Friday, January 27, 2012
Author: Paige Harbison
Genre: YA, contemporary, spin-off
Publisher: Harlequin Teen, 2012
Read for: Review
Becca Normandy queened over the other students at her boarding school, Manderley -- especially the male students. However, she mysteriously disappeared one night and now she has been replaced by a new girl (henceforth referred to as NG). NG has the same roommate, the slightly disturbed Dana Veers, the same bedroom, and for whatever reason, people think she is trying to copy Becca. Matters get more complicated when Becca's boyfriend, Max, shows an interest in her. The pressure and the tension in the school are driving NG insane, while the mystery of what happened to Becca continues to hover over the school.
At the beginning of this modern retelling of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, I had many doubts. For some reason, I had the perception that it would be silly, trivializing the story I loved. I was wrong about that -- New Girl was just as dark as Rebecca and considerably more graphic. However, while it wasn't the silly story I feared, it didn't quite click with me.
New Girl did have some great elements, however. I thought the way Harbison integrated elements of Rebecca was clever. She hit several points, both large and trivial -- NG dreamed of Manderley after seeing it in a book, just like Mrs. DeWinter dreamed of it after seeing it on a postcard. NG was good at art. She had a dog named Jasper (although this dog was always NG's, not Max's, and it stayed home when she went to boarding school). And of course, there was Dana Veers, aka Mrs. Danvers, and her obsessive love for Becca/Rebecca, symbolized by the way she keeps Becca's sheets on the bed and won't take down any of her pictures.
There was also more character development and exploration in New Girl, giving some new perspectives on the characters. Johnny isn't a pervert trying to steal Becca away; he is a good guy, conflicted, but always nice to those around him. NG starts out as a passive person afraid of others' opinions, but by the end of the book she grows into herself, learning to ignore criticism and live her own life. Dana Veers is disturbed and pushed to the edge more than once, but we get perspectives into her past that help us understand why she is the way she is.
However, certain aspects of the characters' behavior didn't make sense to me, and as they were important plot points, the story fell rather flat. For example, Max's attraction to Becca seemed completely implausible. In Rebecca, there were clear motives for Maxim and Rebecca to be together. In New Girl, they were not clear; the only reason I could really glean from Max's vague allusions to her was that she was hot and he was drawn in. Also, the whole reason NG went to Manderley was too cheesy for my taste; she wanted to go to boarding school because she loved the Harry Potter books, forgot about the dream, and then was whisked away when a spot opened her senior year.
Another thing that bothered me was the writing. While there weren't many grammatical errors, the style was superficial and at times rather flat. The tone of the book was also immature, and this is definitely not a YA book that should be aimed toward younger teens. It deals with some serious issues, like rape, casual sex, and teen pregnancy, but the writing seemed superficial compared with the heavy subject matter. And the issues were rather overwrought for me as well -- I definitely preferred the subtlety of Rebecca.
My experience of New Girl was mixed. While I think the idea was interesting and certain parallels were well done, in general the writing and some of the plot events were too contrived. While it is interesting due to its connection with Rebecca, it isn't a book I'd recommend unless you are a die-hard Rebecca fan.
Warnings: Descriptions of hooking up, discussion of rape