My Dear Henry: A Jekyll and Hyde Remix
- Author: Kalynn Bayron
- Genre: YA Horror
- Publication Date: March 7, 2023
- Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
- Series: Remixed Classics #6
Thank you to NetGalley and Feiwel & Friends for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
CONTENT WARNING: racism and queerphobia in the context of the late nineteenth century, instances of sexual harassment, assault, attempted sexual assault, fictional elements reminiscent of conversion therapy, gore
In this gothic YA remix of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, a teen boy tries to discover the reason behind his best friend’s disappearance—and the arrival of a mysterious and magnetic stranger—in misty Victorian London.
London, 1885. Gabriel Utterson, a 17-year-old law clerk, has returned to London for the first time since his life— and that of his dearest friend, Henry Jekyll—was derailed by a scandal that led to his and Henry’s expulsion from the London Medical School. Whispers about the true nature of Gabriel and Henry’s relationship have followed the boys for two years, and now Gabriel has a chance to start again.
But Gabriel doesn’t want to move on, not without Henry. His friend has become distant and cold since the disastrous events of the prior spring, and now his letters have stopped altogether. Desperate to discover what’s become of him, Gabriel takes to watching the Jekyll house.
In doing so, Gabriel meets Hyde, a a strangely familiar young man with white hair and a magnetic charisma. He claims to be friends with Henry, and Gabriel can’t help but begin to grow jealous at their apparent closeness, especially as Henry continues to act like Gabriel means nothing to him.
But the secret behind Henry’s apathy is only the first part of a deeper mystery that has begun to coalesce. Monsters of all kinds prowl within the London fog—and not all of them are out for blood…
I’m not one for reading classics, but it’s pretty hard not to know the bones of this story. Since I’ve read some of the other remixed classics, I was already going into this knowing that there was going to be a unique spin on this, combining diversity and associated timeless themes with more modern language that make it easier to engage with the story. My hopes were high because I’ve read a few of Bayron’s other books and loved them, and I wasn’t let down at all.
Since I hadn’t read the original story, I didn’t know what the relationship between the original Gabriel and Henry was like, but these two are explicitly queer in a society where that is not only frowned upon, but illegal. There are severe consequences associated with having queer relationships, and when they are too overt about their relationship, the course of both of their lives are derailed. Gabriel is kicked out of medical school and sent back home to the country, but eventually manages to secure a job as a law clerk. However, there are some issues here as well, since the man that he works for is not a good person. His boss is a cruel man, lording his power over people in the courts, as well as using it to manipulate his employees, including Gabriel.
The relationship between Gabriel and Henry was fascinating, both as it develops and the dramatic turn that it takes in the wake of the scandal. While Gabriel’s sexual identity was frowned upon by his own father, it’s complicated by racism. His father is already concerned about how he’s going to be perceived as a Black man in society, and doesn’t want his being gay to be used as a further reason to disparage him. He pushes Gabriel to strive for an illustrious career track in school, reinforcing that if he does well and remains hardworking and polite, he can be successful, ignoring the fact that medical positions such as doctor or surgeon were closed to Black men. Even with medical training, the best that Gabriel could have hoped for was an orderly. And although his father’s motives had Gabriel’s best outcome in mind, it didn’t take into account the fact that having to hide who he really is, a queer Black man, isn’t what is really healthy or best for him.
On the other hand, the dynamic between Henry and his father is dramatically different. Henry constantly strives to gain his father’s acceptance, but his father has unrealistically high standards for his son. And Henry’s queerness isn’t acceptable to him, and rather than being something that needs to be hidden, is something that needs to be changed. Much like the original theme of the novel, that of the dichotomy between good and evil in one individual, Henry’s queerness is seen as a bad trait that his father wants to separate out from the positive qualities. But the experiment doesn’t exactly go as planned, creating two distinct personalities—Jekyll and Hyde, in something reminiscent of a chemical form of conversion therapy, which didn’t work any more effectively than modern forms.
Another thing that stood out to me is as Hyde appears more frequently, Henry’s appearance declines more alarmingly. I couldn’t help but think of an addiction. He starts to become more disheveled, disregarding his appearance, losing significant amounts of weight, and struggling to hold coherent conversations or even recognize people that he socialized with in the past. He was relying on a substance to maintain his functioning, even as that functioning declined, and it was far too reminiscent of addiction for me not to notice.
The overall tone of the story began as atmospherically creepy, and while this isn’t exactly horror, it’s gothic enough to make me want to classify this as horror. The themes of queerphobia and racism add to that feeling of horror, and I loved the twist on this story that Bayron added. It’s especially important to see Black representation in historical settings, since reading only classics would have us believe that there weren’t any Black people in society, despite historical evidence that Black people were present. The author noted that she made every effort to ensure that she incorporated historical accuracy, and I appreciated that greatly in this story, as well as allowing people of color and queer people to see themselves in historical settings. I personally thought that not having read the original made this even more enjoyable, since I never quite knew what was going to happen, and it was all a new story to me.
Categories: Book Review
I’m glad you liked this one so much. I’m super curious about it.
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It was really well-done. The fact that the characters were queer people of color added a nice complexity to the story, and I hope you give it a read!
I’m glad you enjoyed this book. That being said, I’m still undecided on whether or not I want to read it.
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I really liked it, but I’ve also loved Bayron’s writing in This Poison Heart, so it feels like I was just prepared to love it.
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