When Nora describes her new bio partner, Patch, to Dorothea, she says, "He's tall, dark, and annoying" (2.10), a sarcastic variation on the expression, "tall, dark, and handsome." Nora's voice is full of this kind of spunk and sarcasm throughout the book, and as our narrator, she sets the tone.
Nora isn't quite as adept at wisecracking as her best friend, Vee, but even as the events in the book become increasingly dire, Nora manages to keep her sassy pants on, and Patch does a fair job of firing back. For example, after Nora is savagely attacked by Dabria in her house, she goes looking for Vee at the movie theater. At this point, she's still leery that Patch is out to kill her, so when he corners her in the girls' bathroom, she tells him to back off:
"You're impinging on my private space," I said, inching backward.
Patch gave a barely-there smile. "Impinging? This isn't the SAT, Nora." (26.67-68)
The text loves to pack in these kinds of sarcastic zingers.
There is also a lot of mystery in the book. Who is Patch? Who is the person in the ski mask? Why can Nora hear other people's thoughts in her head, and why does it seem like her memory is being altered? Nora isn't readily cued into all the strange happenings; instead she asks questions and double guesses things. In fact, one of her go-to lines is "what's going on?" More than once we see Nora sleuthing around for information—even donning ridiculous disguises and flitting off to Portland on her own to do so—and many of her exchanges with Patch go something like this:
"Well?" I demanded […]. "Do you have anything to say?"
"You have no idea what happened to Vee?"
"Again, no." (16.81)
Given the fact that Nora is trying to get to the bottom of the violent attack against her friend, we'd say frustrating moments like these definitely keep the mystery alive as the book unfolds. Nora doesn't believe Patch—that's why she puts him on the spot twice in a row—and we find her in similar scenarios, skeptical of what she's being told, time and again.
This book has a teenage main character who does things most teens do. Okay, most teens aren't stalked by fallen angels and their crazy jealous exes, but the other things going on in the book are typical YA. There are biology labs, shopping trips with friends, crushes, mean girls, and exciting trips to arcades and amusement parks. The characters, conflicts, themes—and most importantly the vocab, voice, style, and tone—are all meant to ring true for teen readers.
As for those fallen angels and their crazy jealous angel ex-lovers, that's where the fantasy genre comes in. There are different kinds of fantasy, and Hush, Hush is what's called low fantasy, which means the story takes place in the real world with magical, paranormal, or supernatural features tossed in. Bust that term out at the dinner table to baffle your siblings and impress your parents.
Are you thinking Hush, Hush has nothing to do with the book? After all, the phrase never actually makes an appearance in the book, and it's not like any of the characters run around telling people to keep quiet. Good news—you're not alone in your confusion. In fact, author Becca Fitzpatrick says questions about the title are among the most common she gets (source). Here's how she explains her title choice:
When I was searching for titles, I stumbled across the definition of the word hush in the dictionary. It means "to keep concealed." I thought that was a perfect description of Patch and Nora's relationship in this book. After all, he's keeping quite a few things from her. (Source.)
When this title is considered in line with the other titles of the series—Crescendo, Silence, and Finale—it seems it's also related to music. Hush, Hush is like the subdued intro before things really pick up in future installments in the series.
While music isn't a huge part of this first book, Patch teases out small details about Nora, such as the fact that she plays the cello and that her favorite kind of music is baroque, making assumptions about her character as he does so. And since Nora's also reserved, we can see the title as a little shout-out to her, too.
The book ends with some pretty steamy kissing:
He grinned when I didn't protest, and lowered his mouth toward mine. The first touch was just that—a touch. A teasing, tempting softness. I licked my lips and Patch's grin deepened.
"More?" he asked.
I curled my hands into his hair, pulling him closer. "More." (30.106-108)
Oh, Nora, you saucy minx. But seriously, this is a different side of the girl whom Vee criticizes for being way too much of a prude earlier in the book. By the end of the book, Nora's more than willing to swap spit, a major shift from her previously ambivalent attitude toward boys and sexual chemistry.
Just before the kissing, Nora says, "We still have a lot to talk about" (30.103). While the book resolves pretty satisfactorily with Nora and Patch locking lips, this line is a reminder that—though there's no cliffhanger—this story is very much to be continued.
Hush, Hush uses a damp, foggy northern U.S. small town as the setting for its fantasy. Coldwater is fictional, but nevertheless, the creepy, rainy, gray setting is perfect for other worldly creatures and things that go bump in the night. As Nora puts it when she's describing the 18th-century farmhouse she lives in with her mother:
I sometimes wonder if the original builder realized that out of all the plots of land available, he chose to construct the house in the eye of a mysterious atmospheric inversion that seems to suck all the fog off Maine's coast and transplant it into our yard. The house was at this moment veiled by gloom that resembled escaped and wandering spirits. (2.1)
What's more, Coldwater is a border setting. Maine is situated at the upper extreme of the U.S.'s limits, and Coldwater is also near the coast, on the border between land and ocean. Here's a fancy-sounding explanation of why this matters: Borders are liminal spaces. That means they're transitional settings, thresholds, outskirts that allow for crossovers not possible in other places. In Hush, Hush, there are slippages between heaven and earth, reality and fantasy, good and evil. The setting, then, reflects the movement between the supernatural and real and the blending of the two that goes in the book.
Here's an extra bonus observation about borders for you to chew on: The restaurant where Patch works and where Vee and Nora go a couple of times in the book is called the Borderline.
The Loire Valley is a 170-mile stretch along the middle section of the Loire River known for its lush vineyards and orchards as well as its stunning architecture. The fantastic folks over at Lonely Planet describe the scene as follows:
The region is steeped in romance, history, and Eden-like gardens. This setting gives the novel a sense of grandeur and suggests that not only will there be romance, there will be characters locked in a centuries-old struggle.
Perhaps most importantly, "renaissance" translates from French to English as "rebirth" (source). So this opening setting is a subtle hint that some of our characters will be exploring their identities and going through changes. Only the few pages of the prologue take place in the Loire Valley, but the atmosphere introduced in these pages hangs over the entire book.
…God spared not the angles that sinned, / but cast them down to hell / and delivered them into chains of darkness / to be reserved unto judgement… (2 Peter 2:4)
The epigraph comes from 2 Peter, a book of the New Testament, and it explains how angels who sinned were banished from heaven.
The concept of the fallen angel works as the base for the fantasy element of the story, and the story continues to make occasional reference to biblical figures and events, while also doing a lot of world-building around The Book of Enoch. Enoch is said to have been the great-grandfather of Noah (you know, the guy with the ark and all the animals).
Despite this epigraph, however, Hush, Hush is not about religion. For instance, when Nora finds out that Patch is a fallen angel, she doesn't ask him about heaven or God. Instead, the angels and their backstories seem to be treated more like secular fantasy figures than religious ones. So why reference the bible at all in the epigraph?
In addition to giving some hints about the subject and themes of the book, biblical quotes quickly raise the stakes, throwing Hush, Hush immediately into a long literary tradition and linking it to the timeless, epic conflicts and themes in the bible such as good vs. evil, human vs. supernatural/divine, sin, sex, fall, and redemption. If you want to start your book with a bang, it's hard to go wrong with something from the bible.
To dig into this a bit deeper, swing by the "Writing Style" section.
Overall, this book is super accessible to the 21st-century YA audience. The dialogue and settings are contemporary. People have cell phones and computers, and the characters speak like real teens do today. There is some dense-ish backstory with religious references and allusions to keep straight, and the prologue has a bit of antiquated vocab such as "fortnight" and "gelding," but that's all short-lived, so don't let it put you off. Plus, we're here to help.
Contemporary and legendary might seem like opposites, the first indicating a modern-day feel and the second suggesting a timeless, old-world flare. So how can a text incorporate both? Fitzpatrick does so by introducing the two styles side-by-side in the prologue and the first chapter.
The prologue throws us back to 16th-century France, with lots of dramatic detail such as an impending storm, a historic graveyard, a mysterious boy landing atop a monument like a gargoyle straight from The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, and reference to the iconic Loire region, which is said to have inspired a number of literary masterpieces including Charles Perrault's fairytale "Sleeping Beauty" (source). Against this backdrop, Patch and Chauncey cryptically delve into the world of fallen angels and Nephilim.
Now, compare that with the super contemporary vibe in the first chapter, complete with references to eZines, eating organic, and Henley shirts. That dark and atmospheric feeling from the prologue is replaced with a present-day bio classroom and teenage cracks about sex ed. In other words, we go from feeling like we're reading a dark fairy tale to feeling like we're sitting at school, surrounded by friends. In this way, with a one-two punch, the book sets us up to expect a contemporary writing style infused with legendary moments.
After Chapter 1, the contemporary YA style (think: short sentences, relatable teenage conversation, that sort of thing) dominates a little more than the legendary style, but Fitzpatrick makes sure the legendary thread doesn't fall away too much. She does this by busting out flashbacks and detouring into passages that lay out the angel myth, as well as in short blips of description.
For example, Nora describes the farmhouse in which she lives as being set in "the eye of a mysterious atmospheric inversion that seems to suck all the fog off Maine's coast and transplant it into our yard" (2.1). Not too far off from that foggy setting in France, eh? In another example, when Nora is driving with Patch back from Portland, she thinks:
I'd been this way before, and when the sun was out, the water was slate blue with patches of dark green where the water reflected the evergreens. It was night, and the ocean was smooth black poison. (21.93)
Sure, these are Nora's thoughts, but have you ever heard any of your friends wax poetic in casual conversations like that? We're guessing not. Bits like this are thrown in to keep the legendary style alive as the plot unfolds in modern Maine.
Nora has a birthmark on the inside of her wrist. When Patch first observes it he says, "Looks like a scar. Are you suicidal, Nora?" (1.83) Nora quickly corrects him and says it is a birthmark, but she later identifies it as a scar herself. Jules has the exact same mark, also on the inside of his wrist. And what do you know? Patch has a birthmark on his wrist as well, shaped like a splattered raindrop, a convenient image for a fallen angel, dropped from the sky like the rain. He has two scars on his back as well, which form an upside-down V shape.
Birthmarks and scars are imperfections of the skin. A birthmark is an imperfection you're born with; a scar is one that is gained, an indication of something that's happened in the past. In this book, these physical imperfections suggest that there is some sort of internal imperfection going on with the bearer.
The mixing of the terms "scar" and "birthmark" is never quite cleared up in Nora's case, but the imperfection on her wrist is referred to more often as a birthmark, so we'll run with that in our analysis. The birthmark is a sign that she is related to Chauncey, Patch's vassal. She has "bad genes" (23.111), as Patch puts it, meaning Nora was born a player in the dark struggle of Nephilim and fallen angels.
So while Patch's early comment about the birthmark representing a suicide scar is a totally un-cool joke, it does toss out the notion that the mark is linked to life and death, which it is. The birthmark sits on the vein and pulse of Nora's wrist, an indication that it is a fundamental part of her being—just like her status as Chauncey's relative.
Unlike a birthmark, which is ever-present and destined, a scar is gained. Patch gets his back scars from having his wings ripped out because of his transgressions, and they work as reminders of his dark past. They also operate as portals to the past. When Nora touches them, she is sucked back in time to scenes from earlier in Patch's life. The wings may be gone, but through the scars they leave, Nora is able to fly through time.
Nora suffers from anemia, "a condition in which you don't have enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to your tissues" (source). Anemia is a relatively common condition, and it isn't usually life-threating, but it can make people feel weak, dizzy, or tired. Nora mentions several times that she has to take iron pills to combat these symptoms.
Not only does this condition make Nora feel physically weak at times, it's also a symbol of other things going on. A lot of times in literature and art, blood represents a person's identity and the forces driving that person's life. Nora has a problem with her blood: It lacks the ability to carry enough oxygen throughout her body. Could that be a sign of lack elsewhere in Nora's life? Is something missing for our main girl?
Moreover, we learn that Nora actually has bad blood running through her veins, and not just in terms of its inability to deliver oxygen—it's bad in that it carries her Nephilim heritage. When Nora has to duke it out with her Nephilim-side relative, Jules, she finds herself in major need of her iron pills:
Blood drained from my head, and I felt myself start to slip off the chair. I'd felt this way enough times before to know I needed iron. Soon. (28.65)
But when you're locked in mortal combat, it's kind of hard to stop to go seek iron. Nora feels these same affects—dizziness and wobbliness—as she climbs the ladder and rafters to escape Jules, though no doubt the sensation of being high in the air and needing to balance on a thin beam also contribute to her feelings. At this point, Nora hasn't taken anything to help with the low-iron episode. However, she is able to speak, think, and act with confidence, and she defeats her Nephilim kinsman.
Readers who have experience with anemia have pointed out that symptoms are not things you can willpower away, so it seems the book may be working with the condition more on the symbolic level rather than on the practical level (source). Is Nora's ability to overcome the symptoms of her anemia representative of her ability to destroy her evil blood relative and reject the bad blood running through her family's history? Do you think she will have to face the implications of her bad blood again in the next book of the series? Are you singing Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood" in your head right now?
In one scene, Nora plays softball with Elliot for gym class, and in another, she plays pool with Patch at Bo's arcade. The scenes are strikingly similar: Both become blush-inducing chances for the boys to get touchy-feely with Nora, reaching around her body to show her how to hold the bat or pool stick and repositioning her hips to get her into the appropriate stance for the sport. They are both super sexually charged moments, and in each case, the boy is totally in control, demonstrating superior knowledge and manipulating her body through the motions of the sport.
Remember that each guy has his own agenda for Nora away from the softball field or pool table. Elliot needs to spark her romantic interest to lure her to Jules; before Patch becomes romantically interested in Nora, he wants to kill her as part of his plan to get a human body. The guys are game players, and Nora is their pawn. That they maneuver her body through sports reflects that game playing works perfectly.
The Most Obvious Symbol award goes to the movie The Sacrifice, which is mentioned a couple times in the book. Early on, Nora goes to see the movie, "the latest urban chiller" (3.79), with Vee to do a review of it for the eZine. Vee summarizes the premise: "Can you imagine? […] Living your whole life never having a clue that the only reason you're being kept alive is to be used as a sacrifice?" (3.82) Oh, the irony in that question.
Throughout the story, Nora uncovers many things affecting her life that she never knew about before, including the fact that Patch wants to sacrifice her to get a human body. Adding to that is the dramatic moment when Nora contemplates sacrificing herself for Patch rather than having Jules shoot her.
The movie's blunt title is a major clue to the general arc of the book. Hush, Hush's plot revolves around secret manipulations and plans for sacrifice, and early mention of a similar plot in The Sacrifice frames expectations for an equally creepy storyline as we read.
Unless you live in a big city where public transportation is the norm, cars—who has them and what kind they are—usually feature heavily in teenage life. In Hush, Hush, the cars mentioned are Nora's old Fiat, Vee's 1995 purple Dodge Neon, and Patch's motorcycle and black Jeep Commander.
We talk a bit about Nora's old Fiat in the "Characters" section. As we point out there, the clunker ties into her "every girl" quality. She doesn't drive a flashy new car, but instead she has second-hand one that her parents probably bought for her or passed on to her at some point. Even though she has a car, she doesn't drive it a lot. Instead we see her more behind the wheel of Vee's purple Neon, a perfect color for Vee's flashy personality, than we do on the "cracked white leather seats" (2.36) of her own Fiat. And when Nora goes to Portland to investigate Kjirsten's murder, she takes the bus.
So why is Nora bumming so many rides? Is that a logistical move to put her in more social situations for character development and more vulnerable positions for conflict development? Is it part of the damsel-in-distress thing she has going on at some points (jump over to her page in the "Character" section for our discussion on that)? What's your theory about her car situation?
Patch's rides are also perfect representations of his character. Like a lot of his clothes, Patch's jeep is black. Like his vibe, his motorcycle is dangerous and thrilling. The motorcycle is also the ideal vehicle for him to force Nora into close physical contact with him, and the Jeep, which he wins from a bet, is a Commander model, which reflects the dominant aspects of his identity (again we'll guide you to the "Characters" section, but this time swing by Patch's page).
From the first line of the first chapter, "I walked into biology and my jaw fell open," we know a first person narrator is running the show, and that this narrator is an active participant in the story. The narrator, Nora, is also the story's main character, and she is a reliable and believable narrator who not only gives us events as they happen to her but also shares her thoughts and feelings, including her doubts, fears, and uncertainties. For example, after the person in the ski mask attacks Nora while she is in Vee's car, Nora thinks:
The harder I tried to recall the crash, the more I couldn't. Little blips of missing information cut across my memory. The details were fading. Was he tall? Short? Thin? Bulky? Had he said anything?
I couldn't remember. That was the most frightening part. (4.28-29)
She's definitely not omniscient, but at least she lets us in on what's going on with her, internally and externally.
The prologue, which comes before the first chapter, is written in third person limited omniscient. This point of view means that we have an uninvolved narrator—meaning the narrator isn't a character—but the narrator does have special access to one or two of the character's thoughts. And guess whose thoughts we get? Chauncey's, a.k.a. the bad guy's. We follow along with Chauncey during his encounter with a mysterious stranger who tells Chauncey that he is half mortal, half fallen angel, and who demands that Chauncey be of service to him for two weeks every Cheshvan.
The prologue sets up the conflict between Chauncey and Patch, showing that both Chauncey and Patch operate within this mythological angel world that most humans know nothing about. Importantly, the prologue also sets us up with more information than our next narrator, Nora, has. So although Nora tells us all she knows, we always know more than her.
Welcome to the Wonderful Worlds of Fallen Angels and Sex Ed
Whenever there's a prologue, like there is with this book, there are usually two starting points: the one laid out in the prologue and the one presented in the first chapter. That's exactly what we have going on in Hush, Hush.
In the prologue, we get a taste of the dark and secretive world of fallen angels and Nephilim, and we get the groundwork for a major conflict between Chauncey and the mystery boy (Patch) who confronts him and demands that he turn himself over for service every Cheshvan. With that, we have all the makings for a fantastic fantasy feud.
In the first chapter, we get the vitals on our narrator, Nora. Here's what we know: She's a leggy, brainy brunette with a loud-mouthed best friend (Vee) who brings some excitement to Nora's pretty reserved personality. Oh, and Nora's father was murdered the previous year.
The status quo is rocked when, horror of horrors, the biology teacher changes the seating chart and Nora is forced to partner up with the transfer named Patch. He's dark, enigmatic, not exactly academically-inclined, and he puts the moves on Nora right away. Nice.
After Patch comes into Nora's life, all kinds of weird stuff starts going down. For one thing, someone in a ski mask begins stalking her. This creep attacks her while she's driving home one night, watches her at an amusement park, breaks into her room, jumps Vee, and kills a homeless woman moments after she exchanges directions for Nora's coat and hat. Nora thinks this same person is responsible for beating up Marcie Millar, Coldwater High's resident mean girl.
Nora also notices something freaky going on with her mind. She experiences things that never actually happen—like falling off a rollercoaster—in eerily vivid detail. She also feels like her memory is being altered, and she's convinced someone can speak words directly to her brain.
Add Nora's conflicting emotions about Patch, her slow discovery of info about fallen angels and Nephilim, and the intro of a few more shady characters—including Miss Greene, Elliot, and Jules—and things are definitely heating up for our main girl.
Jules has a weird way of avoiding Nora, and Elliot seems tied up in the mysterious death of a girl he once dated, while Miss Greene is really an angel of death and Patch's ex-girlfriend (Dabria). Turns out that's a bad combo (shocking), and in a super-tense scene leading up to the climax, Dabria tries to kill Nora. You know what they say about a woman scorned…
Things have been getting pretty crazy for a while, but when Elliot demands that Nora meet him, Vee, and Jules at the high school, it's drama to the max. Inside the school, Nora finds Vee and Elliot injured, and Jules reveals himself to be Chauncey, Patch's Nephil vassal, who has been trying to torment Nora and eventually kill her in order to get back at Patch for possessing his body every Cheshvan.
Despite Nora and Patch's efforts to fend Chauncey off, he chases Nora up to the rafters over the gym, gun in hand, and traps her. There's no way out, and as Jules says, "It makes no difference to me whether I shoot you or you fall to your death" (29.92). Oh goodie.
Chauncey's pretty cocky, but he's also dead wrong. As Nora says, "It does make a difference [….] I'm your descendant. If I sacrifice my blood, Patch will become human and you'll die. It's written in The Book of Enoch" (29.93). Oh snap, Chauncey. With that, Nora hurls herself from the rafter, showing what she's made of and finally settling once and for all how she feels about Patch, which has—despite all the stalking and violence and mind-infiltration—been the driving uncertainty throughout the whole book.
Nora must be dead, right? Wrong. Patch denies her sacrifice, which means Nora's soul returns to her body and Patch becomes her guardian angel. Meanwhile, Nora's sacrifice succeeded in killing Jules/Chauncey. Sweet.
As for the fallout, the police arrive at the school in time to rush Elliot to the hospital and save him. They rule Jules's death a tragic teen suicide. Vee is okay, too, and she apologizes to Nora for her friendship with Jules and Elliot. As for the damage done to Nora's farmhouse during Dabria's attack, Detectives Holstijic and Basso, as well as Nora's mother, buy her wacko explanation that a crazy chick posing as the school psychologist broke in demanding some unspecified thing from Nora. The detectives advise Mrs. Grey to get a security system for the future, just in case.
The detectives suggest that Nora and her mom get an alarm system. Guess who the security company sends to install the alarm? It's Patch. Clever, considering he is now Nora's guardian angel. And now that he's her guardian angel, they have plenty of time for making out, which is how the book ends.