I received an invite to view this title from the Publisher through Netgalley.
I was quite excited when I got the initial email with an invite to view the title. It was one on my wish list so I jumped at the chance. Unfortunately, as it turned out, I did not like this book one little bit.
Started off with quite an intriguing premise. A little girl is hidden by her parents and its clear that something very bad is going to happen. She's told what to do when she escapes - find a lady with children or a kid tell them her name is Sarah Mercer and ask for help. They stress the point quite dramatically to tell that her name is Sarah Mercer. It’s never actually made clear (at least not to my recollection) whether that is actually the girl’s real name.
Hop to many years later and Sarah Mercer is a mixed race foster kid who has received a scholarship to some exclusive all immersion private school called Sanctuary Bay on its own private island. The novel starts with Sarah taking the ferry to the new school wondering where the scholarship has come from. She’s not a great student or anything. She’s a victim of an underfunded social care system and has been shipped from one foster home to another.
It’s clear right off she’s got an attitude problem. Understandable given her circumstances, we also learn right off she’s mixed race and never knows what box to check when she’s filling out forms – black or white. This becomes something of an issue for her. Every character that is introduced is described as race, hair colour, what they look like. I’m all for diversity in books, I really do think its very important to have different characters from all kinds of background and ethnicities. It’s a great way to learn about other cultures and people. I don’t need it thrown in my face every time a new person comes onto the scene. Nate – white, brown hair, really good looking, Mr Diaz, Hispanic, curly brown hair. Elaine – white, blonde, very thin. I’m paraphrasing but it’s more or less like that. A lot. It got very tiring very fast.
Sarah’s attitude and the fact that she’s on scholarship and some of the kids she’s now going to school with are extremely rich kids gets very grating as well. I get that she’s tough, but go with the flow already! She’s been given a wonderful opportunity, the kids she meets are annoying, but they appear to be friendly and don’t seem to look down on her because of her background (which I think is where a lot of the attitude problems comes from) At least at some point Sarah does seem to realise this and decides to make the most of the opportunity she has. She’s also got a perfect memory. She can recall absolutely everything she reads or studies. This has caused some problems with teachers in the past who think she has been cheating. She also has problems zoning out when something sparks a memory. Usually something bad. When she remembers that memory down to very last little detail, she’s lost in the moment completely. All adding to the tough girl attitude. She’s snarky and defensive.
The first thing she learns about Sanctuary Bay is it’s a total immersion school system, no contact with parents or the mainland. There’s also a crumbled ruin on the island that used to be a mental institution. There are rumours abound that the doctors performed extremely dangerous and illegal experiments and stuff on the patients. It was also a Nazi POW camp for a time during World War 2. There may be ghosts around. It’s almost like everything horrible that could have happened in terms of POW and badly managed institutions has happened at some point in this island’s history. Now it has turned into an uber posh boarding school.
Sarah learns the school has its own internet, its own wifi system and each student gets their own cell phone which has all their schedules and is voice controlled. When she’s meeting the other kids and her roommates, one of them offers Sarah her notes for a class they share and pretty much tells the phone - send Sarah these notes. Or it can locate any student or teacher anywhere. It’s got some pretty nifty technology. One of the best schools in the country the kids who attend and graduate can pretty much write their ticket to any future they want.
Sounds like a pretty good deal. So why didn’t I like this book? I didn’t like the main character for one thing. As I’ve already mentioned, Sarah’s attitude got on my nerves, she’s almost too perfect, comes in out of the blue and within less than a day everyone, including the teachers, really seem to like her. Along with two of the most popular boys on campus, one being the student body president, who is really popular and handsome. The other is the richest kid in the school, (who happens to be really hot and her roommate’s boyfriend. He’s also an ass, but for some reason even though Sarah tries to say she doesn’t like him, she really does. Blah.)
There’s also hints of a secret society, and anyone in this secret society is going to do better than anyone else. Sarah’s two roommates disappear in the middle of the night frequently. So what does Sarah do – what any inquiring mind would do – she sneaks off to follow them. And gets caught up in this secret society nonsense. It’s all fun and games, and something to do with a daft ritual and some sort of drink that may or may not be drugged and alcoholic. It’s all fun and games and silly initiation rituals until things take a drastically dark turn.
A student goes missing. Sarah thinks she saw what happened but no one else believes her. At this point, I lost interest and pretty much skimmed to see what happened in the end. In spite of the fact that I didn’t really like any of the characters or the hints of a romance plot, the writing was interesting enough that I still wanted to know what was going on. But by the 60% mark or so, it was convoluted ridiculousness.
A big ass conspiracy was revealed that was so unbelievably ludicrous and the whole reveal scene with Sarah confronting the baddie, even finding out the truth about what happened to parents in the novel’s opening scene, was laughable. It seemed to have a somewhat open end as well. It’s left at what could be a cliff hanger or at least open to the point of not knowing what actually happened to the characters who survived the big confrontation scene. Very disappointed in this novel. Not my taste at all.
Thank you to St Martin’s Press for the invite to view the title.