Etienne, Sara Wilson. Harbinger. 309 p. G.P. Putnam's Sons. 2012. Hardcover $17.99. ISBN 9780399256684.
This book marks my second review for the 2012 Debut Author Challenge hosted by the Story Siren.
Harbinger is original, unpredictable, and very different from anything else I've seen on the YA shelves lately. In fact, with its supernatural elements and psychological suspense, this title reminds me of those classic Lois Duncan novels from the '70s and '80s-- which I loved. So if you're in the mood for something strange and fascinating, this book might just be your cup of tea.
Although Faye isn't happy when her parents enroll her in a discipline-heavy boarding school for troubled youth against her will, even she has to admit she might be insane. She has visions of floods, and she and her schoolmates wake up each morning with blood red hands and no memory of what transpired the night before. What's really going on at Holbrook Academy?
Vivid imagery, short chapters, and a relentless procession of twists and turns engage the reader, and the tension doesn't let up until the book's conclusion. And it is a true conclusion-- bucking the current YA trend, this one's a standalone, not a trilogy.
The writing is tight, with brisk pacing and a strong, eerie sense of setting. I enjoyed Faye's role as a possibly unreliable narrator, with her uncertain mental state. Supporting characters are fairly well-rounded, though I found the large cast challenging to keep track of at times. There is an element of romance in this story, but it doesn't overtake the other plot elements, making this title a good choice for anyone growing weary of the typical paranormal romance formula.
Sara Wilson Etienne has made a memorable debut with Harbinger, and I look forward to seeing what else this creative new author has in store. I had the pleasure of meeting Sara at the Passion & Prose conference last month-- stay tuned for her appearance on the Authors are ROCKSTARS! podcast soon!