Saturday, September 15, 2012

Dark Companion

Dark Companion by Marta Acosta

When foster teen Jane Williams is invited to attend elite Birch Grove Academy for Girls and escape her violent urban neighborhood, she thinks the offer is too good to be true. She's even offered her own living quarters, the groundskeeper's cottage in the center of the birch grove.

Something's not quite right about the school -- or is it Jane? She thinks she sees things in the birch grove at night. She's also beginning to suspect that the elegant headmistress and her sons are hiding secrets. Lucky is the gorgeous, golden son who is especially attentive to Jane, and Jack is the sardonic puzzling brother.

The school with its talented teachers and bright students is a dream for a science and math geek like Jane. She also loves her new friends, including hilarious poetry-spouting rich girl, Mary Violet. But the longer Jane stays at Birch Grove, the more questions she has about the disappearance of another scholarship girl and a missing faculty member.

Jane discovers one secret about Birch Grove, which only leads to more mysteries. What is she willing to sacrifice in order to stay at this school...and be bound to Birch Grove forever?
-Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

I'm really torn about this book. For everything that irked me or made me want to just walk away and read something else, there was something that I loved. Completely. Argh.

-The cover is just gorgeous. But then, there's something about the book's construction that seemed distractingly cheap or hurried or something. 
 -The character portrays herself as smart, independent, and clever. BUT, she tells you that constantly, and then acts contrariwise.
-One of the love interests is sweet, unique, caring and genuine. The other is waspish, entitled, creepy, abusive and horrible- But guess which one Jane spends faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaar too long of the book swooning over? While being unconvincingly dense and inexplicably harsh to the other?

Seriously, the romance in this book almost put me off completely. Imagine if Elizabeth had spent pretty much all of Pride and Prejudice being an absolute brat to Mr. Darcy, while following Mr. Wickham like a puppy dog, and that you, as a reader, know and understand more about these two men from their introductions than Elizabeth will know for 3/4 of the book. Argh.

On the other side, I loooooooved everything in this book that alludes to gothic novels- from the premise of the book (down on her luck but intelligent orphan is given a plum spot in a wealthy but mysterious place), to the swoony, gothic romance, to all the extremely well selected and placed quotes at the beginnings of chapters. These are culled from Shelley, Radcliffe, Byron, Polidori, Le Fanu, and, of course, Brontë. There's even a course taught at the school (Night Terrors, I believe. It's all very subtle) where these and similar works are discussed, which adds to the story. 

I wouldn't give this a whole-hearted recommendation, but I will say that if the idea of a modern day Jane Eyre with even more mystery and darkness appeals to you, this could be worth the read. It does get better the further you get into it, and the Big Reveals were actually pretty neat.


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