Saturday, January 28, 2012

Review: New Girl by Paige Harbison

Publisher:  HarlequinTeen
Publication Date:  January 31st, 2012

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.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

I'm a sucker for a good retelling.  Jackson Pearce is a favorite author of mine, as are Shannon Hale and Gail Carson Levine.  When I heard Paige Harbison was doing a modern retelling of Daphne du Maurier's brilliant Rebecca, I was really excited to read it.  I read Rebecca in college and always thought it was a perfect Psychological Thriller; a 5-star read. I think in writing New Girl, Paige Harbison had some really big shoes to fill, and sadly, I think it fell a little short.  That said, I think if I hadn't read Rebecca first, I would have liked New Girl much better, but having done so, I spent most of the book making comparisons...

I'm going to try not to spend this entire review comparing the two books, but it will be difficult.  I liked that Harbison stuck to the original format, right down to the names she used and withholding the protagonist's name until the end; Rebecca, Manderley, Dana (Mrs. Danvers), Max- she worked the names and places in well.  I also really liked her take on the characters.  Rebecca Normandy was a total sociopath, manipulative to her very core, and I enjoyed reading her side of the story, which was told in alternating POVs (hers and New Girl's).  She was a total train wreck and you know how it is witnessing one of those- you just can't stop watching, as horrifying as it may be.  Some of the things the girl said and did were so disgusting and wrong, I wanted to be sick, but in the end, her antics were really what made this book so interesting.  Reading New Girl's character, or "Me", as her chapters were titled, was a bit different of an experience.  She was the quintessential nice girl who happened to be in an impossible situation, but she handled it as well as could be expected.  Where it got really interesting is when the romance between Max and New Girl began to blossom- it was beyond complicated because Becca had been the supposed love of his life.  The mystery surrounding Becca was intense and, as the reader, I never knew what to expect.  I liked that part a lot, and it was the book's saving grace for me.  I was happy with the way it ended too.  As I read the book, I couldn't help thinking that it was just a mediocre retelling of a book I love, but in writing this review, I see that if you take the amazingly done original (that is a long-standing classic for a reason) out of the equation, you have a pretty good book here.  Paige Harbison is a very good writer, and I will certainly keep my eye out for other books by her (I have Here Lies Bridget, but haven't read it yet).   I think anyone would be ambitious to tackle Rebecca and truly make it their own.  

Overall, I would recommend this book to people who like a good Mystery and/or Psychological Thriller.  If you've read Rebecca and loved it as much as I did, I would caution you that while it tries hard, it doesn't measure up.  If you've read it, but it's not a favorite, you may like this version better- it is definitely sexier and more modern.  Those who haven't read Rebecca are probably in the best position to read this because it won't be in the back of your mind, biasing your opinion, as it did mine.

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½  

Grade Level Recommendation:  This is DEFINITELY a High School read.  There is loads of sex, and not just sex between couples who are in love, but sex used as a tool of manipulation.  There is also lots of teen drinking and drug use.  The kids at Manderley go to the boathouse on campus regularly to party and get absolutely wasted, with no consequence.  These parties are described in detail, and play a huge role in the story.  Aside from that, there is a part where a girl is drugged by a friend and date raped, and another part where a girl describes being sexually assaulted by a friend's older family friend.  Another inappropriate theme is that Becca is loved and admired because of the manipulative things she does.  A less mature reader might misconstrue that and try to emulate her behaviors in hopes that she would gain the type of popularity Becca had.  I would say this book is for 10th grade and up (ages 15+).

1 comment:

  1. I didn't know this was a retelling! I haven't read Rebecca but I might when I pick New Girl up. New Girl's been waiting patiently for me to pick it up, and although I'm not sure I'll like it, I'll give it a try. Thanks for the review!


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