Thursday, April 24, 2014

Book review: The Unseemly Education of Anne Merchant by Joanna Wiebe

Summary:

So many secrets for such a small island. From the moment Anne Merchant arrives at Cania Christy, a boarding school for the world’s wealthiest teens, the hushed truths of this strange, unfamiliar land begin calling to her—sometimes as lulling drumbeats in the night, sometimes as piercing shrieks.

One by one, unanswered questions rise. No one will tell her why a line is painted across the island or why she is forbidden to cross it. Her every move—even her performance at the school dance—is graded as part of a competition to become valedictorian, a title that brings rewards no one will talk about. And Anne discovers that the parents of her peers surrender million-dollar possessions to enroll their kids in Cania Christy, leaving her to wonder what her lowly funeral director father could have paid to get her in… and why.

As a beautiful senior struggles to help Anne make sense of this cloak-and-dagger world without breaking the rules that bind him, she must summon the courage to face the impossible truth—and change it—before she and everyone she loves is destroyed by it.


NOTE: I received the eARC via Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.

When I requested this book, I was really intrigued by the sound of the summary. Not the private school stuff - that's just too common - but the questions behind Anne being there. I got hooked from the first page on and was immersed in a world quite different from what I'd expected.

Writing style:
Fairly good and catchy. What I enjoyed the most though was that it was written so no secret was given away prematurely. No mystery was revealed until it's allotted time. That's what held me intrigued until the end.

Story line:
It was different from anything I'd ever read, taking aside the special private school. The world that Joanna Wiebe created isn't something I - or many YA readers - am used to (which is why Anne's story may not be much appreciated). It's a complete opposite to the norm I know (sweet or snarky girl falls for a sweet or snarky guy and nothing ever deviates from this general plot), which I presume is a reason why many readers won't necessarily like it. It's a different world that Anne Merchant goes to. A world where seduction, selfishness, outward beauty, sleaziness, abuse and such are highly esteemed. It's a world where you can't trust your own eyes or ears. Nothing is what it appears and you don't have the slightest idea what is really going on.

Themes:
- The everlasting one - being different and trying to somehow fit in (or not);
- Distrust towards everyone about everything could sometimes prove to be the best action plan;
- Not trusting the right people though... it can cost much;
- The ultimate price of life - or what would you give up to be alive?
- The evil that lurks around - where exactly is it?

Characters:
*Anne was a girl with a character and lots of questions. Not always the right ones, that's for sure, but at least she did her best to ask, to pry, to figure things out. For the most part, she did well. I understood her denial (although I think it was rather artificially prolonged) of all things supernatural. She was a realist after all. But the clues, the things she found out... there were no natural explanations of them. I just wish she hadn't clung to her idea of a reform school/asylum all that long. I was a bit disappointed by her because she didn't try expanding her imagination to include the impossible explanations that lurked on the sides of her mind. And she was an artist, for crying out loud. Wasn't she supposed to be more open minded?
What I did like about her was that she decided to remain mostly unblemished by the darkness that lurked around her. Everybody seemed to be going for a life theme (PT) that loosed them on their morals, but not Anne. She could've picked the easy way out and become a seductress (as her trainer had said in numerous occasions), but no. She decided that having information was more honest, and more to her liking.

*Pilot - he was the snarky boy that you'd think would win Anne's heart. I mean, that's what usually happens right? So you'd expect it. Only this book is about the unexpected, so you'd better not try to solve anything or think ahead much. So, Pilot. He was likeable from the very beginning. He seemed to be defending his own view of the world. He had a purpose and was prepared to fight for it. In all honesty, among all the wickedness around Cania Christy, Pilot seemed to be actually good. Which should've made me suspicious way early, but no such luck.

*Ben was the guy who secretly admired Anne from the sidelines. He obviously wanted to take some action and get close to her, but just when I'd think he would, he'd start acting all cool and nonchalant - as if he didn't even see her there. Bipolar much? Umm, no. All of that secrecy, all of his little hints, all his love/hate/indifference had their purpose in the creepy mystery that is this book. I can't say that I liked Ben all that much. Not until the end anyway. But dude, that's because I had no idea what was going on. After finishing the book, I sort of understood why things happened the way they did.

*Teddy - Anne's very creepy personal guardian. That dude... he gave me the chills. Especially when he suggested getting all close and personal with Anne just to boost her grade. While I was still reading, I thought "what a total perv!", but again, after finishing, well... let's just say he isn't who he pretended to be. Still very creepy though.

*Headmaster Villicus was evil incarnate. No, I'm serious. He hid it under a mask of superiority, but really, that kind of evil can never be hidden too well. It leaks all over the place.

*Molly was probably the only real friend Anne made. She was risky, good-natured, adventurous. She never seemed to care much about herself. For some reason she seemed resigned to her fate. But she cared about Anne. The life that Molly was living - all alone, stranded on the stupid enchanted island with no one of her own age to even talk to - well it wasn't all that good. I'm glad that she befriended Anne, even though that ended the way it did.

In conclusion:
I want to say that if you're expecting a sweet romance with some paranormal elements out of this book, you'd better go find yourself a different read. This isn't a teen romance with some background story thrown in there. The Unseemly Education of Anne Merchant is a mystery/thriller/dark-paranormal fantasy with some elements of romance in the background. It's creepy, it's got unexpected twists and turns and it deals with truths that aren't easy to stomach.

My rating is: