They call me 'New Girl'... Ever since I arrived at exclusive, prestigious Manderly Academy, that’s who I am. New girl. Unknown. But not unnoticed—because of her. Becca Normandy—that’s the name on everyone’s lips. The girl whose picture I see everywhere. The girl I can’t compare to. I mean, her going missing is the only reason a spot opened up for me at the academy. And everyone stares at me like it’s my fault. Except for Max Holloway—the boy whose name shouldn’t be spoken. At least, not by me. Everyone thinks of him as Becca’s boyfriend but she’s gone, and here I am, replacing her. I wish it were that easy. Sometimes, when I think of Max, I can imagine how Becca’s life was so much better than mine could ever be. And maybe she’s still out there, waiting to take it back.
Paperback, 304 pages
Expected publication: January 31st 2012 by HarlequinTeen
Two stars: A modern update of the classic Rebecca, that fails to impress.
Summer is coming to a close for our protagonist "New Girl". Days of lying in a bikini, soaking up the sun's warm rays on Florida's sun drenched beaches will soon be replaced by the halls of high school. New Girl is looking forward to her senior year, filled with friends and memories. Little does she know her parents are about to surprise her, with an acceptance letter into the prestigious, boarding school, Manderley. Attending a private school was a wish she envisioned when she was thirteen, while reading Harry Potter. After years of rejection, New Girl has grown to love attending her public high school. Not wanting to disappoint her parents, who are overjoyed at the prospect of her attending this elite school, New Girl packs her bags and heads to Manderley to start her senior year. Upon her arrival, she discovers her room still decorated with the former occupant's belongings. New Girl finds herself the unwanted replacement for the ambitious and popular Becca Normandy, who disappeared at the end of the previous school year. Our protagonist finds herself thrust into an unwanted spotlight. No matter how hard she tries, it proves impossible to separate herself from Becca's shadow. She is constantly compared to Becca. To make matters worse she seems to be the anonymous girl, without a name other than New Girl. New Girl digs her heels in and tries to form her own identity, but the questions and rumors refuse to die. She is constantly surrounded by whispers and looks, there is no where she can go to escape Becca's influence. What happened to the beautiful and mysterious Becca?
What I Liked:
- Having read Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, I was excited to read a modern take on this classic. The author does a nice job of recreating the mysterious atmosphere of Manderley, in her vision.
- I enjoyed the presentation of the dark mystery. I was drawn into the strange circumstances of Becca's disappearance and enjoyed formulating my own guesses on her fate. Trying to unravel the events and clues kept me reading this book.
- One of the most memorable aspects of Rebecca, was not revealing the protagonist's first name, the whole book she is referred to as Mrs. De Winter. I recall when I read this book, being frustrated with this tactic. I wondered if Ms. Harbinson would use the same technique. Indeed she does, our protagonist is known throughout the entire novel as "New Girl" or me. I could see how relegating the heroine to anonymity, enhanced the power that Becca held over the rest of the characters, as well as the reader.
- I liked the switching of the narrative between New Girl in the present and Becca a year ago. I appreciated being able to see inside Becca's head, so I could better understand her manipulative power and why she had such a lasting impact.
And The Not So Much:
- My biggest complaint and reason for the lower rating of this book was the heavy references to teenage drinking and sex. I realize that in reality, teens do engage in these activities, but this book's depiction is over the top. Becca on her first day at school organizes a drunken party and gives up her virginity to a boy she just met. This is just one example, the entire book is chapter after chapter of scenes involving drinking. Becca's use of sex to manipulate the boys she is interested in, is disturbing. What bothers me the most about this novel, is that it is marketed as a YA title. In this situation this book should be read by mature readers only. I would certainly not want young teenagers reading this, due to the content.
- The author brings up two tough topics facing teenagers today, rape and drug induced rape. She used these situations to clarify why two of the characters were troubled. The problem for me is in both events, the girls involved did nothing to rectify the situation, they chose to run away and hide by attending Manderley. Again, I understand that in real life, there often is not a positive resolution to these horrendous acts. I wish the author had taken the time to address these matters in a better way. Showing how the characters got help and worked through the difficulty would have made an impact. As an author, you have the power to make a difference with your words, why not show teenagers who have lived through these demeaning acts, seeking help, instead of showing them running away from their troubles.
- The characters, I can't say that I enjoyed any of them. Becca is cruel, controlling and cares for no one, including herself. The males, Johnny and Max are confusing, they both succumb to the temptress Becca and unwittingly become her pawns. Max especially, I never had a clear picture on his true feelings for Becca. The protagonist, New Girl, I liked her, but I was not pleased on the way she handled many of the situations that she faced.
- The book drew me in with the mystery of Becca's disappearance but after awhile it was overshadowed by too much teenage drama. The first half of the book is dark and engaging, while the second half languishes.
I was excited to read New Girl, a current retelling of the classic Rebecca, but unfortunately this book failed to meet expectations. While some of the elements work, the book was lacking and did not hold my interest. Due to the mature themes involving heavy alcohol use and detailed sex scenes, I cannot recommend this book for young readers. If you have not read Maurier's classic, Rebecca, I would suggest reading that instead.
A copy of this book was kindly provided by Harlequin Teen, courtesy of Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.
"The panoramic view outside the windows of the bus showed a world that wasn't mine. It was chilly in early September and the trees were pine, not palm."
"Manderley is like being stuck in an attic. Dusty, cold, and you feel like you might be struck by lightning at any moment. Sometimes it's just nice to get out."
"The waves were like a million dead, gnarly hands throwing themselves onto the sand and trying to bring whatever they could back with them into the darkness."
"---I am what made him live. I am his light. I am his excitement. I was the bells, the light, the darkness and the melody in his life."
"Lonely, friendless, barefoot new girl, with no identity."
"I'd never felt more drab in my life. I was like the gray, rainy skies outside, only less threatening and full of no mystery at all."
"They all liked her because she was unique. She was a new toy they never really got to play with. And now that she's gone, they just want her more than ever."
"You lived a year in my shadow but somehow you still never lost your light."