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I Belong

Review: The Revenant by Sonia Gensler

Title: The Revenant

Author: Sonia Gensler

Genre: YA Historical/Paranormal

Series: N/A

Publication Date: June 14, 2011

Format: Hardcover, 336 pages

ISBN-10: 0375867015 (Random House)

ISBN-13: 978-0375867019 (Random House)

Reviewed by: Macie


When seventeen-year-old Willie arrives in Indian Territory, she knows only one thing: no one can find out who she really is. To escape a home she doesn’t belong in anymore, she assumes the name of a former classmate and accepts a teaching job at the Cherokee Female Seminary.

Nothing prepares her for what she finds there. Her pupils are the daughters of the Cherokee elite—educated, wealthy, and more sophisticated than she, and the school is cloaked in mystery: a student drowned in the river the previous year after an ill-fated romance, and the girls whisper that her spirit haunts Willie’s room.

Willie doesn’t believe in ghosts, but when strange things start happening at the school, she isn’t sure anymore. She’s also not sure what to make of a boy from the nearby Cherokee boys’ school who has taken an interest in her—but whose past is shrouded in secrets.

Soon, even Willie has to admit that the revenant—the one who has returned—may be trying to tell her something. . . .

Quick and Dirty: The Revenant is unique because of the setting and genre.  The novel did get slow at times, but the conclusion is worth it to finish.

Opening Sentence: I thought by the time I’d transferred to the Kansas and Arkansas Valley Railway, this foolish tendency to jump at every sound, to blush each time someone looked me in the eyes, would have subsided.

Excerpt: Yes

The Review:

In Sonia Gensler’s debut novel about paranormal happenings at girls school in the rural Oklahoma territory near the turn of the 20th century, Willie discovers hidden identity, intrigue, and about who she really is as a young woman. In the first few chapters, we find out that Willie is posing as another girl in order to take a teaching position far from her home to escape her duties to her family. This is a difficult time for any young person to grow up in, but especially so for a girl who doesn’t feel like she fits in anywhere.

First of all, I enjoyed this novel because I am from Oklahoma, and I’m somewhat familiar with the area that it takes place. There are not many paranormal novels set in rural turn of the century Oklahoma, so it was a bit of fresh air genre-wise.

Willie is now a teacher for the Cherokee Female Seminary, which is a school for anyone with some native blood who can either pay or work for their stay. Not being from the area, Willie is somewhat confused by the social and political workings of the seminary, and sometimes makes blunders which almost blow her cover. Not only is she in an almost completely unfamiliar situation, Willie also has to deal with the ghost of a deceased student who torments and bothers the students and herself. There is a lot of intrigue about the death of the student that Willie uncovers over the course of the novel.  Attacks on the students increase as Willie tries to find out why the spirit is so vengeful. Faced with something that she cannot see or run away from, Willie must be strong and look out for her students.

There are a few storylines that are working throughout the novel which gives it more of a realistic feel to it since life is never as simple as some make it out to be. Willie is running from home because she misses her father and does not want to accept her step-father. She is not much older than any of the girls she is teaching, and has to remember her place is that of a teacher, and not a companion or equal. She cannot really enjoy life because she is bound by her job, her lie to get the job, and her own social problems. Willie is attracted to a student from the male seminary, but cannot pursue it because of their positions.

The characters of this novel are not always the most likeable people, but are fairly believable through their actions and speech. Willie did an immoral thing by stealing a girl’s identity to get a job, and later tries to justify it by explaining how her home life wasn’t to her liking. I understand not wanting to return to a crappy life, but in this time period, Willie really did not have much of a choice. She eventually returns home and grows to like it after seeing that it wasn’t as bad as she thought it would be. This growth made a positive impact in my mind of Willie’s character.

The students of the seminary act along their social station line and some treat Willie better than others. Her fellow teachers are nice, but somewhat distant except for the friendly Miss Adair. Willie is stressed out and not always a good friend to Miss Adair, so they eventually have a falling out. The principal is strict and humorless, which seems fairly common for females in education of the time period. They had a lot of responsibility entrusted to them with the education of the youth that principals and teachers often were very harsh to keep the students in line and retain the professionalism and reputation of the school.

Overall, I enjoyed this book, and was surprised by the ending. The paranormal aspects are almost a back-story that brings all of the other storylines together as Willie uncovers the truth about what happened to the girl who died too young. I would recommend this for anyone interested in historical fiction. Gensler did a lot of research before writing this novel, and it shows. The paranormal parts are well done, and seem just a bit unreal, which is what makes it a fantastic experience.

Notable Scene:

“You seem very young,” said Fannie, her demeanor prim but her green eyes flashing with mischief. “How long did you teach before coming to the seminary?”

I knew this trap only too well—I’d seen girls set it at the Athenaeum. As soon as they knew a teacher had come straight from school, their respect plummeted dramatically. They began to calculate the pranks they could pull. Why hadn’t I thought of this?

“I think you know Miss Bell, that before arriving here I was at the Columbia Athenaeum in Tennessee.” That was vague enough. They might actually believe I’d been teaching there. “Now, if you’ll open your readers and turn to—“

Fannie Bell was raising her hand again, and this time she didn’t wait for my acknowledgement before she spoke.

“How do you like your room, Miss McClure?”

What was she playing at? “I have a lovely room.”

“Do you hear anything at night?” Her eyes widened. “Have you seen anything strange?”

A nervous titter arose from some of the girls, while others squirmed in their seats.

I took a breath and spoke slowly. “I haven’t heard or seen anything, Miss Bell.”

“I ask, Miss McClure, because that room belongs to a dead girl.” 

FTC Advisory: Random House provided me with a copy of The Revenant.  No goody bags, sponsorships, “material connections,” or bribes were exchanged for my review.


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