A review written by Shellie for Dark Companion ~ by Marta Acosta.
Shellie’s quick take:
A retelling of the gothic classic Jane Eyre - it’s a special young-adult novel featuring snippets of Victorian genre classics at the beginning of each chapter. It also spotlights significant and current issues present in young women’s lives – such as romance, self esteem, drug abuse, violence - all in a readable, atmospheric story with a different type of vampire, and a sweet mythic thread.
“Mousy girl” is Jane William’s nickname. She is from the lower-class and violence-ridden town called Helmsdale - or “Hellsdale” as they term it. Jane is an orphan and once ward of the state, who has lived in foster homes since she was 6 years old and remembers nothing of her previous life because of an accident. Although Jane’s life is not easy she has a stubborn tenacity, clinging to a belief that studying and getting high marks in school are her way out of the troubled and rough town - where the norm is drug addiction, prostitution, violence, and where the most ruthless males control the streets.
As a result of her good grades Jane receives an all expense paid scholarship to the exclusive and very wealthy boarding school “Birch Grove Academy”. Arriving at the school Jane is overwhelmed by her own little cottage, an expense account, and new clothes to replace the used hand-me-downs she’s become accustomed too. And just a few days after arriving, the school’s poised head mistress Mrs. Radcliff invites Jane to dinner. There Jane meets the Radcliffs’ model gorgeous son, Lucian, and their other son Jacob who is a down-to-earth musician, and not quite as cute as his brother. Jane is blatantly smitten with Lucian and annoyed by Jacob. But as are most things that appear just a little too wonderful - all is not as it seems. And this is only the beginning of the story, which is an intriguing retelling of the gothic classic - Jane Eyre.
First off, this is a physically gorgeous book. It’s a small easy-to-handle hardbound book which has a moody dark cover with a slightly metallic shine – so it glows gently. It has a stylish interior layout with gothic themed print and decorations giving this a book a flavor that would make it a special gift for someone. Best yet is that beyond the surface it’s jam-packed with layers of wonderful stuff.
The most stand-out element is that Marta Acosta includes an intriguing trope where quotes from 100 plus year old gothic literature are included at the beginning of each chapter. Each snippet has a significant meaning for the chapter. The quotes pull the reader into its classic writing, creating a desire to research the works that are highlighted (or at least it did for me!) Marta Acosta uses examples from authors such as Eliza Parsons, the Bronte Sisters, Henry James, Charles Dickens, Ann Radcliff, J. Sheridan Le Fanu and more. With 37 chapters and an epilogue there are loads of quotes to ponder and to “Google”.
The book also has multi-layered themes twisted to especially suit teens, containing many important elements and issues. For example, it has unique and well developed characters, great romance, a setting near San Francisco (gotta love that, since it’s my home), a “mythic” theme, and an interesting take on vampire mythology. More importantly, it also examines science, art, family, love, abuse, race and class issues (all important for everyone to think about.)
I listened to Dark Companion in audio (as well as read bits) where it features a realistic enactment from its talented reader - Kate Reading. But what I liked best was that Dark Companion is a story dealing with very real life issues that many teens face. I am also a big fan of gothic novels - the more I read them the more I enjoy them and the deeper I go. Let’s hope this book works the same magic on its younger readers as it did on me. A splendid retelling that I recommend for teachers to give to students, for parents/adults to give to teens, and to be read in groups for discussion. It’s a 4.5 stars for me, and highly recommended.
Tor Teen | July 2012 | Hardcover | Young Adult Fiction |368 pages
Find out more about this book and Marta Acosta’s other novels. Visit her website http://www.martaacosta.com/
Here’s a blog post from Marta Acosta at Tor called Haunted Mansions and Eclipses.