Kate’s Review: “My Dear Henry: A Jekyll & Hyde Remix”

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Book: “My Dear Henry: A Jekyll & Hyde Remix” by Kalynn Bayron

Publishing Info: Feiwel Friends, March 2023

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: 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

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

I first read “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” in college in my favorite class of all time: “Monsters, Robots, and Cyborgs”. Thank goodness for an unofficial Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature minor! We looked at horror, fantasy, and science fiction stories of the past and present and what they said about cultural and societal anxieties, so of course “Jekyll and Hyde” is ripe for the picking. Think about it: a somewhat obsessive scientist creates a potion that can change him from mild mannered academic to a brutish, cruel, uninhibited psychopath, talk about a great way to talk about the complexities of humankind while creating a suspenseful mystery to explore that. So when I saw that one of the “Remixed Classics” books was going to take on this story, I was VERY excited to see how it was going to be reimagined with newer themes and a more diverse perspective for modern young adult audiences. Suffice to say, “My Dear Henry” by Kalynn Bayron was an anticipated read. And in a lot of ways it lived up to my anticipation.

Bayron reimagines the classic tale of a personified split identity and the calamities that follow, by making our protagonists Henry Jekyll and narrator Gabriel Utterson young adults, Black, and queer, and setting them in a Victorian London that will hold those identities against them. This was immediately resonant and very incisive, and it works so well for the themes of the source material while expanding upon them to make them even more complex. It’s especially clever because there are, indeed, questions as to Robert Louis Stevenson’s sexuality and whether these themes were also hidden in his original “Jekyll and Hyde” idea. To expand upon that and to make Hyde less of a symbol for the uninhibited ‘evil’ of man and instead to make it a symbol of uninhibited ability to be oneself is poignant as hell. As Gabriel and Henry are drawn to each other and fall for each other, the cultural mores at the time makes it so that they have to hide their feelings from others, and when they ARE found out it leads to the path of Jekyll to Hyde, and leads to lots of poignancy and pathos. It makes the “Jekyll and Hyde” story all the more tragic, as this Hyde isn’t a violent madman, he’s a manifestation of love that was criminalized and feared. And to make it even more complex, our main characters are Black, and having Black characters set in Victorian England is a great choice for a few reasons. The first is that it makes the marginalization of Gabriel and Henry even deeper, as the racism in English society has already made them vulnerable, just as it has made their fathers, especially Jekyll Sr. (as he is the one we see more of), all the more intent on stifling their sons because of their already targeted identities. The other is that it is so common to see Black narratives in this time and place ignored or questioned, as if Black people didn’t exist in England during this time period, so to counteract this erasure within this story was really, really enjoyable.

And since it is a remix of an old tale, I do want to talk about how effective of a retelling it was. And I thought that in a lot of ways it succeeded, and in a couple ways it didn’t quite capture it. In terms of successes, it does have the characters and the plot points of the original story, either tweaked, reimagined, or adapted to suit the newer narrative and thematic ideas, and it does this really well. You are definitely reading the Jekyll and Hyde story at the heart of the book, when I’ve seen adaptations that just slap on the idea of a reimagining without actually doing the work to make the new ideas coexist with the old. But I do think that one thing that did let me down about this book was that while it is definitely Jekyll and Hyde, it does give it a whole new flavor that kind of takes the suspense and thrills of the original out of it. It’s very possible that because this story is SO old hat that maybe there aren’t really ways to be held in suspense by it anymore, but I wonder if there could have been a way to make it feel like a thriller and to mine a new kind of suspense? I’m unsure.

Overall, I did enjoy “My Dear Henry” and I liked the directions that Bayron took this classic horror story of identity and repression. It’s an effective reimagining and brings out new ideas from a timeless tale.

Rating 8: A clever remix of “The Curious Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” that takes on the dualities of identity in a society that doesn’t accept certain people for who they are, though it doesn’t capture the suspense that the original had.

Reader’s Advisory:

“My Dear Henry: A Jekyll & Hyde Remix” is included on the Goodreads lists “Black Queer 2023 Releases”, and “Jekyll and Hyde Retellings”.

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