I really struggled to assign a grade for this book. While author April Lindner succeeds in her goal to retell the Emily Bronte classic Wuthering Heights in a modern, Young Adult setting, I can’t say that I liked Catherine. Truth told, I’ve never liked the original on which it was based but I had hoped to gain an appreciation for Wuthering Heights by reading this modern spin. Instead, I found that I had the same problems with character and love story, only in a different century and setting.
Seventeen-year-old Chelsea Price believed that her mother, Catherine, died when Chelsea was a toddler because that’s what Chelsea’s father had always told her. But when Chelsea finds a letter Catherine wrote many years ago, she discovers that, in fact, Catherine left her young family and disappeared, her fate unknown to anyone. Thinking that Catherine might still be alive, Chelsea uses the return address on the letter’s envelope to follow her mother’s trail to New York City, specifically to The Underground, a punk rock club famous for launching bands on to the musical scene.
There she meets Cooper, a young man who works at the club and promises to introduce Chelsea to the current owner, Hence. Hoping that Hence might have information about Catherine, Chelsea is disappointed to find him surly and abrasive. While he’s not happy to meet her, especially once he finds out who her mother is, Hence lets Chelsea stay in an apartment above the club. She’s thrilled to discover that this is where her mother once lived. Even better, while exploring Catherine’s books, Chelsea finds her mother’s hidden journal, and she uses the clues it contains to hunt down the truth of what really happened to Catherine.
Catherine Ebersole’s father owns The Underground, and she’s used to musicians who come and go. The night Hence arrives with nothing more than a guitar and a painful past, Catherine is intrigued. She convinces her father to give Hence a job and a place to stay in the club’s basement. Hence is quiet and brooding, but as they spend more time together, Catherine and Hence fall deeply in love. When Hence auditions for and secures a gig as the front man of the up and coming band, Riptide, his future looks bright. But Catherine had always planned to attend Harvard. Before she can convince Hence that they can both follow their dreams and still be together, Hence overhears a conversation that gives him the wrong idea about what Catherine truly wants. Angry and hurt, Hence lashes out in a way that forever changes the course of their lives.
Told in first-person, alternating chapters between Chelsea and Catherine, their stories are set twenty years apart but intertwine in such a way as to paint a doomed love story and a modern-day mystery. This format keeps the pace moving, although at the end, Lindner employs some pretty iffy exposition techniques to convey the answers to what happened to Catherine.
Chelsea is naïve and irresponsible in a way that almost exceeds the excuse of her youth. She determines to pursue every avenue to find her mother even when common sense would say that she’s entering dangerous territory, her actions bringing her perilously close to TSTL. Too, she’s run away from home and refuses to call her father, justifying this parental torture on the fact that he’d lied to her about Catherine’s death. This insensitivity might be true to form for a teenager, but it made it hard to like the girl.
Hence is not likeable in the least. While he starts off with potential as a mysterious young man with a tragic past, his reaction to Catherine’s supposed betrayal went so far beyond the pale that any sympathy I might have felt for him disappeared. He treats Chelsea with open hostility, which I found odd given that Chelsea is a part of the woman he loved so much. The ending of the story offers him a chance of redemption, but for me it came too little too late.
Of the main characters, Catherine proved to be the only truly likeable person. However, knowing that she abandoned her husband and baby daughter with the intention of renewing her relationship with Hence cast a pall on her character. Still, I appreciated that she was not willing to sacrifice her own dreams to follow Hence even though her love for him was so strong.
Cooper is presented as a love interest for Chelsea, but for much of the story he remained so fearful of Hence that he never developed into a fully dimensional character. Their relationship rang a bit hollow because their interactions were minimal until the very end.
Because the reader is privy to information about how things ultimately turned out, watching Hence and Catherine’s love story unfold felt like watching a train wreck about to happen. The way that their relationship implodes – a combination of a Big Misunderstanding and Hence’s over-the-top reaction – destroys any sense of star-crossed tragedy. Rather than soul mates torn apart by circumstances beyond their control, their inevitable ending was simply ugly and unfortunate.
Ultimately, I think that if you are a fan of Wuthering Heights, you will enjoy Catherine as a reasonably well-done modern retelling of the story. I found the love stories and characters a little too dark for my liking just as I had in the original.