New Girl by Paige Harbison.

Paperback, 314 pages

Published January 31st, 2012 by Harlequin Teen

IBSN: 9780373210428

Years ago, on a post Harry Potter whim, New Girl (she remains nameless throughout novel, I will just refer to her as NG from now on) told her parents that she wanted to attend Manderley Academy – an exclusive boarding school in New Hampshire. Now, her parents announce that she has gotten in and that’s where she’ll be spending her senior year of high school.

NG is less than thrilled – she will miss her lovely hot Florida, her family, and her great circle of friends – but doesn’t want to disappoint her parents.

Manderley is beautiful – The campus had always been striking in the pictures I saw, but to see it in person made me feel like I was in the presence of some omniscient queen – but, as she meets all her new classmates, NG discovers that she is hardly welcome there. Last year, Becca, a girl who everyone seems to love and adore, went missing. It is because of the disappearance that NG got a spot at the school at all. She is even living in Becca’s old dorm, sharing it with her old roommate and crushing on Becca’s boyfriend. But what is the real deal with Becca’s disappearance?

New Girl is told from two perspectives: NG’s in the present and Becca’s from one year earlier, when she too was the new girl at Manderley. It is a retelling of Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier – written in 1938 and made into a movie by Hitchcock in 1940. Unfamiliar with the story, I read a summary of the original novel afterwards to get a grasp on how much New Girl draws on Rebecca. You can read it here – but beware of spoilers for both books.

While the similarities are close, I think that Daphne du Maurier’s characters have probably lost a lot of depth, being recreated as high school students. Dana, especially. It sounds like her counterpart was completely vindictive, devoted and evil in Rebecca. In New Girl she is only a portion of that. But really, until I read the original or at least watch the movie, I am hardly an expert in the matter. Bearing in mind, too, that this is a young adult novel, the retelling is probably pretty good. 

However, if I take away all that retelling business and just focus on New Girl as I would any other novel I pick from my shelf, I am not really a fan. It is easy to get into – I devoured the first fifty or so pages – but at about a third of the way through, I suddenly realised that I disliked every single person. Or at the very least, I just didn’t care about them. NG suddenly began suffering from a terrible bout of no-personality and insecurity – I know that this was a part of the tale, from the power of Becca’s spirit seeping throughout the whole of Manderley Academy, and everyone comparing NG to Becca all the time, etc, etc, but it just made her . . . annoying, I guess. Even that isn’t the right word. Boring, inconsequential.

Becca’s side of things was more interesting. She was a ‘troubled’ child back home, before her parents shipped her off to Manderley. We see her come onto the dull boarding school scene and shake it up by introducing parties and snagging the hot, unattainable Max. She is self centred, egotistical, fun loving, outgoing, daring, predatory and promiscuous. As a lead character, I liked her better.

Even though the two POVs were clearly labelled and told from different perspectives (NG in first person, Becca in third), I found myself blurring their situations and getting a bit confused sometimes. More so when I was thinking back, if that makes sense. Like when NG said she had done this certain thing – I didn’t remember that at all and realised that I must have read a whole chapter of hers thinking that she was Becca. Maybe if I had paid more attention.

When I picked this up, I expected an intense mystery, possibly with some thrills. For a while it seemed like the mystery side of things was going to really pick up – there was a stretch in the second half of the book that I was really getting into – but unfortunately the end of the mystery was very anti-climatic. Meanwhile, the Manderley scene is so superficial and shallow. There’s oodles of parties with teen drinking and pointless sex. I raised my eyebrow in unimpressed detachment pretty often.

When I realised that this was written by the same author as Here Lies Bridget, I was quite excited (this was before I began reading it). I really enjoyed HLB, and I will most likely read Paige Harbison’s next book. As for this, you may love it. But I didn’t.


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