Sara Wilson Etienne
Paranormal Young Adult
G.P. Putnam's Sons/Penguin
Received from author for review
THE STORY (from Goodreads)
Plagued by waking visions and nightmares, inexplicably drawn to the bones of dead animals, Faye thinks she's going crazy. Fast. Her parents beleive Holbrook Academy might just be the solution. Dr. Mordoch tells her it's the only answer. But Faye knows that something's not quite right about Dr. Mordoch and her creepy, prisonlike school for disturbed teenagers.
What's wrong with Holbrook goes beyond the Takers, sadistic guards who threaten the student body with Tasers and pepper spray; or Nurse, who doles out pills at bedtime and doses of solitary confinement when kids step out of line; or Rita, the strange girl who delivers ominous messages to Faye that never seem to make any sense. What's wrong with Holbrook begins and ends with Faye's red hands; she and her newfound friends--her Holbrook "family"--wake up every morning with their hands stained the terrible brown of dried blood. Faye has no idea what it means but fears she may be the cause.
Because despite the strangeness of Holbrook and the island on which it sits, Faye feels oddly connected to the place; she feels especially linked to the handsome Kel, who helps her unravel the mystery. There's just one problem: Faye's certain Kel's trying to kill her--and maybe the rest of the world, too.
Harbinger is a tale full of dark corners teeming with shadowy secrets that hide from our searching gaze, forcing us to look harder and deeper for brief glances of their flickering forms before they once again dart out of our line of sight and leave us wondering how what we just saw will fit into the overall story. The title alone has us on edge, knowing the connotations associated with such a word are typically negative in nature, and we peel back the first page with our pulses beating a little faster and anticipation leaking from our pores as Faye is rather unceremoniously abandoned at Holbrook Academy. The mystery surrounding the school itself and Faye in particular is decadently thick, layer after layer created and stacked with careful crafting as it waits for us to find the beauty and intrigue in dismantling such a intricate construction.
Faye is a young woman who has our complete support instantaneously as she's deserted by her father, left to deal with the strange terror of her hallucinations on her own with no one but a doctor who places power above concern and instills hatred and fear instead of encouraging trust to help guide her. She and the six other members of her Family have an invisible seventh member in us readers, our blood burning along with theirs at what they're forced to endure, and our rage practically wafting from our bodies as those who are supposed to be helping them seek only to tear them down and crush them under the heels of their boots. Despite their treatment, all six of them stay strong and band together, and we can't help but smile as they are forced to bend but never allow themselves to break.
While Faye and her new friends are characters with whom our connection is a live wire pulsing with the full emotional spectrum, the story itself is a bit confusing at times. The first half beautifully builds the suspense while giving us time to really get to know Faye and company, clues uncovered slowly, though not so tediously as to bore us with filler content while waiting for the next revelation, but the second half seems to shift the story into a completely new gear and we find ourselves desperately trying to catch up. It's almost as though we've been driving through the plot on a clear day at a nice, even pace, only to reach the halfway point and have the heavens open up and pour down on us—we still know where we are and what direction we're headed, but now the details of our journey are blurred and a liquid filter has distorted what we once recognized and understood. Everything exists for us then in shades of muted grays with fuzzy edges, and we can't quite grasp the clarity we need to help us fully appreciate what's happening.
Harbinger is a solid debut from Ms. Wilson overall, with an engaging story and easy-to-love characters, the difference between the first half and the second half is just a touch more prominent than expected. The cruelty of Dr. Mordoch and the Holbrook staff is what initially yanks us into the story and has us flipping the pages with shocking rapidity, however, their vile behavior is never linked to the mystery of the harbinger and all that is brought to light in the second half, so we experience an unfortunate disconnect between what drew us in and where we end up on the last page. Even with those few flaws, it's clear Ms. Wilson is a talented writer and storyteller, and she will be one to watch as her career moves forward.