Thorn Abbey by Nancy Ohlin
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(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“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…”
Author Nancy Ohlin credits Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca as the inspiration for Thorn Abbey. There are certainly some common elements between the two books: a brooding old building; an ill-fated romance; suspicion and deceit. There are, however, some significant differences that make this teen novel stand apart from its ancestor. For instance, setting the story at a boarding school adds in a lot more people and negates the isolation of the original novel. The most prominent divergence, though, is the heightened supernatural aspect of Ohlin’s retelling.
Having read the original book myself, it’s impossible not to make comparisons, especially when the author openly acknowledges the connection. I suspect that the vast majority of teen readers will be unfamiliar with du Maurier’s story and therefore won’t be holding the two up to each other mentally as they read, so perhaps the variances don’t matter all that much. I did find it interesting, if not too terribly surprising, that Thorn Abbey is as much a ghost story as a romance—and much more so than Rebecca. The original avoids literal ghosts in favor of the ghosts of memory, and I do have to wonder how that would have played out in a teen novel.
Taking Thorn Abbey as a discrete story, I found it to be mostly enjoyable. There’s plenty of weird and spooky things to keep readers intrigued, and the setting is fairly well fleshed out and easy to envision. The author does a good job of keeping readers unfamiliar with Rebecca from catching on to how the story will play out—the more shocking bits will probably come as a real shock to most people. As a plot-driven tale, the book works pretty well.
I did feel that the major characters were two-dimensional, though. Tess, Max, and Devon tend to waver between two modes of behaving with very few in-between actions: Tess is either jealous or mooning over Max, occasionally deviating into “doormat” mode; Max is compassionate and brooding by turns; and Devon goes from friendly to vindictive in the blink of an eye. The secondary characters caught my interest as being more fleshed out. For instance, Max’s best friend Frank makes several appearances, and I really wanted to know more about him and how he relates to our moody male lead.
My overall impression of this book is of one that is pretty good, but that could have been a lot better with some more development in the characters. Thorn Abbey isn’t quite the classic that Rebecca is, but for a first novel, it’s got a lot to recommend it.
This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on May 7, 2013.