Cold Kiss by Amy Garvey is a Gothic YA novel published in 2011.
Glass Heart follows in the series.
What I find particularly well done in Cold Kiss is the backstory. The story follows the tragic misadventures of Wren, a teenaged girl who brought back her dead boyfriend Danny from the grave.
Using the backstory as an important element in a novel is always risky and often damaging to the story momentum, but Amy Garvey expertly weaved the past into the present and made the past part of the present.
How did Garvey use the backstory?
First of all, the author spends a great deal of the novel reflecting on the aching of a lost love and how it transforms someone’s present life. She reflects on the importance of grieving and going full circle and the consequences of the avoidance of it. She also stresses the responsibilities of not letting go. That’s how she traces the character arc, her growth and shows the lessons Wren learns.
That’s also how she ups the stakes. Wren spends a lot of time struggling with the emotionally exhausting demands of her terrible secret and the lies she has to tell others and to herself. Hiding Danny is not a small feat. The more Wren gets conscious that she made the wrong decision by bringing back Danny, the more she has to lose. The more he stays, the harder it is to lead a sane, normal life, especially making and keeping friends.
Second, the author explains how the past changes the present. The past prevents Wren from being herself because if she lets herself go, her magical powers might destroy everything around her. This affects not only Wren, but her mother too who is a pale reflection of Wren. Even the picture of her dad dead ten years ago seems to push away any boyfriend her mom has. “Her boyfriends never last long. I wonder if they get discouraged when they see the picture of my dad on the mantel.”
Third, this story is compelling because the backstory plays a decisive role in the novel. The backstory is given the weight of a character. For example, the contrast between the living Danny and the dead Danny dramatically foreshadows the new relationship: “It’s getting harder to remember the way Danny used to be. That Danny wouldn’t have waited so patiently for me. […] That Danny had ideas, crazy, late-night fantasies…”
Danny will always be a shadow of himself, not the boy she loved. We understand right away that it’s time to move on even though Wren does not realize this at first. That makes the story even more tragic.
In Cold Kiss, Amy Garvey used the backstory in the way K.M. Weiland instructs us to use it. The backstory highlights the internal and external conflict, and up the stakes. The backstory also explains the present and adds to the present plot. The backstory plays the role of a protagonist and changes the cards for Wren. The ghost of her past weighs on her and makes it obvious that something is wrong, out of place, and tragically holds her back and causes Wren to make mistakes.
In this gothic novel, the backstory plays more than the role of explaining key elements in the story. In Cold Kiss, it creates the sense of dread and inpending doom on the character. The backstory is the antagonist. In my opinion, for its unusual and unconventional use of the backstory, Cold Kiss is worth the read.