New Girl by Paige Harbison
Date read: 3rd May 2018 – 3rd May 2018
Page count: 320
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Format: Kindle Edition
I only ever tend to review books I’ve enjoyed on here – so let’s have a little bit of a change…
Anyone that’s been near me for five minutes knows about my obsession with Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier – I own five copies of it, I’ve read Susan Hill’s sequel Mrs de Winter and it is, without a doubt, my favourite book, of all time.
I tend to enjoy reimaginings of stories, especially classics (retellings of Pride and Prejudice immediately spring to mind), so when I was scrolling through Goodreads, coming upon this seemed like a blessing, rather than a curse. Maybe that’s a little dramatic, but this book was terrible.
The story follows an unnamed (one point conceded) seventeen-year-old girl just joining the prestigious private school, Manderley. She fills the shoes of Becca, an apparently beautiful and popular girl, who mysteriously disappeared at the end of the previous term. The book also contains the equivalent of Maxim, a teenage boy called Max, who, begrudgingly, I find just as repulsive as the Max of the original book.
Let’s start with what I did enjoy. Without trying to spoil either the plot of Rebecca or New Girl, the atmosphere was definitely evoked in many places. Whatever I thought about the writing or characters, it was a pageturner, very easy to read, and actually a fairly decent retelling, plot-wise.
However. And it’s a big however. This was some of the highest tier slut-shaming, badly addressed mental health issues and generally abusive/manipulative behaviour I have ever encountered in young adult fiction. Yes, this is a retelling of a romantic thriller written in 1938, but I would expect some kind of change being made to how certain attitudes are depicted and presented, as this is a book for young adult audiences in the 21st Century.
There were some half-hearted attempts at sex scenes which just made me cringe/laugh, but the biggest no no was the alternating chapters between the protagonist and Becca. One of my favourite things about Rebecca is the sense of mystery and intrigue you get from reading the book solely from the protagonist’s perspective – New Girl tries to make you feel sorry for Becca, which although would be an interesting turn to take, was completely butchered by the alternating paragraph approach.
Also, it just doesn’t work. Becca is still a mean, bitchy, promiscuous person in the book – which although is justified by the author, is never gone into in detail. She’s never offered help, she is simply villainised, and her spectre is gone before the novel begins, not even lingering around to add more mystery to the plot.
Overall, unfortunately, I wouldn’t recommend this, but I do wish I did because retellings of Rebecca are so hard to come by. I gave it two stars out of five. Daphne du Maurier is turning in her grave.