Sunday, May 5, 2013

Early YA book review: Thorn Abbey by Nancy Ohlin

Thorn Abbey by Nancy Ohlin
YA retelling/paranormal*Hardcover/eBook, 304 pages
Expected publication: May 7th 2013 by Simon Pulse

Nothing is as it seems in this darkly romantic tale of infatuation and possession, inspired by Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca.

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, insecure, and ordinary—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. Because Becca may be gone, but she’s not quite ready to let him go…


Thorn Abbey is one of those stories which sneaks up on the reader with its slow but steady story line about the mysterious goings on at a prestigious boarding school. Tess is a quiet middle class teen raised by a single mom who finds herself a transfer student at Thorn Abbey. Her new school is full of privileged kids from various wealthy families and many seem to have issues. When Tessa begins to piece together the strange crying and written messages on her dorm room wall, she learns she may be dealing with the spirit of a deceased student, Becca. Just how vengeful this spirit is is something Tess will discover, but will she finish her first year at Thorn Abbey with her life intact or wind up smashed against the ocean rocks?

Nancy Ohlin does a great job creating the proper creepy setting of a gothic novel. Thorn Abbey may look like a perfect boarding school with its picturesque campus and cliff side views and we all know looks can be deceiving. Between the mournful crying and the close mouthed students, Tess needs to find out what exactly is going on. She's an outsider drawn over time by the allure of the wealthy kids surrounding her. She does seek out their acceptance. Her roommate Devon is like Jekyll and Hyde, nice one moment, condescending the next. When Tess spots Max in class, she's drawn to him though he comes across as aloof. Eventually, he does ask Tessa out and they soon become a couple. There were some nice scenes between them but I wondered what Tessa really saw in the perpetual brooding Max besides his good looks. 

The premise and idea of retelling Rebecca at a private school was intriguing to me. A contemporary ghost story with the mystery of how and why this ghost is around increasing her presence certainly was interesting. The gothic setting was spot-on but there were areas I felt unsatisfied with. I thought Tessa's character lacked dimension--who is she and what does she look like? I felt this way about the other characters. Everyone came across as self centered and cold and I couldn't connect with any of them, even though I desperately wanted to with Tess. I always felt 'in the moment' but found myself wondering about who Tess really is as well as the other students, especially Devon and Max. Once Becca took on a more active role in the story, the languid pace picked up an intensity which made me read straight through. I loved the creepy ending and wonder if the author will make this a series or keep it a stand alone.

I'm really on the fence about Thorn Abbey. The idea of a retelling was fantastic. The gothic setting was strong and the ghostly aspect drew me in until the surprising end. I always felt "in the moment" of the story, yet something was lacking. I didn't connect with anyone. The characters didn't seem fully fleshed out. They came across cold. I really needed to find out more about them, especially Tessa (what did she look like?).  My problem with the book was I really wanted to love it and actually wound up merely liking it.

Rating: 3

Cover comment:
The cover boasts a picture of Becca and it's not even good. I expected something better, especially since this is a Simon Pulse title and they usually feature great cover art.

Book source:
I picked up the ARC at a book signing event.

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