by Anastasia Hopcus
His love captivated her... his secrets might kill her.
Since her sister’s mysterious death, Persephone “Phe” Archer has been plagued by a series of disturbing dreams. Determined to find out what happened to her sister, Phe enrolls at Devenish Prep in Shadow Hills, Massachusetts—the subject of her sister’s final diary entry.
After stepping on campus, Phe immediately realizes that there’s something different about this place—an unexplained epidemic that decimated the town in the 1700s, an ancient and creepy cemetery, and gorgeous boy Zach—and somehow she’s connected to it all.
But the more questions she asks and the deeper she digs, the more entangled Phe becomes in the haunting past of Shadow Hills. Finding what links her to this town…might cost her her life.
I was torn on whether I wanted to read this or not -- boarding school books make me a little leery -- but I had read some good reviews, and thought it'd fit pretty well with Helluva Halloween, so here we are. Now I've read it, I'm still a little torn.
On the one hand, I really liked Hopcus' incorporation of (real) (weird) history and science (like the story of the town of Eyam, and the witch trials), and thought that this aspect added a great layer to the story. At the same time, I don't know if this weird bit of reality will appeal to everyone because it can seem far-fetched, and if you don't know the truth behind it, it can be pretty fantastical, maybe even absurd. I don't know. I can only speak for myself, and as a weird history buff, I've always been fascinated by the town of Eyam and think Hopcus makes interesting use of it. The link to the witch trials and historical idea of witches, too, was fascinating, and grandiose as it can be, I liked the idea of something linking Phe to the town and drawing her closer. This little bit that goes beyond the traditional ya paranormal romance storyline was the high point for me. [We talked about this in my interview with her.]
Things like this kept the story going for me, but there is a trait to Hopcus's writing that held me back from ever fully committing or feeling any edge-of-your-seatness: things just happened way to easily. The romance was there from page one (literally, as Phe dreams about Zach before meeting him), and I never felt that they really had to work at it. There wasn't any tension for me because it was just there, this dedication and budding love, without any questions or setbacks, which is unbelievable on its own, but especially in light of the creepy events continually going on for Phe -- something should have made her question or doubt at least once. The same goes for the sort-of thriller aspects of the story. There is some good villainousness, and there is no dearth of people to choose from as the Big Baddie, but it's all resovled so easily (*cough* Deus Ex Machina*cough*), and this bothers me. There was a moment where I thought that all of the danger was going to catch up to Phe and Zach, and I was sort of glad of it because it makes it seem that much more real, but it was just swept away, all better, the end. This is such a pet peeve of mine, because then I know that no matter what happens from that point on (in that book or future ones), it carries no real weight, because something will swoop in and fix it. Why care? Danger becomes meaningless and the tension is just gone, poof -- and I check out as a result.
On a more minor note, I also feel Hopcus might be giving the book a short shelf life with the treatment of some things, especially pop culture and the continual (mostly indie) music references. I also don't know if they act as anything more than a thinly-veiled nod to the indie set, and a sort of insider easter egg hunt. I'm not sure how many teens really know who Gogol Bordello is, but then maybe I'm not giving them enough credit for expansive music tastes. [side note: ^ link to one of my favorite songs. This is why everyone hates when I take over the music...]
In the end, I liked but never loved Shadow Hills. It reminded me a little of Firespell in the way that, yes, there are tons of boarding school books out there, and none have ever wowed me (at least not in the teen paranormal romance genre; there are certainly good boarding school books out there); that being said, if you have to read one, or are in the mood for one, you could do worse than Shadow Hills (or Firespell). If you go in reading it for what it is, and don't expect something really deep or powerful, then yes, it's fun and quick, and not a waste of time.
Check out my teaser:
or the book trailer: