Monday, February 20, 2012

Review: Harbinger

Sara Wilson Etienne
Paranormal Young Adult
320 pages
G.P. Putnam's Sons/Penguin
Available Now
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.

Rating 3.5/5


  1. I thought this book was really the kind of book Ive been longing to read till I was so fed up with all these clues and suspense non-sense that I didnt finished the last 100 pages. But I still love your review. Im glad that you enjoy it better than I did. x


  2. Great review Jenny. I wonder why the writer broke the book up like that. Without reading it I can come up with no conclusions of my own. Even so you say she is a writer to follow so I may give this one a try. Eventually, LOL.

    Hope you have a great week! Hi to the pups!


  3. I see this book nearly everywhere right now! And truth to be told I was not yet sure about it although I love the trailer! It seems like you liked it although the discrepancies between the first and second half. But I do love the sound of the mysteries build in layers and I guess I will put it up to read it some day!

  4. "She and the six other members of her Family have an invisible seventh member in us readers..." I love how you said that, Jenny! I think it's awesome when authors write a story in a way that makes us feel like we're a part of the story -- mystery books usually have that, which is why I adore them so much! And this book sounds SO suspenseful albeit a little confusing, but when is a mystery not? LOL! x)

    Amazing review, Jenny! <3 Despite those little flaws, Harbinger sounds AWESOME and I definitely plan on reading it soon! :)

  5. Lalaine - There was definitely a lot going on with this one! I just wanted a little more explanation for the way the kids were treated, that didn't quite tie in for me with the Harbinger prophecy.

    Heather - I'm not quite sure why the two halves felt so different for me, I can put my finger on a single reason. I was super involved in the first half and really wanted to know why Dr. Mordoch was so cruel, but I never really found out why:(

    Danny - The trailer for this book was amazing wasn't it? I did enjoy it overall despite the flaws:)

    Mimi - This is true. And I'm usually easily confused ;-) I adored the first half, it was a solid 4 for me, I just needed a little more explanation in the second half:)

  6. Okay, now that you mention it, there was a big difference between the first and second half. It was in the back of my mind, but your review put words to my feeling. I still really enjoyed Harbinger, though! I thought it was incredibly creepy. *shivers*

  7. Okay, I suck, but I haven't really been excited to read this one because I'm not a fan of the cover, or of trying to swim in a down pour. LOL

    Have I told you I'm constantly in awe of your prowess with descriptions? Your review has more than satisfied my curiosity for this book, Jenny. Thanks!

  8. The second half of this book is where it started to lose me - it seemed like a different story by then. Regardless, the suspenseful first half was great! A difficult book to set aside,

    Wonderfully written review, Jenny! :)

  9. Lauren - I really enjoyed it as well, I thought it was a very different read. There was just that disconnect between the halves that prevented me from giving it a higher rating:)

    Missie - Thanks! I am chock full of descriptive prowess, so glad you noticed ;-) Modesty, thy name is Jenny:)

    Lea - Exactly! I was completely on board the first half and couldn't wait to see what was going on and why these kids were being abused in such a fashion, and then I didn't get any information on that in the second half.

  10. Good to see I wasn't the only one who was confused at times! I liked this one quite a bit, and I can't wait to see what Wilson has in store for us next.

    Great review, Jenny :)

  11. So now I'm even more curious about this book. It seems a little darker than I normally like but I think I'll still read it. Thanks for the review.


  12. I have been wanting to read this one for awhile, the cover I think speaks to me. I am sad though that there is a disconnect. Still it sounds like a book to try. Another great review! Have a great Monday Jenny.

  13. Thanks for the great review :) I'm a bit worried about reading this because I've been so excited for it. I'm glad to hear that the writing is solid and the suspense well built. But I've heard multiple people say now that it gets confusing at points.

    None the less? I can't wait to read it!

    -Jac @ For Love and Books

  14. Hafsah - Nope, you are not alone with your confusion. There were a couple times where I thought I had blinked and missed something, so I'd flip back to see. Didn't help usually. Still thought it was an engaging story though!

    Valerie - It has it's dark moments, but it's not too dark I don't think:)

    Heidi - That disconnect may not happen for everyone, I'll be interested to see what you think!

    Jac - You're welcome! I was definitely confused at times, but it wasn't overwhelming, I just wanted a little more information here and there to help tie things together:)

  15. I love the cover, the red is so pretty. I am a sucker for a cool cover after all

  16. I grabbed a copy of this book quite recently and really can't wait to read it! It has been on my wishlist for such a long time and everyone seems to have mostly positive things to say about it. I'm glad you thought this was still a solid read despite the few issues you had with it. Thanks for the helpful review! I can't wait to see what I make of it myself. :)

  17. Glad I wasn't the only one a bit confused later on in the story. The brutality in the beginning definitely sucked me in. That place was so horrible.

  18. I've heard amazing things about this one lately and cannot wait to give it a go myself. It sounds extremely good! It sucks that you were a bit confused though, that's definitely not always a plus in a story. I'm curious to see what I think myself as I pick it up! Truly great review, Jenny!:)

  19. Oooh, it seems that every review I read of this one is very, very different. I'm really intrigued by it! It sounds like a departure from anything else I've read in quite a while. Looking forward to checking it out soon. Thanks for the great review!

  20. Harbinger sounds different from a lot of the paranormal YA that I read. Is it somewhat like Bleeding Violet cause that's what someone told me.

  21. Oh I'm on the fence. I mean it sounds so interesting, but that disconnect. Hm... sometimes books like that bother me to distration. Still, the sound of her writing otherwise sound intriguing. Hm...

  22. Linda - I'm a sucker fora pretty cover too, they get me every time:)

    Sam - It was solid for sure:) A little confusing in the second half, but definitely an interesting read!

    Eileen - Nope, I was confused too:) And Holbrook was horrible, I wanted more development with that aspect because that's what hooked me from the first page:)

    Rebecca - I'm curious to see what you think too!

    Leanna - It's fun when the reviews are all over the board, it always makes me want to read a book more just so I can see how my opinion compares:)

    Jenny - It's very different, I liked that about it. I haven't read Bleeding Violet so I couldn't speak as to their similarities, but I'm hoping to get to that one soon. I feel like I say that a lot though and never quite make it to all the books I want to:)

    Melissa - The second half was a bit bothersome just because things seemed to happen so suddenly and then I reached the last page and was all "whuh?". I could have used an extra 10 pages or so of explanation:)

  23. I saw this book at B&N yesterday and I love the cover!

    I've seen a few reviews that have said similar things. The confusion part has me a bit worried. I don't know if I'll ever read the book but if I happened across it at a good deal or at the library I may pick it up. It certainly sounds interesting to me.

  24. Hmmm, I have heard of this book and I've been wanting to read it. Thanks so much for the review!

  25. I've gone back and forth with this book--some great reviews, some alluding to the less-than-satisfactory explanation of things--and I think this might end up being a library book for me. It's intriguing but I'm not fully sold. And I don't know what it is about the cover It just doesn't grab me (and I'm a total sucker for a cover--will buy for cover alone, sometimes!). Great review as always (such a way with words)!

  26. Huh, I'm confused as to why there are two distinct halves in this book. It sounds as if the author had an another idea while writing the first part and put that on hold. Hmm, I know there was a lot of hype with this book so I think I'll wait to read this one.

  27. The synopsis sounds like The Body Finder a bit... and the cover whore in me is not SCREAMING to BUY IT! LOL

  28. Hmmmmmm.... I don't know if I would be able to deal with the second half of the book being so different than the first half (I have been found that this has happened with sooooo many books that I have read lately and it is quickly going to the top of my pet-peeve list). Though I do love the fact that the characters are so likeable- I think that this is going to have to go on the 'maybe' pile.

  29. I don't know if I'd like this one .. It sound good but not awesome so I'm not sure I'll buy it !! I love the cover though, it looks gorgeous !
    Thanks for the review Jenny :)

  30. I'm always hesitant to read books with such frustrating circumstances. It drives me nuts to have characters stuck in helpless or hopeless situations. Still, I'm intrigued by the suspense, so I wind up reading them anyway.

    Something about this book reminds me of Shutter Island. Probably the whole crazy people trapped in a mental ward angle.

  31. I'm so ridiculously excited about this one. I've started it and it's not just a Private School Paranormal (which I love), but it has a Post-Apocalyptic angle as well. All the same, since you didn't love it, I'm glad it's a book I don't have to review. I want to enjoy it--not look at it critically--as I'm wont to do.

  32. I can't decide if I'd find the second half intriguing or just completely frustrating. Sometimes I like being thrust into action and confusion, not knowing what the heck is going on and trying to figure it out... though there's definitely such a thing as too much confusion, so I don't know. The mystery wrap-up would absolutely be frustrating for me too though.

  33. Ugh. I really dislike it when a book drawls in my attention, and then just disconnects. :/ I do love the cover for this one, it's very pretty. :) Thanks for the awesome review on the book!

  34. I'm reading this now and finding it, as you mention, somewhat confusing. Though, I really like Faye and her visions. I think it's an interesting story so far! Great review :)

  35. "She and the six other members of her Family have an invisible seventh member in us readers." Jeez, Jenny, you always have just the right turn of phrase for these things. I love your review, it gives me a really good sense of what the book is like.

    I have been very intrigued by this concept (and cover!), but it's always good to have tempered expectations--I appreciate the honest review, as always.

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