Friday, February 17, 2012

Harbinger by Sara Wilson Etienne

Title: Harbinger
Author: Sara Wilson Etienne
Publisher: Penguin/ G.P. Putnam's Sons
Release Date: February 2, 2012
Pages: 309 pages (hardcover)
How I Got the Book: Bought it.

Plagued by waking visions and nightmares, inexplicably drawn to the bones of dead animals, Faye thinks she's going crazy. Fast. Her parents beleive Holbrook Academy might just be the solution. Dr. Mordoch tells her it's the only answer. But Faye knows that something's not quite right about Dr. Mordoch and her creepy, prisonlike school for disturbed teenagers.

What's wrong with Holbrook goes beyond the Takers, sadistic guards who threaten the student body with Tasers and pepper spray; or Nurse, who doles out pills at bedtime and doses of solitary confinement when kids step out of line; or Rita, the strange girl who delivers ominous messages to Faye that never seem to make any sense. What's wrong with Holbrook begins and ends with Faye's red hands; she and her newfound friends--her Holbrook "family"--wake up every morning with their hands stained the terrible brown of dried blood. Faye has no idea what it means but fears she may be the cause.

Because despite the strangeness of Holbrook and the island on which it sits, Faye feels oddly connected to the place; she feels especially linked to the handsome Kel, who helps her unravel the mystery. There's just one problem: Faye's certain Kel's trying to kill her--and maybe the rest of the world, too.

A rich and tautly told psychological thriller, Harbinger heralds the arrival of an exciting new voice in young adult fiction.


Visions of waves swallowing her whole and drowning her have plagued Faye Robson since the age of six and her parents have finally had enough. Her father drops her off at Holbrook Academy with a boatload of other disturbed for trouble-making teens without warning. Her first full day there finds her paired with five other students who become her Family and the first real friends she's ever had. Then Faye and her friends wake up with bloody drawings on the floor and their own hands stained in blood. In their desperate search to find out what is going on, Faye and her friends come across an old diary and a set of cards detailing a prophecy. Whoever the Harbinger fated to end the world is, they must be stopped at any cost. Even if that cost is their lives.

I'm kind of having a hard time putting together words for this. I came in expecting one kind of book and found myself engrossed in something unexpected--something seasoned with a dose of strange and a bucketful or originality. Books like these make it difficult to capture their magic with the simple words I can cobble together.

Harbinger is the kind of book you want to save for a time when you know you will not be interrupted. I saved it for such a time because I had the feeling it would be one of those books and I ended up spending five hours on it with only one short break. Harbinger leaves just enough of a mystery hanging around at all times to keep readers moving toward the end of the chapter, and tantalizing cliffhangers kept me turning pages just when I thought I would be able to stop and take a break. This kind of mix is why I only had one break in that five hours.

The writing gets a little repetitive at time (and not just due to anaphora), maybe a little droll too, but the descriptions of Faye's visions as they set in come to life and make me feel like the waves are coming for me too.  Faye was a well-drawn character, though her friends were less so and her connection with Kel didn't have the depth to it that I would have liked. Faye wasn't the nicest character in the world, but I grew to care about her. Poor girl, being so isolated like that for most of her life. Hardly anyone wanted to get near her for reasons she had no control over.

Still, I'm not blind to the book's flaws. It starts off slowly and takes almost a third of the novel to get going. A massive red herring that went unchallenged for most of the novel? I saw through it from the start. Too many clues that pointed to the truth were left sitting out in the open and I kept wondering when the book would stop pretending and confirm what I already knew. Descriptions of the Peak War, the Cooperatives, heavy rationing of gas, food, water, etc. begged for deeper exploration, but keeping the concentration on what was going on inside Holbrook Academy with Faye and her friends left that world woefully unexplored.

The description claims the author is an exciting new voice in young adult fiction and I have to agree. With a debut this strong and grabbing, I think I've found a new author to keep an eye on for future works. It can only get better from here and when it's already good... Are you ready for something unexpected and a little (or just short of very) strange? Try Harbinger out.

4 stars!

What am I reading next?: Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers