by Natasha Preston
“ Four vases sat proudly on the side table behind the dining table and chairs; one held roses, one violets, one poppies.
The fourth was empty. “
Natasha Preston began her writing career on an online platform called Wattpad – and I hate to say it, but it shows.
I try not to judge books by their cover and in keeping with the trend, I try not to judge authors by their bios. But when Preston boasts ” I stumbled into writing completely by accident. I was searching the ‘app store’ and came across Wattpad – an amateur writing site,” the writer in me cannot help but be offended. She stumbled upon a site, threw some stuff against the wall, and as luck would have it – for her – some stuck.
One of the books that stuck relatively well was The Cellar.
The title gives you a great understanding as to what the book is about. While the storyline was not original, I was willing to give it a shot. A $2 book found in clearance by a NY Times bestselling author can’t be that bad, right?
A mentally deranged psychopath kidnaps women and keeps them trapped down in his cellar. He visits a few times a day to spend time with his hostages, and every once in a while, brings another woman down with him – to kill. I feel like I’ve heard all this before. . . oh, wait –
Not too long ago, my daughter and I saw the movie Split, starring the enormously talented James McAvoy. The storyline is extremely similar, and so I think my expectations for this book were a little high, as the film was highly entertaining. I also figured if a story is so good that it is been plucked off of a highly-rated website and subsequently mass produced as a published work, then I figured it must be worth reading, right?
I rarely consider leaving a book unfinished. I have this thing within me that forces me to finish all things that I begin. Call it a compulsion, call it a control issue (as I have many), but I have to end something before I can begin something else. And this book almost made me quit in the middle, which is something I’m not sure I can forgive it for. I really disliked this book. And I think I disliked it so much because I felt like it bamboozled me. The first 30 pages or so were not the best quality of words, but there was definitely an element of “becoming hooked.” I’ve learned that expecting stellar writing styles from YA authors is a little unfair, and in my opinion, the same can be said of thriller writers. Thriller writers are there to get you into and through the story/mystery in a fast-paced manner because typically, there is just a lot going on while the person or persons tries to solve the crime or is involved in the crime. There isn’t a whole lot of fluff, especially if the book is not a part of a series. But one thing that YA authors consistently do well is character development, and that is something that I really love. I am a fan of detail and elaborations, and YA authors love to give it to their readers. A lot of focus is given on characters so that the focus of the young reader tends to stick; young readers are more visual retainers, and as such, they need detail. The storylines are typically not deep – although there are exceptions – but I can look beyond that and appreciate a good YA novel for what it is.
Not so much with this book, on either front. As I said earlier, I felt as if I’d read and seen this plot many times before. It wasn’t original in the least. Again, I could look past that if the author gave me something. . . and the character development? Forget it. I couldn’t tell you what anyone in the entire story looks like, what their hopes and dreams were, or even their last name. I was annoyed that the book hooked me quickly with the action of the main character being kidnapped, her boyfriend on the hunt to find her, and her realization that she was now stuck in a basement with three other mysterious women. But as the pages were turned, chapter after chapter, the book became a monotonous monologue of “Oh my God, like, I hate it down here so much” and I wanted to throw this book out of the window.
Teenagers are not stupid, and a)writing them like they are and b)assuming that they are, as a reader, really pisses me off.
Colin grew up the son of a single mother, his father having been banished from his only son’s life when he was caught in bed with another woman. As a product of a broken home via adultery, Colin has come to hate women and crave family, even more now that his mother has passed away. His twisted solution to this is to create his own family by kidnapping women and holding them hostage in his fortified basement, where they will serve him meals, entertain him with Movie Nights, and generally listen to his day to day grievances. Occasionally he uses these women for sexual gratification, but only after he’s fallen in love with them and only on a very strict schedule (cue rolling of the eyes).
He also combats his childhood issues by murdering women that he feels are of a certain persuasion. There seems to be literally no shortage of prostitutes in his neighborhood and he goes out several times a week, picks one up, brings her home, and then murders her with a pen-knife in the basement in front of his “family.” Yes, you read that right – a pen-knife. That is his only weapon of choice (seriously, no other weapons whatsoever in this novel) and one that he uses to murder women with one stab. Yes, just the one. I have no idea what type of neighborhood Colin lives in that he is surrounded by prostitutes, but. . . there you have it. He must also be one lucky stabber, because it only takes one jab in the gut to kill the women he brings down to the cellar.
“Loneliness was like a terminal disease. With every passing day you faded just that little bit more. I had felt as if I were dying for the past four years and I’d had enough. Combing my hair one last time, I slid my wallet in my black pocket and picked up my keys. The girls’ room was finished and had been for three days now. There was just one thing missing before I would be ready for them — their clothes.
On the way to the department store, I stopped off at my local florist to buy a bunch of yellow tulips for my mother. They were her favorite. I never liked them, but I appreciated their natural beauty and purity. “
Sometimes the women in his “family” act up or smart off, and when this happens, they get smacked around or pricked with the dreaded pen-knife. On occasion, he accidentally kills one of his family members and then has to replace her. He has this weird thing about needing four women in the basement at any given time – a Lily, Rose, Violet, and a Poppy. He keeps flowers representing each woman in a plastic vase on the table, and when one of these flowers dies, the woman counterpart gets a beating. As you can imagine, this happens quite a bit, as the flowers are cut and deprived of all sunlight. I’m sure there is some deeper meaning here, but it’s beyond me.
After he kills a “Lily,” he begins the hunt for a new one. He finds 16-year old Summer in a park on her way to a party. Why she is wandering around out at night alone, I have zero clue, but I do know that she can’t believe her boyfriend let her leave the house unattended. The reason I know this is because the author reminds the reader of this fact no less than 10 times, via Summer and her boyfriend’s point of view. Colin kidnaps Summer and throws her down in the cellar, where she spends the first few days cowering in fear and wishing she could see her boyfriend again. Not her mother, her father, or her brother. . . just her boyfriend.
She took a few steps toward me, still holding out her hand as if she honestly expected me to take it. ‘Come on, Lily, it’s okay.’ I didn’t move. I couldn’t. She took another step. My heart raced in panic, and I pressed my back farther into the wall, trying to get away from her. What did they want from me?
‘I — I’m not Lily. Please tell him, please? I’m not Lily. I need to get out. Please help me,’ I begged., backing up the rest of the stairs until I came to the door. Turning, I slammed my fists against the metal, ignoring the pain that shot through my wrists. “
Several flashbacks of Summer and her boyfriend Lewis are actually quite sweet. He is her brother Henry’s best friend, and as such, he’s been involved in her life for a few years. The only engaging parts of this novel involved Lewis, and I enjoyed reading about their innocent progression from being friends to falling in love; with the exception of one (very, very mild) sex scene, it’s all very above board. There is only one other sex scene, and it is between Summer and her captor, but again it is very mild (basically showing a scene before the incident, and a scene after. No in-between).
Summer spends the entirety of her captivity trying to escape, obviously. Why she and the other three women don’t band together and beat the you-know-what out of Colin is glossed over a bit and explained rather poorly. In fact, there are so many literary discrepancies in this book, it made my head hurt. The plot holes and writing style in this book were at times so difficult to bear, I had to force myself to plow through this book so I would be sure to actually finish it. I truly believe I’ve read better developed and written stories by 12-year olds.
The point of view begins to change about halfway through the book, becoming a combination of Summer-Lewis-Colin. I found Lewis to be the most interesting character in this entire book, and his quest to hunt Summer down is admirable and heroic, and something teenage girls will be sure to swoon over. He never gives up (and he’ll tell you about 500 times so you don’t forget – he is not giving up!) and of course, there is a very happy ending. Summer is thrilled to be reunited with not her mother, her father, or her brother – but her boyfriend!
I give The Cellar 2 out of 5 stars, and I am being generous. I only give The Cellar those two stars because of Lewis. Seriously. I am appalled by the 4 out of 5 star rating on Goodreads, and I have no idea what book they were reading because it obviously wasn’t this one. As a fan of the YA genre, I’ve read a lot of it, and I don’t appreciate authors who dumb things down for that audience. But I’m guessing that Preston didn’t dumb anything down on purpose; the bio she wrote about herself leaves a lot to be desired and her follow up to The Cellar has so many typos that it’s embarrassing. I suspect her style is just sloppy, uninformed, and shallow. If your child has read any of Natasha Preston’s work, has actually enjoyed it and wants to read more, I would recommend this book for any reader ages 13 and up (unless they are mature). The kidnapping is a bit scary, as is the murdering, and of course there are the two suggestive sex scenes.
And if you just have to have more – there is a sequel on Wattpad entitled You’ll Always Be Mine. I won’t be reading it.