Received via NetGalley for review
THE STORY (from Goodreads)
They call me 'New Girl'...
Ever since I arrived at exclusive, prestigious Manderly Academy, that’s who I am. New girl. Unknown. But not unnoticed—because of her.
Becca Normandy—that’s the name on everyone’s lips. The girl whose picture I see everywhere. The girl I can’t compare to. I mean, her going missing is the only reason a spot opened up for me at the academy. And everyone stares at me like it’s my fault.
Except for Max Holloway—the boy whose name shouldn’t be spoken. At least, not by me. Everyone thinks of him as Becca’s boyfriend but she’s gone, and here I am, replacing her. I wish it were that easy. Sometimes, when I think of Max, I can imagine how Becca’s life was so much better than mine could ever be.
And maybe she’s still out there, waiting to take it back.
New Girl is an intensely dramatic story, teenage relationship angst pairing with the mysterious disappearance of a beloved former student to create a tale a bit soap-opera like in nature, though it's thankfully missing the wooden dialogue. We want desperately to carve a path through all the turmoil and find the beating heart of the characters around whom it swirls so violently, however as we try to do so, we find our way is blocked with thorn-decorated bushes, and we're left alone with nothing but our bare hands to try and claw our way through. As a result, we get tangled up in–and tormented by–the at times over the top behavior of Becca’s friends and classmates as well as the hardly admirable behavior of the girl everyone sees as the epitome of everything desirable, leaving us stranded in a story we find ourselves fighting every step of the way.
A highlight of this tale is in the New Girl herself, a young woman thrown into a situation where she’s suddenly on the receiving end of a pulsing, tangible hatred that radiates from the heated stares and disdainful smirks of those who know her not at all. Despite her icy cold reception, she stands tall and strong against an emotional onslaught we’re not sure we ourselves would be able to weather, finding her voice quickly and defending herself to those who wield their words as precisely as any weapon. We don’t learn her name until the very end (her lack of identity initially throwing us off thinking we’ve missed her introduction somehow), but eventually her somewhat strange anonymity is replaced with deeds and actions that help define her for us more clearly than a simple moniker ever could. She does have a tendency to cave to Max’s repeated “I want to talk to you” lines, setting herself up for pain again and again as he leads her a few steps forward only to throw up a barrier that halts her progress before starting the entire process again, but all in all she’s a girl who helps shelter us as the thorns of teenage cruelty and heartbreak stab at us over and over again.
Interspersed with New Girl’s first person narrative are third person chapters recounting Becca’s months leading up to her disappearance, and while the switch from present to past is successful in augmenting the tension and heightening our sense of anticipation, her chapters paint a picture of a young woman who is extraordinarily difficult to like. Using her beauty and charm to manipulate those around her into doing her bidding, she crafts a queenly crown out of insidious deeds, wearing it with a haughtiness that has our lips curling in distaste as she uses and abuses everyone with whom she comes in contact. Because her actions are repeatedly and increasingly vile, we often dread the time we're forced to spend with her, wondering when we can escape the claustrophobic unhappiness she masks with lies, flirtation, and sex appeal to return to the girl who’s fighting Becca’s dark shadow tooth and claw.
Overall, New Girl is a challenging read with its largely unlikeable (though I believe intentionally unlikeable) cast of characters and its abundance of drama, but it’s certainly well written, and while Becca and several others make it difficult to want to read their story, they undoubtedly evoke a strong emotional response. This book is recommended for older readers of young adult fiction though, as alcohol and sex are prevalent and prominent elements and there is a recounting of a rape that–while not graphic or inappropriate–is detailed enough to merit a warning for younger readers.