Cannonball Read V: Damned by Chuck Palahniuk

By Julia | Book Reviews | October 1, 2013 | Comments ()


damned-palahniuk.jpg

Chuck Palahniuk is weird. He wrote a Tarantino-esque revenge epic for chubby 13-year-old girls that 13-year-old girls should never be allowed to read. Damned is Judy Blume meets Dante Alighieri meets The Breakfast Club, and it is delightful.

Madison Spencer was the daughter of a movie star mother and producer father. She was never quite skinny enough or perfect enough for them to take her to award shows. But Madison was never bitter, she loved her parents. Even when they started adopting disadvantaged children for the media attention, even when her mother would tell the tabloids she still 8 years old, Madison remained positive, she is nothing if not an optimist. Madison Spencer died at the age of 13 from a marijuana overdose. It is only then that Madison starts to enjoy her life, even if she is in hell.

As Madison wakes up in hell, she meets other dead teenagers. There’s Babette the perky blond, Archer the punk rocker, Patterson the jock, and Leonard the nerd. They set off on a quest across hell, so Madison can plead with Satan that she belongs in heaven. On their journey, Madison has a chance to learn how hell works. Candy is hell’s currency. Practical leather shoes are a must (plastic will melt!) Telemarketing phone calls, yup, those are outsourced to hell. Stomachache? Those are just souls from hell communicating with the living. Don’t forget that a demon might eat you at any time, it may sting, but not to worry, your physical form will convalesce in due time.

I like weird more than I like good. Weird means new ideas. Weird means interesting characters. The writing in Damned isn’t on par with Steinbeck or Hemingway, sure, but it’s unique, and it’s fun to read. Damned is an easy read, but it’s not exactly mindless. It appears Palahniuk has put in some solid research into demonology (I didn’t stop to check for accuracy). He’s also put some research into coming-of-age tales for prepubescent girls. He just decided to write one with a lot of graphic gore and sex. As our gang comes to the end of their journey, Madison becomes a force of nature, she becomes powerful in spirit, a trait we all wish we could have had at 13. The idea that every 13-year-old girl has a strength within them not dictated by their appearance, parents, or peers is a great one, unfortunately Damned was made for an older audience, so all it offers is catharsis rather than a practical guide. It’s a chance to let any bitterness we have hung onto from our adolescence melt away to replace it with optimism, just like Maddy Spencer.

So I’ll take weird. Strange is fun. Unique is good. This book was made for those of us who had an awkward adolescence, those of us who wish that they could go back in time and kick some bully ass. Read Damned, and live that tale of vengeance through little Maddy Spencer who goes to hell and has the time of her life. Watch her thunder thighs become the sturdy base of her power, watch as her chubby arms break Hitler’s face in, and watch her rampage across hell towards her final showdown with Satan. This is a book with no adolescent whining, no self-pity; it’s a tale of vengeance, and it’s a good one. Damned is the first part in a series, and I’m looking forward to reading the rest.

This review is part of the volunteer Cannonball Read V. Read all about it , and find more of Julia’s reviews on the group blog.

(Note: Any revenue generated from purchases made through the amazon.com affiliate links in this this review will be donated in entirety to the American Cancer Society.)



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  • Ben

    I'm a big fan of Phalaniuk but this one just kind of bored me. The book spent so long of just, kind of nothingness happening. Then it started to get good and suddenly finished. Hopefully the next ones will continue on from the quality of the end of the book.

  • Jo 'Mama' Besser

    I haven't read it but I did not hear good things about this book when it was released. I was just interested in seeing what someone who had actually read it or was more familiar with him that I am thought. I don't think I'm in his wheelhouse. When I finally saw Fight Club (which isn't exactly fair--to judge the film exclusively), I was less than underwhelmed and I don't think it was because of the hype.

  • Ben

    Fight Club was surprisingly one of his weaker books. And yeah the movie is pretty significantly different. Choke while not as good as a movie was a far better book. Lullaby is probably my favorite by him.

  • Jo 'Mama' Besser

    Maybe I'll check him out. Thanks for the info!

  • Ben

    You'll need a strong stomach. You've been fore warned.

  • The Mama

    Sounds...weird, like you said, but definitely sounds like something I need to add to my must read list. Anything that is Judy Blume meets the Breakfast Club set in hell is for me.

  • Can you die from a pot overdose? Or, rather, how much pot do you have to smoke before you overdose?

  • Ben

    That's actually one of the big things about the book, it does explain it but to say much more would ruin it.

  • John W

    Sounds interesting. I'll have to read it sometime.

  • Jiffylush

    I am familiar with his work so just seeing his name should have clued me into the fact that this would be in no way appropriate for children but for some reason I hoped that this would be something I could get for my soon to be 12 year old daughter. Probably worth noting that I try to read some of the same things my kids read so we can enjoy them together. Ender's Game, Hunger Games, Harry Potter, The Hobbit, etc.

    So I found this a little disappointing but really that is my fault.

    "The idea that every 13-year-old girl has a strength within them not dictated by their appearance, parents, or peers is a great one, unfortunately Damned was made for an older audience, so all it offers is catharsis rather than a practical guide."

    I like my kids to read books with strong young female leads, or at least characters, that aren't "for girls" and there aren't a lot of them.

    It seems like there has been a bit of a Twilight backlash or at least writers and publishers can now see that a good book with a strong female lead (hunger games) doesn't only appeal to girls. Hopefully the trend will continue.

  • bastich

    I recommend Terry Pratchett's "Tiffany Aching" books (the first book is "The Wee Free Men"). It's a smart and funny fantasy series centered around a strong young female protagonist.

  • Wednesday

    Anything by Nancy Farmer, esp. Sea of Trolls. Very strong female characters even when they're not the protagonists. I love all her books and read them to my daughter when she was just a bit younger. Warning: the first chapters are usually a little slow, but after that, the plots are breakneck-fast and extremely engaging.

  • mswas

    Have you considered The Book Thief for you and your daughter?

  • Jiffylush

    I haven't but it looks like that will be on the birthday list, thanks very much!

  • Al Borland's Beard

    Only one more week for the sequel!

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