Author: Marta Acosta
Genre: YA, dark fantasy
Publication Date: July 3, 2012 (North America – Tor/Macmillan)
Source: NetGalley Review Copy
Summary: 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?
☆: 2.5/5 stars – unmemorable, full of promise but really disappointing.
Review: Guys, I stayed with this one as long as I could, and made it about halfway through the book. I really wanted to like it – the blurb sounded awesome, after all, but I found, ultimately, in pretty much all departments that “Dark Companion” failed to deliver.
Let’s run through the standard literary elements I inspect when I review. First, characters – pretty much all of them felt very…2D, not quite 3D, and not really real. I think Jane could have had a bit more fire to her – I understand her upbringing was extremely rough, but at the same time, to adapt and survive, you can either assume the position and take the abuse, or stand up and not take the abuse. As a child of an abuse victim, I just can’t go with the doormat characters. I saw too much of that in real life. And the sidekick/new BFF characters felt so typical of a lot of these boarding school/rich kid school YA characters that have been floating around as of late – the only thing that made them somewhat interesting was their word choice for expletives. I didn’t see the point of Jane having to prove her urban roots by using words like “ax” instead of “ask” – that was just kind of screaming token person of color the entire time. And I hate that.
The world – while Acosta is great with sensory language and imagery when she chooses to use it, I found she was doing a lot of telling and not much showing. But when she chooses to show it, she can really use it well (and that kind of saved the book for me). The worldbuilding was actually the best bit of the novel – creepy, interesting, and felt more real the characters or their situations. I wish the world and its mystery had been given more focus instead of the daily lives of Jane and her new friends.
The pace was incredibly slow, and I kept waiting for the hook to sink in. It didn’t until I was at page 178, and by then, I was done waiting. Only at that point did it get interesting, but since my time is limited, I just couldn’t afford to keep reading. While it seems it turns out that there’s bloodplay involved along with vampire sex – Acosta, why didn’t you put this in earlier? It’s so much more of a hook. While I wouldn’t encourage teens to actually engage in this behavior, it’s interesting to see it actually pop up in YA literature to be discussed, even in a limited capacity.
So, basically, aside from the interesting bit that was located to far in for me to really keep reading, this one is kind of unmemorable, and really, I’d skip it. There are far better genre books like this one out there. However, this is just my take. Decide for yourself when the book hits shelves in a few weeks. “Dark Companion” is out from Tor Teen/Macmillan on July 3, 2012 in North America. Be sure to check it out then and decide for yourself.