Title: Dark Companion
Author: Marta Acosta
Genre: YA Paranormal
Publication Date: July 3, 2012
Format: Hardback, 368 Pages
ISBN-10: 0765329646 (Macmillan/TOR)
ISBN-13: 978-0765329646 (Macmillan/TOR)
Reviewed by: Sheila
When foster teen Jane Williams is invited to attend elite Birch Grove Academy for Girls and escape her violent urban neighborhood, she thinks the offer is too good to be true. She’s even offered her own living quarters, the groundskeeper’s cottage in the center of the birch grove.
Something’s not quite right about the school — or is it Jane? She thinks she sees things in the birch grove at night. She’s also beginning to suspect that the elegant headmistress and her sons are hiding secrets. Lucky is the gorgeous, golden son who is especially attentive to Jane, and Jack is the sardonic puzzling brother.
The school with its talented teachers and bright students is a dream for a science and math geek like Jane. She also loves her new friends, including hilarious poetry-spouting rich girl, Mary Violet. But the longer Jane stays at Birch Grove, the more questions she has about the disappearance of another scholarship girl and a missing faculty member.
Jane discovers one secret about Birch Grove, which only leads to more mysteries. What is she willing to sacrifice in order to stay at this school…and be bound to Birch Grove forever?
Quick & Dirty: A dark and mysterious coming of age book with a twist of paranormal on top.
Opening Sentence: When I was six, I was entered into the foster care system because there was no one to care for me.
I do not usually cover the reviews for the young adult books, even though I have done several in the past. Young adult novels tends to be a little predictable for me. For instance, I am never sending my kids away to an academy; they are always bad news. I have yet to read a YA book where something good happens to a child that attends some kind of elitist school for over-achievers, scholarship or not. I mean really, the track record speaks for itself. I dare you to name one fictional academy that hasn’t been attacked, burned down, brainwashed its students and/or faculty, infiltrated by a secret cult, or otherwise decimated by tragedy of one kind or another. Yes, Dark Companion’s Birch Grove Academy for Girls is no exception to the rule.
Jane Williams’ life has not been easy. Orphaned and left in a group home in a bad neighborhood has encouraged her to excel in school so that she can eventually get away from her home. Being offered a full ride scholarship to a prestigious all-girl academy is the opportunity of a lifetime, right? She might change her mind once she finds out the real reason she was chosen, and it’s not because of her outstanding grades.
Birch Grove Academy is quite an elitist facility; a far cry from Jane’s former school. When Jane finds out the true differences between them, she may want to take her chances in the ghetto. At least there, she knows the rules and who she needs to stay away from. The gorgeous guys and sophisticated looking girls leave Jane feeling more than a little out of place. Her need for acceptance dominates everything she does throughout the book. Can she make a home here? Can she find the strength to stand up for herself and fight for her own place in the world? Will the other students accept her as she is or as they would make her into?
Mrs. Radcliffe, headmistress of the Academy, and her family are symbolic of all things odd in Birch Grove. They are wealthy, prestigious, good looking, and seem to be a really great family; everything Jane has always wanted. But be careful what you wish for; because like all bright lights, there are shadows cast. The family has a genetic anomaly that makes them act very similar to vampires. They use their position and wealth to find people that will supply them with the occasional blood their bodies require. Jane’s time within the dredges of society have shown her drug addicts and users. Are these people any different than those she knew before?
Jack Radcliffe and his brother, Lucian, offer two different sides of a coin; Lucky and his golden boy image and Jack with his brooding attitude and his fairy tales. These characters sum up the whole of this book. Jane loving Lucky because she wants what he represents and her rallying against Jack and his rebellious yet sexy nature. This good guy versus bad boy is typical of YA romances but I like how the author spins it. In the end, all the teenagers are flawed and all the characters are fallible; just like everyone else.
The only thing that I disliked was the introduction of the mystical nature of the Lady of the Woods. It would have been a fine novel without its inclusion. I hope that it turns out to be a set up for future novels instead of what appears to be almost as an afterthought. I get that the author was using it against Jane’s more scientific outlook on life but it came across as choppy against the overall flow.
Overall, this story is a little better than the typical schoolgirl coming of age. The prose and composition are a much higher quality than I have seen in other books in this genre. It is a dark and twisted tale that puts the vampire ideal onto its head.
A frisson ran through me at the thought that Jack might have been staring down the hill at the same time that I was staring up toward his house.
“I think, has my halfling become habituated to the sounds? Should I visit her? But I get the feeling that you don’t enjoy our conversations and you don’t like my friendly neighborhood visits.”
“Why should I? One minute you’re nice to me, and the next you’re lecturing me. You’re the one who asks trick questions, and talking to you is an exercise in futility.”
His eyes darkened and his smile was as chilly as the breeze. “Hattie doesn’t think so. I understand her and she understands me. Isn’t that what love is, knowing another person so perfectly well that there are no surprises?”
“You always bring up Hattie as if you’re complimenting her, when you’re really just putting me down, Jack. I know Hattie’s beautiful, talented, and sophisticated.” I felt myself losing control even though I knew that’s exactly what Jack wanted. “And I know that I’m small, plain, and no- class. I accept those facts. I accept that no one will ever fall in love with me because I’m pretty and fun, but I hope that maybe someday someone will get to know me, and he’ll find out
that I have a heart and a mind just as good as any pretty girl’s.”
“And you would love him no matter what he looked like?”
“If he needed me, yes! I would be loyal to him and I would never give up trying to make him happy.” I tried to blink back my tears.
“That’s not love, Jane, that’s letting yourself be used.”
I felt as panicked as a bird caught in a room, battering against a closed window. “If you want to know what love is, ask someone who’s been loved, ask Hattie, because I don’t know what it means!”
Jack watched me somberly and then his green eyes moved down and he saw the yellow and violet bruising around the scab on my arm. Stepping to me, he gently put his calloused hands on my wrists and heat from him went through my body. I tasted the salt of my tears as they slid down my face. I wanted to wipe them away, but Jack still held my wrists.
“Oh, Halfling, what have you done?” he murmured. “What have you let him do to you?”
FTC Advisory: Macmillan/TOR graciously provided me with a copy of Dark Companion. No goody bags, sponsorships, “material connections,” or bribes were exchanged for my review. The only payments I receive are hugs and kisses from my little boys.
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