**A review copy of this novel was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.**
Orphaned at the age of six, Jane Williams has grown up in a series of foster homes, learning to survive in the shadows of life. Through hard work and determination, she manages to win a scholarship to the exclusive Birch Grove Academy. There, for the first time, Jane finds herself accepted by a group of friends. She even starts tutoring the headmistress’s gorgeous son, Lucien. Things seem too good to be true.
The more she learns about Birch Grove’s recent past, the more Jane comes to suspect that there is something sinister going on. Why did the wife of a popular teacher kill herself? What happened to the former scholarship student, whose place Jane took? Why does Lucien’s brother, Jack, seem to dislike her so much?
As Jane begins to piece together the answers to the puzzle, she must find out why she was brought to Birch Grove—and what she would risk to stay there…
It’s a mystery to me why extraordinary young women insist they are normal.
I don’t know where to begin with this review. Let me say now that I loved DARK COMPANION. I truly loved this gothic tale of an orphaned girl making her way in the world. And while I had some issues with how DARK COMPANION ended, that really didn’t undermine my complete fascination with this story and with its heroine, Jane Williams. I think my difficulty comes with trying to organize and articulate my thoughts, so bear with me.
I like science and math because they’re always reasonable, logical, and fair. The rules apply no matter who you are, or who you know. They make sense.
Let’s start with Jane. She comes from the wrong side of the tracks, has been raised in the foster care system, and pulls herself out of a horrific group home by winning a scholarship to Birch Grove Academy, an elite private school for girls that dangles the promise of future success in front of her, and seems to be a way out of the rough life she’s experienced so far. Jane is an incredibly compelling YA heroine – orphaned, tough, completely independent, smart, driven, and ambitious. But she’s also lonely and, while she might not admit it, she wants to be accepted. She wants to be loved. Jane has a completely rational, scientific perspective on the world, yet this driving need for acceptance and love and finding a place in the world where she fits in, makes her accept some irrational things; leads her to make some questionable choices.
This is particularly true of her relationship with Lucien, the headmistress’s son, who Jane is tutoring. She is infatuated with him and it’s this infatuation that makes the rational, smart, independent Jane start to lose herself and ignore the signs that something isn’t completely normal about their relationship and about the things he is asking her to do. I wanted to shake Jane. My heart went out to her and it’s a testament to Acosta’s writing that she was able to craft such a compelling young woman who feels old and young, strong and totally vulnerable in a very real way, all at the same time.
Other aspects of the story that worked for me were the dialogue and the relationships with the supporting cast of characters. Her interactions with Jack, the headmistress’s oldest son, are cryptic, witty, and crackle with electricity. She wants to punch him but you know she probably wants to kiss him, too. I also adored Mary Violet, Jane’s best friend at Birch Grove. Mary Violet is hilarious, has a romantic outlook on life, and genuinely cares about Jane. She wants to “funnify” Jane, which is fitting since she provides some of the funniest lines in the book, particularly her French translations.
You’re the crème de la crème. That’s French for “all that and a bag of chips.”
Grand-mere calls me Marie-Violette and she’s always asking me about my beaux, which is French for “players with trust funds.”
Finally, the gothic atmosphere of the school and the Brontesque touches that call to mind Jane Eyre were all elements that worked very well in DARK COMPANION. If you are a Jane Eyre fan, like myself, you will have fun picking out all the nods to that story – orphan girl, tutoring, how she first meets Jack, etc. It all works together to create a dark atmosphere where nothing is what it seems. In fact, the overall mystery is compelling as well – the headmistress and her family are hiding something and what Jane soon realizes is that everything comes with a price.
The biggest negative for me came at about 85% into the book (I read it on my Kindle) where the main storyline is tied up but new questions are brought forward that feel less integrated into the plot. There was a sense that DARK COMPANION, in the end, wasn’t sure what it wanted to be – a paranormal mystery or a mystery? I’m really hoping there is a follow-up to this book so I can get an answer to that question.
The only reason I’m not giving a five howl rating is because of the ending – it needed to be stronger. But the writing is so smart on so many levels that regardless of the ending, I highly recommend DARK COMPANION for anyone interested in gothic tales with romance, mystery, and tough, complex heroines that steal your heart.
**A review copy of this novel was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*