by Nancy Ohlin
To be published by Simon Pulse
on May 7, 2013
Source: e-ARC from the publisher via Edelweiss. Please see my full FTC disclosure on the right sidebar.
Connect with the author: website : Twitter.
Summary (from author's website:) Gone but not forgotten ...My take: I'm a big fan of Rebecca, a 1938 novel by Daphne duMaurier, so I'm always up for checking out a new interpretation of the story.
Becca was the perfect girlfriend: smart, gorgeous, and loved by everyone at New England’s premier boarding school, Thorn Abbey. But Becca’s dead. And her boyfriend, Max, can’t get over his loss. Then Tess transfers to Thorn Abbey. She’s shy and insecure—everything that Becca wasn’t. And despite her roommate’s warnings, she falls for brooding Max. Now Max finally has a reason to move on. Except, it won’t be easy. Becca may be gone, but she’s not quite ready to let him go….
In January 2012, I reviewed New Girl by Paige Harbison, another YA retelling of Rebecca. In that review, I summarize the main plot of the original story. In short, Rebecca is a gothic romance that features a brooding hero, a heroine who is insecure in love, an atmospheric old house, and the sinister presence of another woman.
To me, one of the challenges that comes with retelling Rebecca is that many elements of the original story are also things that drive modern YA readers crazy: a female narrator who is mousy and unconfident, a male love interest who runs extremely hot and cold, either declaring his love to the heroine or pushing her away, a strong dose of insta-love, and a plot that builds suspense very slowly. On the positive side of things, Rebecca offers a spooky supernatural vibe and a couple of truly sinister female villains.
Thorn Abbey uses a very similar premise to that of New Girl: a new girl arrives at a fancy boarding school to find that she's assigned to the room of a dead student, Rebecca. I was glad that Thorn Abbey didn't make the main character completely meek, just out of her element. Tess is a scholarship student in a school full of rich kids. She doesn't understand their language -- peppered with talk about Killington and Klonies -- and they treat her with cheerful disdain.
Max, the love interest, was a bit of another story. In the original book, the heroine spends the majority of the book feeling that she can never live up to the beauty and talent of her husband Max's dead wife, Rebecca. In Thorn Abbey, Tess is trying to develop a relationship with fellow student Max while worrying that he still carries a torch for his dead girlfriend. Max came off to me as mopey rather than brooding and I never really felt any connection between the two of them.
Another challenge in updating Rebecca is that the original book relies on two shocking plot revelations that don't occur until well into the story: (highlight to read spoiler) first, that Max actually loathed Rebecca, and second, that he was responsible for her death. (end spoiler.) As a result, some readers I've pushed Rebecca on have found the pace too slow. The book holds the reader's interest through the heroine's feelings of inadequacy and the way they are intensified by the evil machinations of her husband's creepy housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers. In Thorn Abbey, Mrs. Danvers is re-cast as Tess's roommate, Devon, who came off as more ditzy than demented.
But then, Thorn Abbey took a bold and intriguing supernatural turn: (highlight to read spoiler) namely, killing Devon and having her possessed by the spirit of the dead Rebecca. (end spoiler.) I really wish that this had happened earlier in the story, as I think it would have ramped up the tension in the first half of the book. After this revelation, the book really picks up in suspense. The ending is also a bit of a shocker, a spooky departure from the original. On the downside, the ending is very abrupt.
As a die-hard fan of Rebecca, I did enjoy Thorn Abbey. I also appreciated the little in-jokes, like the characters' obsession with the movie To Catch a Thief and the new role played by Frank Crawley. Readers who are completely unfamiliar with the original book should keep in mind that a little patience is in order, as like the original Rebecca, Thorn Abbey backloads all the exciting stuff into the last quarter of the story.
Have you read Rebecca or seen Alfred Hitchcock's movie based on the book?