Reviewed by Caroline Osborn on December 21, 2012