Monday, 9 July 2012

Review: Dark Companion by Marta Acosta

(image and summary from Goodreads, eARC courtesy of NetGalley)

Orphaned at the age of six, Jane Williams has grown up in a series of foster homes, learning to survive in the shadows of life. Through hard work and determination, she manages to win a scholarship to the exclusive Birch Grove Academy. There, for the first time, Jane finds herself accepted by a group of friends. She even starts tutoring the headmistress’s gorgeous son, Lucien. Things seem too good to be true. They are.

The more she learns about Birch Grove’s recent past, the more Jane comes to suspect that there is something sinister going on. Why did the wife of a popular teacher kill herself? What happened to the former scholarship student, whose place Jane took? Why does Lucien’s brother, Jack, seem to dislike her so much?

As Jane begins to piece together the answers to the puzzle, she must find out why she was brought to Birch Grove—and what she would risk to stay there….

My thoughts:
It starts out as a normal story of a girl, who has grown up in a dangerous neighbourhood with foster parents who leave much to be desired, finally getting the chance to make something of her life. A scholarship to the exclusive Birch Grove Academy for girls is something our protagonist Jane could once only dream about. Now, her goal of becoming a scientist could actually be realized, thanks to the headmistress of Birch Grove, Mrs Radcliffe, who has not only offered her a prestigious education, but also room and board in a little place of her own, a house that once belonged to the groundskeeper. Jane also finds friendship among a small group of girls, who though considered privileged in her mind, treat her much like one of their own. There are also two possible love interests, the irresistible Lucky, and the elusive Jack, both of whom happen to be the sons of the headmistress.

With a great story set, what went wrong? Before I get to that, I should say that I like Marta Acosta’s style of writing. Her words when describing Jane’s surroundings do really make the birch trees come ‘alive’ and it’s easy to understand why Jane seems to think that there is more to the woods than meets the eye. I also particularly liked one of Jane’s new friends, the very likable and definitely unique Mary Violet. It was Mary Violet’s poetry in fact, that lent a very much needed sense of humour to this book. Who could possibly ignore her requiems to dead marsupials, odes to gynaecological paintings and numerous attempts to funnify Jane? I honestly feel like she should have her own spin-off as I found her on multiple occasions to be more interesting a character than Jane.

Now to the not so good parts. I felt like the author tried to cram far too much into this one book. Given all the scientific explanations, in my opinion, this book could very well have been a good contemporary romance with a touch of mysticism. The sudden veering off into the paranormal genre threw me off, and I even considered not finishing the book several times (Mary Violet saved the day as I only continued with the story to see what she would come up with next). I also thought the love aspect came out of nowhere. The first part of the story has no indication that Jane was wrestling with her feelings for both brothers. After swooning to no end after Lucky, she decides in the blink of an eye it’s Jack she’s in love with? I’m sorry, but even Bebe’s disappearance made more sense than that. 

I also took issue with the fact that Jane constantly ‘bashed’ the arts. As a girl with a science background and a great passion for the arts, I found myself personally offended by some of her statements. She reminded me of Dr Temperance Brennan on Bones during some of those scenes. Her continuous problem with her appearance also got tiring pretty fast. Granted that not having a good body image for years may have set itself in stone in her mind, but having two good looking guys lusting after her should have given her a bit of a boost. Well, at least she wasn’t vain.

A conversation towards the end of the book indicates that there might be a sequel in store, though I could be reading too much into those words. I might read it just to see if it is better than this one, or for the descriptions of Jane’s surroundings. But personally, I’d much rather read a collection of Mary Violet’s poetry.

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