Thorn Abbey by Nancy Ohlin
Becca was the perfect girlfriend: smart, gorgeous, and loved by everyone at New England’s premier boarding school, Thorn Abbey. But Becca’s dead. And her boyfriend, Max, can’t get over his loss.
Then Tess transfers to Thorn Abbey. She’s shy, insecure, and ordinary—everything that Becca wasn’t. And despite her roommate’s warnings, she falls for brooding Max.
Now Max finally has a reason to move on. Except it won’t be easy. Because Becca may be gone, but she’s not quite ready to let him go…
The young adult genre - especially YA romance - gets a pretty bad rap. And while not all books fall into the crappy, instalove category, Thorn Abbey definitely does. Ohlin managed to take a creepy plot idea with a lot of potential and turn it into a giant YA stereotype.
Which makes sense, I guess, since most of Thorn Abbey's characters were basically walking, talking stereotypes. There's the perfect girl with the dirty secrets, the bad girl and her weight-obsessed fashionista posse, the dark, handsome, and brooding love interest, and, let's not forget, the awkward and lovesick narrator. Blech. The only character who wasn't completely 2D and boring was Tess. But any good that little bit of character development did her was overpowered by the constant reminder that she's just "not like other girls." Not only that, but Tess is yet another example of social anxiety being portrayed as cute and quirky.
Tess also has an annoying habit of over-clarifying everything that happens. She'd read or hear something about Becca and then say "What? So-and-so did this with what's-his-name!?" Or, after uncovering information on Becca, she'd immediately say "What? What does it mean!?" even though whatever she'd just uncovered was glaringly and blatantly obvious. Instead of creating suspense, it made Tess come off as a bit dumb, which she obviously isn't.
The most annoying thing about Thorn Abbey was the romance. The love story between Tess and Max was almost cringe-worthy at times. Reading it was like running down a checklist of bad YA cliches. Instalove? Check. Super-hot boy falls for completely ordinary and nerdy girl? Check. Jealous ex the boy can't seem to get over? Check, again. Okay, yes, this time, the jealous ex was dead, but Tess' constant insistence that she could "so help him get over Becca" canceled that out. Romances like this one give YA a bad name - but hey, at least this time there wasn't a badly-executed love triangle!
Thorn Abbey wasn't a total flop. The book got creepy fast and stayed creepy. It wasn't actually thrilling or scary, but it was a little freaky. And it definitely built up to a chilling climax. Stephen King fans would be extremely disappointed by this book, but those who don't like true horror might find it more their speed. The "twist" ending was another pretty good thing about Thorn Abbey, even if it was still pretty predictable. Thorn Abbey didn't really satisfy me, but readers who don't mind books with a little less substance might like the creepy, slow-build ghost story aspect of it.
Once Upon a Time...
As a longtime lover of stories and a believer in the power and magic of books, I've spent my life seeking out the best reads. This blog is dedicated to reviewing the books I read - good, bad, or magnificent - to help other readers find their next favorite books.