TITLE: Thorn Abbey
AUTHOR: Nancy Ohlin
PUBLISHER/YEAR: Simon Pulse / 2013
Goodreads / Author's Website
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…
Thoughts and Reactions
You know those books where it's just difficult to formulate your thoughts to form a cohesive opinion? Thorn Abbey is one of those books for me. There is a lot to be critical of, but also a lot to like and it's left me feeling pretty scattered. Thorn Abbey is a modern retelling of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca. The story is now centered on Tess, a brilliant, but insecure and socially awkward girl who has trouble fitting in. She falls for the rich and popular Max, but feels that her relationship will always come in second to his relationship with the now dead Becca, the former Queen Bee on campus. I think it's a super interesting premise and it could be an absolutely brilliant retelling, but the problem is, I've never read the original novel. I feel like I'm missing out on a lot by knowing absolutely nothing about the source material, but there you have it.
I was totally drawn in by the premise of the book, but I have to admit that when I first started reading I almost put it back down. I found Tess to be so incredibly off putting; I wasn't sure that I would make it through the book, but I realized that she was written that way for a reason and I soldiered on. Tess is an incredibly frustrating character; she's insecure, needy and at times a little delusional. It's so difficult for me to read about somebody like that. However, ultimately it was the right choice for the story. I think in the end Tess needed to be the way she was for anything to work. Plus, she was always described as being awkward and insecure and wow, did she show that. So while I found this character to be incredibly frustrating, I have a feeling it's true to the original and she seemed to work as a plot device.
That aside, the story itself was super creepy. The presence of this dead girl throughout the school is overpowering. People, especially her super popular ex-roommate are obsessed with her in a way that cannot be healthy. It's that part of the plot that really drew me in. How much power did this girl really have over everybody and how is her presence still so tangible despite her death months ago?
That's where what I understand to be the modern updates come in. There's a definite supernatural, haunting presence that was more than weird enough for me. I'm a total wimp when it comes to that sort of thing. Writing on walls, flying embers, burning pages all of it added up to one vengeful ghost and I cannot deal. I mean it keeps the pages turning and sets the tone from the start, but it creeps me out just thinking about it now. For those of you who are into ghost stories and supernatural heebie jeebies, you'll probably think of this as super tame, but for me, it struck the right balance.
Now I did have an issue with some of the character development. The characters were fairly two dimensional and we never learn a lot about anybody. They're flat and show no growth. There's no emotional journey. Max is moody, the girls are all stereotypical mean girls, the cousin is sleazy, there's the loyal best friend, I could go on. That having been said, it's not like this was a book driven by characters; it was more about action. I just happen to like some solid character development in my stories.
Overall, I enjoyed Thorn Abbey as it is, without comparison to the original. I like the boarding school setting and think that Ohlin set up the plot and tone well. The supernatural aspect, for me, enhance the story and it's the main reason why I'm still shivering about it now, days after I finished reading; always a good sign. It was by far not the perfect novel and maybe those of you who have read the original will have more to criticize, but I liked it for what it was and would buy it again for my shelf.