So many secrets for such a small island. From the moment Anne Merchant arrives at Cania Christy, a boarding school for the world’s wealthiest teens, the hushed truths of this strange, unfamiliar land begin calling to her—sometimes as lulling drumbeats in the night, sometimes as piercing shrieks.
One by one, unanswered questions rise. No one will tell her why a line is painted across the island or why she is forbidden to cross it. Her every move—even her performance at the school dance—is graded as part of a competition to become valedictorian, a title that brings rewards no one will talk about. And Anne discovers that the parents of her peers surrender million-dollar possessions to enroll their kids in Cania Christy, leaving her to wonder what her lowly funeral director father could have paid to get her in and why.
As a beautiful senior struggles to help Anne make sense of this cloak-and-dagger world without breaking the rules that bind him, she must summon the courage to face the impossible truth—and change it—before she and everyone she loves is destroyed by it.
Hardcover, 272 pagesExpected publication: January 14th 2014 by BenBella Books
Source: Publisher in exchange for an honest review
Three Stars: A dark, atmospheric read that requires patience.
Anne straightens her tie and tugs on her blouse. Today, is a fresh new start. She is finally free of her old school where she was the outcast among the richest and snottiest kids in the country. California is far behind Anne as she sets out to start her academic studies at her new school Cania Christy. A highly elite, boarding school on a secluded island. Anne has visions of remaking herself and starting anew. Unfortunately, her school uniform feels like it is skin tight and the buttons are practically bursting. Her hair is still wild and frizzy and her tooth is still crooked. No matter, best foot forward. Once Anne arrives at school, she notices a red line of demarcation at the school's property line. Strange.... things go from strange to stranger as Anne navigates her new school. Something is definitely awry. Each student is assigned a guardian who is to monitor their every move. Then students must declare a PT, which is a statement that they must live by and keep secret from everyone else. All the students are in a fierce competition to be valedictorian or the Big V. The more Anne learns about the new school, the more she is convinced that there is something terribly wrong. Can Anne discover the mystery behind her new school before it is too late?
What I Liked:
- First, I will tell you that this is a book that required extreme patience and some perseverance on my part. The first half of the book is dark, disturbing and often uncomfortable. I was tempted to put it aside and not finish, but I am stubborn and rarely do I not finish a book once I start. I was drawn in by the creepy, atmospheric setting of the secluded, elite boarding school and the mystery and the suspense. Thankfully, my efforts paid off because at the midway point, things begin to change dramatically as the exciting twists and reveals start coming forth. The ending is fierce, jam packed with information and jaw dropping. I settled on three stars because the first half is a two even straying into the one star rating, almost DNF territory while the second half explodes with some thrilling stuff and that portion rates a three and half to four. So for those of you willing to be patient and put up with a creepy and a bit disturbing beginning, you will find that it does pay off.
- The biggest draw to this book is the frightening and creepy atmosphere. It is immediately apparent that something is very wrong at the school. The students are all engaged in a cut throat competition to be the valedictorian, or The Big V, as they call it. By cut throat, I mean nastiness, mean girls, betrayal, lies, cheating and no meaningful friendships. This is a dark, cruel school. The secluded island helps achieve the creep factor. The villagers and students are banned from interacting, and you know immediately that there is something foul at work. I must say, I did enjoy the atmospheric tension and suspense in this one.
- I was a bit frustrated for the first portion of the read following Anne as she floundered about looking for answers. At each turn, there was another mystery presented and I was straining for answers. Finally, once the book hits its stride, some stunning revelations come out. I have to admit, that I did guess the biggest most shocking one, but I am sure it will take a few readers by surprise. The end is packed with plenty of action and all the answers that you seek throughout. I was pleasantly surprised that by the end of the book, even though there was a jarring cliffhanger, that I found almost all the answers that I needed. Fair warning, there is a lot to take in during those final chapters so be prepared for a big information dump, and I mean that in a good way because at least you finally get resolution.
- I was surprised by the paranormal aspects. I was expecting the run of the mill paranormal stuff, vampires, witches, ghosts and what not, but what I got was something unexpected and a bit unusual. It is always nice when as a seasoned reader you can still be surprised.
And The Not So Much:
- As I mentioned earlier, I was tempted to not finish this one because there were so many factors that were just ugh early on. Anne's first meeting at the school is with a quartet of slutty, nasty mean girls. I detest mean girls, and these girls were the epitome of mean girls. They dressed like whores, ran in a pack behind the head mean girl and were forgettable aside from their bitchy leader Harper. Why oh why must we continue to be tortured with mean girls? Then it gets worse. There are these creepy guardian figures who follow each students every move to make sure they are living by their personal creed. Anne's guardian is particularly gross and creepy. He has dried spittle on his mouth. Yuck! Furthermore, there is nothing redeemable about almost all the characters, except for maybe Pilot. They don't socialize as they all want to win valedictorian and they are willing to do whatever it takes to get it. Even if that means lying, stealing, backstabbing, manipulative sex, you name it and it goes. There is nothing pleasant or cozy about this read at all. It is dark and disturbing. All the students are there because of some bad choices in their past whether it be drug overdoses, sex, lying, cheating etc. Did I mention that I pretty much hated all the characters? However, there is a reason for all the ugliness and bad behavior, but that isn't revealed until the second half. So if you can get beyond the darkness of the first half, your efforts will pay off.
- Anne isn't exactly a character I could get behind. She appears to be a nice girl who just wants a change. When she encounters the mean girls and ugliness of the school, she at least takes them on and doesn't let them get to her, I did appreciate that. However, I struggled with the fact that she was falling under the hype of the valedictorian. I kept thinking why don't you run and get the hell out of that creep show? Her personal creed at the school is to dig deeper and ask questions (after she refuses to do her guardian's first choice for her and be a slut). So she is always looking for the truth. I liked that she was willing to dig and dig until she learned more, but at times she fails to see what is right under her nose. I will say that by the end, I did have a new appreciation for her and I did like her, but like with everything else, she required patience.
- The whole romance was a bit annoying. At first, I thought there was going to be a love triangle as Anne is sort of dating one boy while continuously lusting after another, but thankfully, it doesn't develop. What annoyed me about the whole romance was that it felt completely one sided for most of the book, even though there is a big reason for that which you don't learn until the end. I grew tired of Anne constantly crushing and obsessing over a boy that appeared to be way out of her league. Once again, I was rewarded by the end with a clearer understanding of the romance and I liked it better at that point, even though the whole story behind the attraction was a little far fetched, who am I kidding the whole book is far fetched.
- After a tremendous information dump at the end where all the big secrets are revealed, I was only left with a couple of niggles. I didn't like the whole thing with Molly. Why on earth would she risk what she did knowing the horrible consequences? Who ended up going after her? I was also wondering how the rest of the teachers and staff got there, were they recruited like the students and parents or were they there for other reasons? Finally, what was the deal with the guardians? Where did the come from? What happened to them after graduation and where do they go?
- Finally, the book of course ends on a jarring cliffhanger that made me want to know more. Whether or not I will pick up the next book remains to be seen, but the cliffhanger certainly left me eager for more information.
The Unseemly Education of Anne Merchant is definitely not a book that will appeal to a wide audience. It is a book that utilizes dark and disturbing themes, and a creepy, atmospheric setting. There is plenty of mystery and thick suspense that will keep you reading if you get beyond the uncomfortable beginning. Though I did struggle with this early on, I was glad that I stuck with it as the second half is thrilling, exciting and full of shocking twists and turns. If you are willing to take a chance and be patient, you might end up surprised like I did. Overall, there were many things that were a turn off with this book, but I was stunned at the smart finish and that alone is worth the read. This is definitely a book that builds with a dramatic climax and a shocking finale that will satisfy those who stuck with it.
"There are different ways to be different, Anne."
"At the mention of making friends, smirks and sneers appear one by one, like fireflies in the night, on the brooding yet beautiful faces of most of the students."
"I shake my head, amazed at what lengths people will go to and what evils they will overlook to get what they want."
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and I was not compensated for this review.