by Stephen King
Reading level: A
Book type: prose novel
Carrie White may have been unfashionable and unpopular, but she had a gift. Carrie could make things move by concentrating on them. A candle would fall. A door would lock. This was her power and her sin. Then, an act of kindness, as spontaneous as the vicious taunts of her classmates, offered Carrie a chance to be normal and go to her senior prom. But another act--of ferocious cruelty--turned her gift into a weapon of horror and destruction that her classmates would never forget.
(synopsis from Goodreads)
Before I read Carrie, I had yet to read a full-length novel by Stephen King. I chose this one because it was shorter (and a little less intimidating) than some of his newer books. I wasn't quite sure what to expect... but I came away pleasantly surprised. While this might be a short book, it's long on story and holds an important message that, unfortunately, our society has yet to grasp... more than forty years later.
Please, dear author, I want some more...
The story is told in a way that, at first glance, might seem like it kills all the suspense. The main narrative, which jumps around between various characters, is interspersed with book excerpts and transcripts of the commission that looked into the whole Carrie White affair. So, almost from the beginning, we know that something terrible happens in the town of Chamberlain. We know Carrie is responsible for it. We know that many of the characters we're introduced to will not survive prom night. And we know all this because the author tells us! Funnily enough, that doesn't ruin the sense of anticipation or make the reader less interested in the rest of the story. In fact, I actually grew more curious as the book went on. What, exactly, happened? Why did it happen? And how would it all end?
The way the high school dynamics are portrayed makes it clear that the author was familiar with teenagers. The teen characters come across as complex and flawed and real. Some of the adults, on the other hand, are a little bit weaker... but that's not too much of an issue since most of this book focuses on the kids. There are the decent kids like Sue and Tommy, who are intelligent and introspective. There are the not-so-decent kids like Chris and Billy, who are irredeemable villains; the latter comes across as a sociopath. Carrie's mother is deliciously twisted, and provides a number of WTF moments in the narrative. Carrie herself is a pathetic sort of character, but one you can't help but empathize with. And that, I think, is sort of the point.
At its heart, underneath the paranormal trappings, this is a story about bullying, and the effects it has on both the bullied and the bully. While there are some adult situations and language that would keep this from ever being classed as a purely young adult title, the overall theme of the story is an important one, and I wouldn't mind seeing this book on high-school reading lists... or as required reading for kids who are caught bullying others.
It's all a matter of taste...
This book was published in 1974. It's about events that supposedly happened in 1979, which is an interesting choice; I'd like to know why King chose to set his book a few years in the future. In any case, the fact that the book was written in the 1970s leads to it seeming a bit dated. Nobody has cell phones, people still listen to vinyl LPs, making a five-figure salary means you're doing well, racial slurs are acceptable in day-to-day conversation, smoking is allowed in schools, and the accepted way to stop a female from crying is to slap her in the face (unfortunately, I'm not kidding). Reading such a book in the twenty-first century is a bit of an eye-opening experience, but it's also kind of a neat history lesson.
I'm also not sure if I've just been affected by some of the ultra-violent movies, TV shows, and books that are around today... but I didn't find this book to be all that scary. Not Carrie and what she did, anyway. What's really scary is that the events that led to her rampage are just as plausible and possible today; bullying hasn't gone away. If anything, it's gotten worse. If Carrie lived in 2015, the shower-room incident would've been plastered all over social media before the incident itself had even ended.
Let's get technical...
There were a few typos, but no more than I've seen in some more recent books. I wasn't sure what to expect from King's writing, either; some say it's simplistic, others say it's just not that great. I found it to be perfectly acceptable, and in some places it was actually kind of beautiful. Carrie is not literary fiction... but it's a heck of a lot better in quality than some of my other recent reads.
This is a short, entertaining novel with a good underlying message. I really enjoyed it, and I would recommend it to older teen readers and adults (especially those who might be curious about Stephen King's books but who are too intimidated by his thousand-page titles).
"Girls can be cat-mean about that sort of thing, and boys don't really understand. The boys would tease Carrie for a little while and then forget, but the girls... it went on and on and on and I can't even remember where it started any more. If I were Carrie, I couldn't even face showing myself to the world. I'd just find a big rock and hide under it."
"You were kids," he said. "Kids don't know what they're doing. Kids don't even know their reactions really, actually, hurt other people. They have no, uh, empathy. Dig?"
Overall Rating: 4.13 out of 5 ladybugs