Thursday, February 2, 2012

Review: New Girl

Paige Harbison
Young Adult
304 Pages
Harlequin Teen
Available Now
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.

Rating: 2.5/5


  1. It's hard to like a book where the characters are unlikeable. I don't mind it if I feel like I understand why they are that way - especially if I can see the world through their eyes. Did that make them any better?
    Have you read Rebecca? I wonder if this makes a difference.

  2. I completely agree with everything you said! It was extremely hard to like Becca and some characters tended to border on psychopathic for me *cough*dana veers*cough* I loved how the NG showed strength right to the end though! I would have asked to change schools right away. Great review :)

    Kim @ The Paper Planes

  3. Ohn no - you mentioned it already on my review that you didn't really like it;( Truly, this happens not quite often that we disagree!

    I did really enjoy this book and all the drama, I loved the storytelling with getting Becca's and NG's POV.

    I know what you mean though with highly unlikable characters, there were some but it didn't bother me so much since I believe they were important for the story.

  4. I think having a book where the characters are intentionally not that likable is a gamble. So many people like their books character driven that everything else must be extremely superbly written (and even then..).

  5. I'm reading this one now and seem to be in the minority who likes it haha. I actually never even noticed we didn'T know her name until someone told me this morning! :D

  6. Ok seriously only you could pull off not liking a book and still giving it a lovely review....:)

    This one is not on the TBR and probably wont reach it, do you know that as of now I have over 2000 books on my to read list, that is crazy!!!

  7. Alison - I actually didn't know this was based on anything until I started reading reviews for it. Knowing that may have helped, but I still just really disliked Becca even though I know she was intentionally written to be that awful.

    Kim - Yes, Dana was a bit more than I could handle. I did like NG for the most part though, she was a saving grace for the story for me:)

    Danny - I know! We don't differ often, but the "mean girl" thing is really hit or miss with me, and I just couldn't get on board with this story.

    Amanda - I agree. Obviously the reader is meant not to like them and that makes it hard. I think I would have liked this one better if I didn't get Becca's POV and witness firsthand how cruel she could be. I know her POV was important to move the plot forward though, so really I just think this book wasn't for me.

    Giselle - I kept flipping back through the pages and looking for her name and was all "how did I miss that?" And then I realized when Max said it at the end that we never knew it:) This one was a bit too dramatic for me, but I'm glad you're enjoying it! Can't wait for your full review:)

    Tina - Haha thanks! This was a hard one for me to write. And 2000 books? Well done you, that is impressive! Get crackin' woman!

  8. I haven't heard of this one before, but it doesn't sound like a book I would enjoy. I think I'll pass on this one.

  9. I couldn't get through the Vampire Diaries books because the cast of characters were totally unlikable to me. I have to have someone to root for otherwise I just really don't care what happens to any of them.

  10. What I find interesting is that though I read and loved Rebecca, the premise of this book, I liked it for all the reasons you didn't. LOL! The not knowing didn't bother me at all, I was so wrapped up in trying to figure out *what* exactly happened. I'm really curious to my reactions of this book so I'll plan on reading it. Of course, it's possible that I'll hate this version too. LOL

  11. Awww, I'm so sorry you didn't like this one, Jenny! Unlikable characters always do that to a book for me too. :( And even as a teenager myself, all those things they do seem so cruel! I don't think that there's a single Becca at my school or any of those other characters, really. They sound terrible -- the poor New Girl!

    ...although I think your review makes me want to read this book now more than ever LOL! I just really want to find out what the New Girl's name is! x)

    This was such a beautiful honest review, Jenny! Even when you didn't enjoy a book that much, you still write the most amazing reviews! :) <3

  12. I had a feeling this book wasn't going to be for me. I have trouble with most YA retellings anyway, and all the points you brought up would have bothered me, too. Great review, Miss Jenny! As always.

  13. Oh, hey, you reviewed New Girl too! I was wondering whether we'd have the same feelings on this one and it seems like you liked this one just a tad more than me. I could not stand any of the characters at all!

    Lol, I totally didn't realize that I didn't 'New Girl's' name until the end when they said it. Then I was like "Whoa, how could I have read an entire book and not known this girl's name" and flipped back to see whether I'd missed it initially. Nope, it was done on purpose.

  14. Jennifer - I think maybe if I'd known the story of Rebecca going in and how awful she was to everyone, I could have overlooked some of her behavior, but as it was, I just couldn't deal with her chapters.

    Felicia - Exactly. I could root for New Girl, but when we flashed back to Becca I just turned the pages as fast as possible to try and get away from her.

    Rummanah - Ha! Love it when that happens:) I really want you to read this one now and see if you like this version of Becca!

    Mimi - It happens! This was just not the book for me, but I think it will definitely work for a lot of people. I've never been one for the "mean girl" books, so Becca bothered me from the start.

    Wendy - Becca and I just did not get along in this one:)

    Zahida - I know we weren't supposed to like Becca, but I couldn't even begin to feel even the slightest sympathy for her, even after we met some of her family and understood a piece of why she was the way she was. I liked New Girl and how she stood up for herself, but overall, just not the story for me:) And I think her name was definitely left out on purpose, just one more way of showing how she was utterly eclipsed by Becca's memory.

  15. I myself have been fighting this one every step of the way. I don't actually want to sit down and read it, but at the same time, I'm a bit intrigued to see what I'll think of it. From the sound of it though, I'm not sure my opinion is going to be positive :(

    - Asher (from Paranormal Indulgence)

  16. Hmm, I'm torn on this one. The premise and drama intrigue me, but if the characters are unlikable (even intentionally), I might give New Girl a pass. I love the fact that the New Girl doesn't have a name, though! Very cool. Thanks for the review, Jenny!

  17. I was speaking to Heidi at Rainy Day Ramblings who also had problems with liking the characters. I'm not too sure if this book would be for me, especially seeing as though the main character appears to be a difficult one. But great balanced review as always, Jenny. :)

  18. Jenny, I am glad I am not the only one who had significant problems with this book. I addressed all my concerns about the drinking, sex and careless handling of the rape situations. I was distrubed that this is marketed to YA with no warnings. I shudder to think of any teenage girl under 17 reading this. Too much negative that overshadows the good. I recommend reading Rebecca instead!

  19. I hope I wasn't totally blind yesterday, or if I am really sleepy now...but nice new banner :)

  20. Asher - It's well written, I just loathed the characters (except New Girl), and that made it really difficult to read.

    Lauren - It was interesting. Threw me for a loop initially though. I was all confused when I didn't see her name anywhere:)

    Sam - It's not going to be a book for everyone, but I think those who like a lot of drama and love "mean girl" element will really enjoy it:)

    Heidi - I was surprised at the amount of alcohol and sex as well, and the rape scene just made me cringe even though it wasn't super detailed. I wanted to scream at her to help her friend.

    Linda - You are not blind or sleepy, I just put the header up this afternoon:)

  21. While I'm a big fan of a switch in narrators, I'm not a fan of alternation narrative styles. Like you said, it makes the story challenging to read and since I read for fun, I want easy to read material. LOL

    I think it was very creative to not name the new girl until the end, though. That sounds different.

  22. You know, I am surprised that I liked this book. I think it was all of the drama and mystery that kept me on my toes. Plus the girls antics was just crazy! Thanks for the review!

  23. I've read a few reviews of this one now and I'm pretty certain now that it's not one I should spend my time reading. I think the characters would just really get to me. Thanks so much for the honest review!

  24. I'm probably not going to read this one. I couldn't get into Here Lies Bridget. That character was very unlikeable, too. I think it's okay to have an anti-hero(ine), but they should have some redeeming qualities. It's hard to want to read a book when you don't like the characters. Nice honest review!

  25. So you mean the characters are intentionally created to be unlikable? I just read a book like that and I almost threw it out the window. I think the author is brave enough to risk making her characters like that. But I also think it's pointless since nobody wants an unlikable character... right?

  26. Jenny-

    Absolutely love the new look! That is my favorite color! And the header is fabulous!

    For not liking a book you do a very nice review of it. I thought Becca was borderline sociopath and definitely detestable! I think the New Girl was the complete opposite of Becca and I really liked her. And I thought this book was a vast improvement over Here Lies Bridget.

    But, we can't always agree on books and that's okay. I still think you wrote an awesome review and if I were Paige Harbison I would take your review as a huge compliment!
    You have a way with words.


  27. You are on fire with the reading and reviewing, woman! I think this cover is pretty cool.

  28. I'm thinking that this one isn't for me. It would be painful to hate all the characters. It's not even like they're fun to hate. Bu I loved your thoughtful review.

  29. This book didn't seem to be one that I would read. And I am seeing a lot of mix thoughts to bad reviews on it too. It's really hard to get through a book without having at least one MC that you can like or relate too.
    Thanks for your thoughts, very well said!

  30. Glad it's not just me. I'm having a hard time with this one. I really don't want to DNF it. *sigh* Sometimes, blogging stresses the crap out of me.

  31. It sounds like it probably isnt for me. I don't think I can read through the entire book if I end up hating all the characters.

  32. I recently read this book and despite my hate for the characters . . . I actually loved it. I loved to hate them. This book might not be for everybody though but I completely understand where you're coming from and why you didn't enjoy as much as you wanted to.

    Anyway, great and honest review.

  33. I was surprised I liked it as much as I did, actually. I hadn't heard much good at all, but I was quickly sucked into it. I kinda liked the fact that they were unlikable. ;o It was such a different read and very... realistic from a teen point of view. I hate the behavior in real life, but it kind of fascinated me with New Girl. If any of this makes any sense. Lol

  34. Thanks for reviewing this one and the heads up that it's for older YA readers. I definitely won't be putting this in my classroom library. Thanks for the honest review, Jenny!

  35. I recently got this book from NetGalley as well and was quite looking forward to reading it, but after reading your review? Not so much. It's such a booger that the characters are so unlikeable. :/

  36. Great review for this book, Jenny! I'm reading it right now, and I'm still really not sure what I think about it yet. I totally agree that the characters are really unlikeable. :/

  37. OMG--look at your cute new banner! I love it!

    The poor New Girl, who doesn't even have a name until the end of the story. And, while it does seem the characters are intentionally unlikeable, I know I'd have a hard time with it, when there are so many likeable characters out there in the world. Still, this may be a library read.