Pandora, only daughter of Prometheus, is not exactly the most popular maiden in school. So when she finds a box containing all the evils of the world, she figures there’d be no harm in taking it to school to show off…right? Of course, the box gets opened. Now Pandora has six months to travel the known world with her two best friends and her dog, collecting the plagues. That’d be bad enough if the gods weren’t using her for their own purposes…
I’m pretty sure I’ve expressed my lifelong love of Greek mythology on this blog before, and I recently mentioned that I was sick of Original Sin stories that didn’t attempt to reclaim Eve or Pandora, so when I spotted a book that appeared to do just that (and was 40% off at a bookstore that was going out of business), I snapped it right up.
Pandora Gets Jealous is not a book for purists. “Pandy” and her friends Alcie and Iole attend Athena Maiden Middle School, despite the fact that the ancient Greeks saw no reason to educate their girls. In fact, Hennesy draws as many parallels as she possibly can between ancient Greece and modern teenage girlhood: training girdles, diaries (well, Pandy’s is a talking wolfskin from Artemis, but the general idea applies), bacchanalias for the popular kids, braces. Mythological characters are sprinkled throughout (Helen of Sparta is, of course, one of the Mean Girls Pandy has to cope with), and family trees are futzed with for simplicity’s sake. For the most part, however, it works; if you can enjoy the “mythology” in Disney’s Hercules, you can enjoy Pandora Gets Jealous.
And Pandora is super-cute. It’s light and enjoyable, very teenage-girl without being demeaning or talking down to its audience, and the setting – mostly an Athens where at any moment you could stumble across a mythological hero or a god in disguise – is charming and fun. Pandy is likeable enough, albeit rather Everygirl-ish; I do kind of wish she had more personality. The writing style is clean and fresh, with beautiful descriptive passages and some wonderful turns of phrase, like “Pandy awoke just as Apollo dragged the sun free of the horizon line,” or Pandy and her father’s traditional good-bye: “Big time phileo, Dad.” “Me you more, my daughter.”
The main problem with Pandora is…well. The story of Pandora is that to punish mankind, Zeus and the other gods created a beautiful woman with insatiable curiosity, and gave her a box she was told never to open. Naturally, Pandora opened the box, and thus released a myriad of evils into the world. However, the Pandora of Pandora Gets Jealous is not particularly curious, which is a shame, because a protagonist constantly questioning the world around her would have been a delight to read. And she is perfectly aware of what is in the box and why she isn’t to open it.
But these are minor changes compared to the fact that she doesn’t actually deliberately open the box.
Seriously. She takes it to school, although she knows she shouldn’t, and she lets the Mean Girls hold it, although she knows she shouldn’t. The Mean Girls accidentally touch the seal, which starts to bubble and turns them into rhinoceroses, and Pandy grabs the box away, causing it to open. So, all right, she did some things she wasn’t supposed to do, but the whole point is that Pandora’s insatiable curiosity about the contents of the box causes her to open it despite the fact that she’s been told not to. Without that, her struggles to make reparations seem rather disproportionate to her crime. I think the story would have been far stronger had Pandy deliberately opened the box.
I’m also a bit uncomfortable with the treatment of adult women in the book, particularly mother figures. Prepubescent girls are all over the board – Pandy’s friend Iole is sweet, her friend Alcie is rather sharp-tongued, and the Mean Girls are, naturally, mean. But Pandy’s mother is distant, vain, and jealous of her daughter’s youth, their servant Sabina is kind of inconsistently harsh, and Hera, ultimate mother figure (or at least “head of the household” figure) of the ancient Greek canon, turns out to be the primary villain, for remarkably petty reasons. Finally, Jealousy turns out to be showI’m holding off judgment on this until I can read more of the series, but that’s a high incidence of antagonistic adult women/mother figures in a relatively short book.
Then there are a couple of lesser issues. I kind of feel like Iole and Alcie are weighing Pandora down on her journey; I’d prefer to read about her going solo. (I wish she didn’t have her magic seashells for talking to Prometheus for the same reason.) The plot itself kicked off weirdly late in the book; in a story ostensibly about Pandora finding Jealousy, she didn’t leave Athens until more than halfway through. And I feel that the book is better suited to first person than third, so much so that every time I picked it up after a pause in reading I was surprised that it was in third.
But overall I really enjoyed Pandora Gets Jealous. I liked Pandora, I liked the reclamation of her as a person first and foremost, and I liked her world. I liked her relationships with her father and her brother, and enjoyed the treatment of the gods (my favorites, Artemis, Hermes, and Athena, were all handled especially well), and I am very excited to read the next in the series, Pandora Gets Vain. But before Pandora gets vain, she gets four cupcakes.
Tags: Carolyn Hennesy