When I chose this book as one of the two reads I’d bring with me to Greece, it may have seemed to anyone else like a deliberate choice; however, I’d picked it simply because it was an e-book on my Nook that I hadn’t read yet, and I wanted to be able to bring only my Nook to save space. Truth is, I’d completely forgotten about the one thing that attracted me to this novel from the beginning—aside from, of course, the fact that it’s written by the lovely and talented Cait Reynolds: Downcast is a retelling of the Greek myth of Hades and Persephone.
(By the way, who else is in love with this cover?)
I took a Greek Mythology class in college and by far, the story of Hades and Persephone is one of my favorites. For those unfamiliar, it goes something like this: Persephone, daughter of the goddess Demeter, was picking flowers in a field when she was dragged to the underworld by Hades. Demeter, the goddess of agriculture and fertility, went into an agonized rage at her daughter’s disappearance and refused to return to Olympus; as a result, nothing could grow on earth. After a year of famine, Zeus summoned Hermes to collect Persephone, but not before she had eaten six pomegranate seeds in the underworld. Anyone who ate the food of the underworld must remain there, but if the famine continued, humankind would be eliminated—and so a compromise was struck. Persephone would spend 6 months in the underworld with Hades, and 6 months amongst the living with her mother, thus creating the cycles of the seasons as her mother lapsed in and out of despair.
Reynolds does a great job of weaving this story into a contemporary high school setting. She leaves mythological Easter eggs throughout the story that will send any mythology buff clapping with glee, and creates pretty impressive tension amongst oppressed good girl Stephanie Starr; her domineering and overly possessive mother; and the new tall, dark, and handsome boy at school, Haley. Stephanie is a relatable character regardless of how strict (or not) the reader’s upbringing was, and I found myself flying through the pages in hopes she’s be given some relief. I cheered when she rebelled, swooned when Haley wooed her, and laughed when Haley’s hunky brother Zack acted out. Overall, it was an exciting and quick read, and I was happy to have it with me while in the birthplace of the myths that inspired it.
I’d say that probably the only qualm I had with this story, resulting in a 4-star rating instead of a 5-star, is Haley’s behavior in the beginning. It seems the lines of consent and boundaries are blurred as he touches Stephanie without her permission, time and time again, upon just meeting her. I understood that he was meant to be a bit of a dark and tortured character, being a representation of Hades, but it took me a while to warm up to him as a romantic character when he was constantly invading her personal space in a way that struck real fear in her. I got the sense that the reader was supposed to find him charming and fall in love with him along with Stephanie, but for the first half of the book, I couldn’t help but think her warming feelings toward him were a result of her sheltered naiveté—that she wouldn’t have felt that way had she not been so desperate for a man’s affection and an escape from mother’s oppressive grasp.
That being said, that single qualm did not greatly affect my enjoyment of the story. Downcast is a fun, fast-paced read that I’d recommend to anyone who enjoys Greek mythology and contemporary high school YA. From what I understand, Cait is working on a sequel, and I can’t wait!