Sunday, 1 January 2012

Monday Musings: Review of New Girl by Paige Harbison

Note: I received this book via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

There’s a new girl at the exclusive Manderley Academy. Everyone knows, though, that she’s only there because Becca Normandy… isn’t. Becca disappeared mysteriously at the end of the previous school year, and the new girl is taking her place. Both in school, and with Becca’s friends – and perhaps even the boys in Becca’s life. Perhaps she shouldn’t get too comfortable, though… because the rumour keeps going around that Becca’s coming back.

First things first, I should mention that this is a retelling of Daphne DuMaurier’s classic Rebecca – but having never read that book, I’m coming into it cold, and just looking at it as a stand-alone.

Secondly, I have to say that the start of this one wasn’t particularly promising. We’re asked to believe that the new girl (who remains nameless until nearly the end) had parents who uproot her from school with a year to go because of a wish she’d expressed when she was 13 to attend Manderley. We’re asked to believe that, to avoid hurting their feelings, she pretends she’s happy with this even though she hasn’t thought about Manderley for years and doesn’t want to leave her friend. And we’re also asked to believe that Becca’s room has been left exactly as it was when she disappeared, with her possessions still there – I’m quite happy to accept that her room-mate may have left it as a kind of shrine, but surely the staff would have got involved? We’re dangerously close to Lewis Caroll’s ‘six impossible things before breakfast’ territory here. (In fairness, given the last five books I’ve read have included vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and various other paranormal stuff, most readers of young adult fiction have to be pretty good at suspending their disbelief these days!)

That said, once you get past that somewhat strange start, there’s an awful lot to like about Paige Harbison’s second novel. Her debut, Here Lies Bridget, was an entertaining read with some solid characters but flawed pacing, at least in my eyes. The pacing here is far better, I must say, and the novel is genuinely exciting as we try to work out just what happened to Becca and whether there’s a chance she’ll return. I also really loved the way the novel follows a dual structure, flicking between the first-person perspective of the new girl and third-person narration following Becca when she first arrived at school, as the two continually end up in similar situations. The two narratives taking place a year apart was also a superb way of showing character development, as we got to see the new girl’s impression of each person, before seeing how Becca’s actions had had an effect on them.

Overall, definite recommendation for fans of intriguing and exciting contemporary fiction.

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