Monday, October 3, 2011

Tighter Book Review

Author: Adele Griffin. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Knopf Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 9780375866456.
Annotation:  Seventeen-year-old Jamie is struggling with her own problems even before her mother finds her a summer job on the island of Little Bly as an au pair to eleven-year-old Isa. Soon after arriving on Little Bly, Jamie discovers the mansion Isa’s family owns might be haunted by restless spirits.
Personal thoughts:  I have to admit that this novel was not what I was expecting at all after reading the book jacket. In many ways, this novel differs from other ghost stories for teens so much that it would be just as appropriate for adult readers. The plot is very much a psychological thriller that dives headfirst into some very complicated issues. There are elements of a ghost story, but the real focus of the novel is on Jamie and her own personal ghosts. Overall, I was impressed, even if I didn’t have a great time reading the novel. Tighter is definitely something different, and something that teens who want to think should read.
Plot summary: Seventeen-year-old Jamie Atkinson is struggling with some major personal demons as she sets out to spend the summer as an au pair on the island of Little Bly. She is addicted to pill popping: antihistamines, muscle relaxers, sleeping pills, anything to ease the pain of an old track injury and, more importantly, numb out her mind. Jamie is plagued by memories of a romantic relationship she had with her chemistry teacher that ended in rejection. She’s also being haunted by visions of two of her relatives who committed suicide. Her mother thinks that taking a job on the small New England island will help Jamie, so she travels to Skylark, Little Bly’s largest mansion to care for eleven-year-old Isa while her father is in Hong Kong. Also living in Skylark are Connie, the middle-aged housekeeper, and Milo, Isa’s older brother. Jamie and Isa become fast friends, but soon Jamie discovers a secret about Skylark’s past: Isa’s previous au pair, Jessie, was killed in a tragic accident with her boyfriend, Peter, the summer before. It seems that Jamie bears a startling resemblance to Jessie, so much so that the ghost of Peter might be haunting Skylark attempting to reach out to her.
Review: Tighter delivers a ghost story far more psychological than most young adult novels dare to travel, resulting in a thoughtful and unique read. It is clear from the first page that the “heroine”, Jamie, is more than a little off-kilter. Not only is she addicted to popping pills stolen from her parents medicine cabinet, but she is plagued by horrifying ghostly visions of two relatives who committed suicide. She is also coping with an inappropriate romantic relationship she had with her chemistry teacher, one that ended with her being rejected. Even with these personal demons, Griffin lets on throughout the story that there is something deeper to Jamie’s problems, something that becomes unraveled as the novel progresses. When Jamie arrives on Little Bly and begins to believe that Skylark is haunted, the reader is constantly wondering whether her visions are the result of her self-medicating, or if the ghost of Peter is truly trying to contact her. Jamie’s charge, eleven-year-old Isa, is an interesting character who is also dealing with her own demons. It is Isa’s older brother, handsome, fourteen-year-old Milo, however, who is the most intriguing resident of Skylark. He and Jamie seem to have an instant connection, but one that is far from positive. Milo has a knack for cutting right to the core of Jamie’s insecurities, and seems to be more involved than he’s letting on in Peter’s ghostly presence in Skylark. Overall, Tighter is a relatively short but powerful novel that delivers a storyline far different from usual young adult fare. Equally enjoyable for teens and adults, readers will be left thinking long after the final page.  
Genre: Ghost Story/Psychological Thriller
Reading level: Grade 8+
Similar titles: Lark by Tracey Porter, Shine by Lauren Myracle.
Themes:  Ghosts, addiction, mental illness, teacher and student relationships, death, grief.
Awards/Reviews:  Positive reviews from Kirkus Reviews, Publisher’s Weekly, and School Library Journal. Written by National Award Finalist author.
Series Information: N/A
Discussion questions:
- How does Jamie’s addiction to pills influences the events of the story?
- Do you think that Jamie taking the job at Skylark was a good idea? Why or why not?
- How did Jamie’s memories of her relationship with Sean Ryan influence the events of the story?
- After completing the novel, what was your understanding of Milo’s influence on Jamie, Isa and Peter?
- Do you think that Skylark is haunted? Why or why not?

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