No doubt about it, the cover is creepy. This was one of those books with a promising premise. It’s somewhat reminiscent of the wildly successful Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children in its use of odd, black and white photos. But where that book was creative and different, this one fails to deliver. Don’t get me wrong- it’s not awful, it’s just not exceptional.
Sixteen year old, Dan spends part of the summer at a college prep program. His dorm is a former psychiatric facility. When things start to happen, the reader wonders if the school is haunted, Dan is going mad, or whether something else is going on. That part of the book works. Several murders and attacks ensue along with Dan becoming a possible suspect, but when a few too many co-incidents occur, the action starts to feel campy. In the end, the storyline is partially resolved but big questions remain (I guess this is so the author gets to produce a sequel. Anyone else tired of that ploy?). The initial idea, Dan’s history, and the location should have produced a better book.
With this book we have an interesting case where it won numerous awards, but readers gave it mixed reviews (3.7/5 stars).
The book opens with Emily Beam starting second semester as a junior at Amherst School for Girls. Although there is a lot of speculation about the new girl, Emily does her best to keep her secrets locked safely inside. Almost immediately she turns to writing poetry and begins to feel an affinity with the town’s most famous former resident, Emily Dickinson. Slowly the reader finds out that Emily is dealing with the tragedy of her boyfriend’s suicide, an abortion, and adjusting to a new school with very little support. This is one of the best YAs I’ve read in a long time. It’s believable and written from the heart.
In scanning some of the reviews, I’m forced to think that the book exceeds the maturity of its intended audience. Several reviewers couldn’t relate to the third person perspective which is a very traditional form of novel writing. Others were unsatisfied not knowing a specific reason for the boyfriend’s suicide, failing to understand that in real life those who stay behind often lack concrete answers. Some reviewers also wanted Emily to be head over heels in love and less confused over the abortion. Again, in real life people are often ambivalent and uncertain about their choices. For me, not having everything tied up neatly made the novel more realistic and therefore memorable. Hubbard writes about tough topics with compassion, humility, and hope.