Not your typical teen saga: a fresh start with a new town, new school, new friends….and murder?

Lauren Myracle. Bliss. New York: Amulet Books, 2008.
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“I’m trying to say that this period of life which we all go through, the teenage period is a very frightening time.”
--Miss Helen Crump, Opie’s teacher and Andy Taylor’s girlfriend

Imagine you just moved from a commune to a preparatory high school. Culture shock, right? Now, continue imagining all the differences you would stumble upon while exploring this new world called high school. One might envision the differences involve changes of fashion, hygiene, and boy and girl interaction; but, do your creative thoughts include the evils of segregation, mystery of the occult and cold-blooded murder? Probably not. But, for Bliss Inthemorningdew that is exactly what happens during her horrifying and unpredictable transition. Lauren Myracle writes a horror novel that is sure to scare—or at least disturb—one’s ideas of typical high school girls. She bases the plot around the popular, perfect princesses, outcasts, newbies and adds an unusual aspect—voices from the ‘world unseen.’

Bliss finds herself abandoned by her hippie parents—who flee to Canada—and force her to live with her stuffy, conservative Grandmother, who believes her free-spirited daughter is a disgrace. She finds herself having to attend Crestview middle school; a traditional school with a disturbing history. Bliss hears of tale of a young girl, Liliana, who decided to take her own life and jump from the third floor. Unfortunately, she can hear the spirit of the departed and deranged Liliana who is mysteriously trying to contact her.

Additionally, she struggles with her attempts to figure the high school hierarchy. She faces foreign concepts like popularity, crushes and “majority meanness” projected to outcasts. At first, she is assigned her “peer-mentor” and Crestview admired, Sara Lynn Lancaster, but is quick to dislike her after being dismissed and passed off to another mentor. Instead, Bliss befriends a large, opinionated and down-trotted girl named Sandy Lear, who seems misunderstood and lonely. However, as time passes and the girls share their secrets, Bliss begins to realize much more lies behind the physical exterior and first impressions of Sandy Lurlene Lear and Sara Lynn Lancaster.

Myracle brilliantly includes excerpts of The Andy Griffith show, snippets of the Manson murder trials and other pieces from significant historical events to display the contrast between innocence and violence that co-exist in Bliss’s world. She even keeps the reader enthralled by allowing diary entries to be the dramatic insight to another character’s twisted thoughts and plans. The novel keeps you guessing, dragging along with Bliss in a tangled web of unpredictability and creepily, bizarre situations. Things get sticky, overly-awkward and pressure to choose friends over friends becomes suffocating. Bliss’s morals are called into question and she realizes she must put herself in harm’s way to save another—but, she fails to recognize the power of “unseen” forces.

Recommendations for Teachers
There are many aspects of Bliss that would probably make teachers think twice before using it in their classroom. This book, listed for ages 14 and up, deals with several very “grown up” issues such as murder, the supernatural, the occult, and segregationamong others.

Murder and blood is a theme seen throughout the book. There are many mentions of Charles Manson, his “family” and the murders they committed in 1969. While this can sometimes be a difficult and heated topic in a classroom, you could tie in a history lesson and have the students investigate the murders and the subsequent trial and report on their findings and feelings. Another main theme in this book is racial segregation. Here is another wonderful opportunity to tie in a history lesson and have the students learn more about segregation.

Our overall consensus is that while student may find this book very intriguing and exciting (as we did), it deals with controversial issues that they may not be mature enough for yet (such as the supernatural and the occult).

Helpful sites for teachers:
Lesson Plans on Segregation - This site contains suggestions and possible teaching plans for teaching students about segregation.
Censorship in Education - This takes you to an educator's guide to censorship.
Teaching Controversial Topics - This website is for teachers to help them when trying to teach their student a controversial topic.

About Lauren Myracle
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Lauren Myracle was born on May 15th 1969 in Brevard, North Carolina. She received her degree in English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, her Masters from Colorado State University, and her MFA for Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College. Her first young adult novel, Kissing Kate which is about a young girl's conquest through love and her own sexuality, was published when she was 30 years old, ten years after she had originally began the novel. Not only was Kissing Kate her first novel, the book acheived a, ALA Best Books For Young Adults in the year 2004 and "Top Ten Youth Romances".

A few of her most known novels are the best sellers, ttfn, ttyl, and l8tr, g8tr which are written in instant messenger format. When asked why she chose the instant messenger route, Myracle's response was, "My darling editor and I were reminiscing about how different our lives were than the lives of girls today. Meaning, We'd come home and get on the phone and gossip about who wore what, who was crushing on whom, etc. But now, girls come home and do that same gossiping on the internet..."

Multimedia (Video or Audio)

In this short video Lauren Myracle talks about book censorship and
addresses some of the adverse reactions to her novel Bliss and its unexpected ending. She explains some of inspirations behind the darker theme of her writing in Bliss including Stephen King and her experiences teaching middle school students.

Additional Resources:
10-15 links pointing to credible and relevant information about the author, the work, its critical reception, or the teaching of it. You may further categorize these with subheadings. Each link should have a brief tag describing the resource, as in:
  • Milkweed: A Teacher's Guide - Newspaper In Education (NIE) Teacher's Guide to Milkweed; Complete with chapter questions, response activities, and additional resources
  • Jerry Spinelli Home Page - Check out the artist's official site where you can contact him directly, check out the FAQs, or find out if he will be coming to your city on a scheduled tour!
  • The Andy Griffith Show - This site tells you everything you ever wanted to know about The Andy Griffith Show.

--Tiffany Callaghan, Katie Jesser, Kylie McCollum, and Tori Smith
-- Links to our other reviews: Melvin Burgess's Doing It.