Saturday, January 26, 2013

Dark Companion Book Review

Author: Marta Acosta. Release date: 2012. Publisher: Tor Teen. ISBN: 9780765329646.

Annotation: Having spent her life bouncing from foster home to foster home in the shadyneighborhood of Helmsdale, sixteen-year-old Jane Williams is ecstatic when she is offered a scholarship to an exclusive boarding school in the wealthy town of Birch Grove. At first, her new life at the Birch Grove Academy seems ideal, but as she learns more about some mysteries surrounding the school, she realizes there is something dark lurking beneath the academy’s plush exterior.  

Personal thoughts: I hadn’t heard much of anything about this book, but the plot sounded intriguing so I decided to give it a try. It’s one of those novels that I wish would get more attention, but I can see why hordes of teens aren’t rushing to pick it up. It’s quiet and very much about Jane. Although it has some paranormal elements that readers can latch onto, I found watching Jane grow as a character to be far more interesting. I would easily recommend this book to readers who like books that are well-written but not as dramatic as Twilight or other popular paranormal romances. I’m looking forward to seeing if Marta Acosta writes a sequel and what other novels she produces in the future.  

Plot summary: Orphaned when she was six, Jane Williams has spent the last ten years bouncing around from foster home to foster home in the shady neighborhood of Helmsdale (or Hellsdale as the residents call it.) Her closest friend, Hosea, died several years earlier, and Jane used his death as motivation to transform herself from a foul-mouthed brat to a smart, articulate, straight-A student despite her unfortunate surroundings. Now she has been offered a full scholarship to the exclusive Birch Grove Academy: a boarding school in a wealthy town. She is provided her own small cottage to live in, an allowance for living expenses, clothes, and everything else she could want by Mrs. Radcliffe, the headmistress. Jane can’t believe her good fortune at escaping Hellsdale, and soon finds herself with a new set of friends who don’t seem to mind that she was raised in poverty amongst drug dealers and prostitutes. Especially surprising is that Lucian “Lucky” Radcliffe, the headmistress’ handsome son, seems to be interested in her. As Jane begins to learn more about Birch Grove Academy, however, she discovers that everything isn’t as ideal as it seems. The previous scholarship recipient, a girl named BB who was also from Hellsdale, recently disappeared, supposedly moving away with a rich uncle. The wife of one of Birch Grove’s teachers, also a former Hellsdale resident, seems to have committed suicide under mysterious circumstances. Jane is reluctant to leave her new life of luxury and security, but can she survive the truth of the Birch Grove Academy?  

Review: Written by veteran author Marta Acosta, this multi-layered tale with undertones of Jane Eyre proves to be an interesting combination of realistic fiction and paranormal romance that many readers are likely to find enjoyable. The bulk of the story is centered on Jane. Jane is a likable but flawed character with a difficult past who grows as a person as the story progresses. She makes mistakes throughout the story, allowing herself to be used on her quest for love and acceptance, but she is well-written and believable, a character that many young adults will find something to identify with. The supporting characters are also interesting, from the wealthy and handsome Lucky Radcliffe to his offbeat older brother Jack to Jane’s new dramatic Birch Grove BFF Mary Violet, but none are as explored or flushed out as Jane. The paranormal and romantic aspects of the plot are present, but really the novel is about Jane surviving an abusive childhood and learning to open up and trust others. Readers who are seeking something with paranormal components that make up the bulk of the story will be disappointed, but those who like to delve into character driven novels will enjoy Dark Companion. Although a sequel has not been announced, the author could easily continue Jane’s story in another novel. For now, Dark Companion is a quiet but entertaining book that a thoughtful young adult audience can enjoy.

Genre:  Fiction/Romance

Reading level: Grade 7+

Similar titles: Croak by Gina Damico, Damage by Anya Parrish, Everneath by Brodi Ashton, Juliet Immortal by Stacey Jay, Lost Voices by Sarah Porter, Mercy: The Last New England Vampire by Sarah L. Thomson.

Themes:  Mystery, trust, abuse, loss, orphans, coming of age, romance, friendship, vampires.        

Awards/Reviews:  Positive reviews from Publishers Weekly, VOYA, Kirkus and Booklist. 
Series Information: N/A

Discussion questions:

-         How did Hosea’s death influence Jane’s life?

-         Why do you think Mrs. Radcliffe selected Jane to receive a scholarship to Birch Grove?

-         Do you think Jane’s new friends really like her? Why or why not?

-         Why does Jack call Jane “Halfling”? Do you think he means the nickname as a compliment? Why or why not?

-          Do you think Lucky likes Jane? Why or why not?

-         Which decisions of Jane’s do you agree with? Disagree with? Why?

-          If the author writes a sequel, what do you think are some possible ways the story could continue?

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