Title: Under My Skin
Author: Zoe Markham
Publication Date: 31 March 2015
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Inside we are all monsters…
Chloe was once a normal girl. Until the night of the car crash that nearly claimed her life. Now Chloe’s mother is dead, her father is a shell of the man he used to be and the secrets that had so carefully kept their family together are falling apart.
A new start is all Chloe and her father can hope for, but when you think you’re no longer human how can you ever start pretending?
The perfect read for fans of British horror and haunting gothic novels
**Please note that there are spoilers in this review**
As the story opens, we know there is something a bit different about 17 year old Chloe Jones, a.k.a. Chloe Gardener. In some ways she’s a lot like a normal teenager – impatient, rebellious and quick-tempered - yet the reader immediately knows that there is more to the story. Chloe is living a solitary life, forced to hide from the outside world with only her father for company. The blinds are kept tightly shut, the portable heaters are on at full pelt and she has an insatiably hunger for meat….
The cleverly written opening chapters give little information away and allows the author to create an immediate air of suspense as we are introduced to Chloe. The slow start gives the reader the chance to get to know Chloe's inner thoughts before we fully understand why she faces such struggles. The tale then gradually unfolds as little titbits of information build up until the reader understands the true horror of Chloe’s situation.
Under My Skin is a cleverly told loose re-imagining of Frankenstein made into a contemporary YA tale. After a horrific car crash, Chloe’s scientist father uses some ground-breaking scientific advances to bring Chloe back to life. Death, however, has changed her. She is no longer an ordinary teen and she no longer looks like an ordinary teen. With her father’s former employer (a shady government department) after them, her father in his lab trying to recreate the ‘vaccine’ that will keep her alive and with Chloe looking like the undead, nothing about their new life is ‘normal’.
Under My Skin is very relevant to teen/young-adult literature as the underlying theme is really of relationships and acceptance – issues that virtually everyone struggles with at some point throughout their teenage years. It explores how people perceive differences between them and where that line lies between what differences are deemed acceptable and which are not. Chloe is confined to a life of isolation out of necessity. However, despite a broken body and a damaged mind, Chloe is still a teen and craves a normal life where she can go to school, make friends and meet boys. She is lonely and she just wants to fit in. What Chloe does not realise is that her isolation also protects her, not just the evil government agents who are looking for them, but it also cocoons her from the heartbreak that can come from being ‘different’ to her peers. Will Chloe every truly be ‘normal’ again? She is dreaming of a future, something which may not exist for her anymore.
Under My Skin also proves to be an interesting example of the fractious relationship that often exists between teen and parent, with Chloe and her father frequently bickering as Chloe consistently tries to push against the boundaries he has set for her. In this case, that fractious relationship also expands further into issues of morality. Chloe’s father was working in a very morally questionable area when he suddenly finds himself in a position where his work could aid a member of his family. Is it right to experiment on people/animals in order to reach ground-breaking advances in science? Should he have brought Chloe back to life or should he have allowed her to die? Why did he choose to save Chloe and not her mother? Whilst her father clearly loves Chloe very much, as a reader I found myself questioning whether his underlying motive in bringing her back from the dead was love, guilt or simply experimentation? Does Chloe really understand and trust his motives?
This is a compelling tale which draws the reader in. Having the story told through the naïve eyes of a young narrator leads to a very honest and heart wrenching story. Chloe is a great character, she at times displays the insecurity and innocence of a child and then at other times displays the wisdom and boldness of an adult. It is fascinating to watch her develop from this insecure shell of a person to a girl who is once again able to face the public and become close to people, despite her doubts in her own sense of being. I was interested to note that Chloe feels an underlying sense of shame in being different from her peers. She worries about the colour of her skin, the scar, the possible scent of death lingering over her. She feels the need to hide her true self out of fear of rejection (as well as on her father's instructions).I found it interesting to witness how her struggles changed throughout the story from loneliness and isolation to having to mask her true self in order to fit in.
Under My Skin is dark, edgy and disturbing. It explores the grief of loss, the heartbreak of loneliness and the struggle of being ‘different’. A perfect choice for fans of YA literature who fancy reading something a bit unusual.
I’m not sure if a sequel is intended but personally I hope not. The ending came somewhat as surprise to me and I appreciated the ambiguous nature of it. I am happy for my own imagination to finish the tale.
About the Author
A full-time editor by day, Zoë writes furiously at night when her son's safely in bed and the coffee's on. She currently has two Young Adult novels published with Carina UK (Hapercollins) and two more due out late 2016 with Grimbold Books.
She likes her fiction dark and disturbing, and some of her favourite authors include Darren Shan, Stephen King, Derek Landy, Patrick Ness and Alexander Gordon Smith.
Zoë has a completely unfounded fear of mushrooms, and doesn't feel at all comfortable writing about herself in the third person. She also worries about boring you here before you've had a chance to check out her Books page, but if you'd like to know more, pop over and say hello on Twitter and she'll more than likely talk your ear off.