Review: New Girl by Paige Harbison

New GirlPublisher: HarlequinTeen
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Mystery
Pages: 320 (paperback)
Release Date: 31 January 2012
Source: Netgalley.
Rating:4 out of 5 stars.

Blurb (from Goodreads.com)

A contemporary young-adult retelling inspired by the classic 1938 romantic suspense bestseller Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.

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.

Review (full review posted on Goodreads.com)

It was a little hard to get into, but by the time Becca’s narration came I was interested. Becca’s POV caught me by surprise – I wasn’t expecting it and I was completely prepared to not like it… but Becca was fascinating to read about – that level of sociopathy could only result in something tragic – much like the badly behaving teenagers in horror films always get killed – you know, the ones who drink and have sex. Teen horror flicks are morality warnings. I never felt this book was preachy, but I could certainly see how others might think that.

Sometimes I wondered if Becca was so bad just to contrast with how good ‘New Girl’ was. New Girl was a good girl. Sure, she was as bad as the other students: She broke all the school rules, snuck out after curfew, went to the boys’ dorm, had things with both boys Becca was after, and got drunk –  but she wasn’t half as bad as Becca, who was truly atrocious. Let’s look at some of my status updates for Becca’s character:

Page 55: I don’t even think this is slut shaming but Becca is all kinds of a bitch.

Page 66: Look, Becca may be a manipulative bitch whom I really don’t like but I’m really enjoying reading about her. She’s a great, flawed, insecure, desperate for attention drama queen and it’s a nice relief to see those imperfections when mostly in YA we get boring personality-less Mary-Sues like Nora and Bella and Luce.

Page 127: Wow, Becca is all kinds of psycho. Her parts of the story are definitely more interesting than the nameless 1st person POV. It’s like Mean Girls with extra bitch and an extra helping of slut. She’s so manipulative… I’m so glad I never knew anyone like her in high school!

Page 211: Becca is just all kinds of psycho.

Page 220: Ugh, this is way worse than the queen bee bitches of Before I Fall. Becca seriously has issues.

I guessed very early on what the twist would be. A red herring threw me off, but then it turned out I was right: I was wrong about another thing, but I was close enough to realise why Dana was so damaged. I knew she’d witnessed something. Her character totally freaked me out as well. It was easy to imagine someone losing their mind like that.

Throughout the narrative I sympathised with New Girl. She was adjusting to a new place and thinking about what her life would be like when she went home. Although I liked reading New Girl’s story, I was far more invested in and interested in the manipulation that was Becca’s narrative. It was so interesting reading about the things that happened the year prior, and when things were revealed, how they reflected in the modern day New Girl’s narrative. Although this book is about the New Girl, Becca’s narrative is integral. She was a truly fascinating character, and very believable.

One of the problems I had was being unable to really ‘place’ the year this novel was written. It made weird references to the film Titanic, Brad Pitt’s dating – he hasn’t ‘dated’ since 2000 – and Cate Blanchett (in Lord of the Rings, also from 2001), but then it constantly referenced Facebook as well. I’m pretty sure it was meant to be set in contemporary times, but the references to things from a decade ago was a little bit strange. Perhaps the author was not aware of whatever today’s teens are talking about, but I’m pretty sure it’s not the same things we were talking about when we were teens a decade ago.

I DO NOT object to anything that’s in this book. I don’t understand how the students keep getting their hands on alcohol and I don’t understand why adults don’t seem to care there’s underage drinking, but all of these things? It’s AWESOME. It adds conflict. It makes the book interesting! I LIKE reading about all the fucked up things teens do – teens that don’t have my background. I still hate parties because of all the drama that happens at them – but I love reading about it.

The biggest problem I had with the narrative was all those extremely common moments when the narrator told the audience what was going on, instead of showing us. Really simple sentences that could have been elaborated, but weren’t. Stuff like: Dana looked shocked… all of them said yes, nodding… the guys were all laughing and clapping at them. This happened a lot early on in the novel, although I think by the end I was either so used to it I didn’t notice anymore or it didn’t happen so much. I was a little disappointed by such simple writing, because I felt it could have been so much better.

The build up to the climax became somewhat unbelievable. It was far too convenient that Blake’s family would pay for a bunch of private hotel rooms that included beds when a bunch of underage drinking teens were involved. Is no one worried about preserving these teens’ virtue? I started to wonder if all the sex and drinking wouldn’t be more suited to a university style of life, because there was next to no adult supervision at any time, and all the rule-breaking didn’t seem particularly difficult or dangerous. Age everyone a few years, remove all the rule breaking and it’d be completely normal. But then I guess the whole Becca thing wouldn’t be so outrageous.

And upon reaching the climax, the audience is suddenly thrown two completely new points of view that we just totally don’t need. This should have been planned from the beginning, and subtly shifted to omniscient POV, not limited head-hopping for a random page. And it’s not accidental: these POVs are labelled so we don’t get confused. I just can’t understand why they’re even there.

And then the ending didn’t make much sense. New Girl tells us that she’s been having recurring dreams all year, but she’s only had one or two. Becca’s body is found a year after she dies in the water – still identifiable? Not decomposed or anything? It just doesn’t make sense. My forensics-trained and former morgue technician hubby tells me her body would definitely be bones, picked clean by the sea life – and maybe not even bones, depending on the area. So how did they find Becca’s body, what condition was it in, and how did they identify her?

But as a bonus, New Girl actually grew as a character. She grew and changed and changed her life as well! It was awesome watching her make the connections in her brain and outgrowing her old home as she had all these new experiences at Manderlay. Yay for heroines who can think for themselves!

And love triangle? Pfft! What love triangle? It’s not a love triangle: it’s a damned train wreck. But I mean that in a good way. Everyone is fucked over by everyone else. There’s no pining and puppy dog eyes and ‘I can’t live without you.’

Overall, despite its flaws, I really enjoyed this book and during the final third I couldn’t wait to get back to reading it. I give it a firm four stars.

AND I really want to read Here Lies Bridget.

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