Orphaned at the age of six, Jane Williams has grown up in a series of foster homes, learning to survive in the shadows of life. Through hard work and determination, she manages to win a scholarship to the exclusive Birch Grove Academy. There, for the first time, Jane finds herself accepted by a group of friends. She even starts tutoring the headmistress’s gorgeous son, Lucien. Things seem too good to be true.
The more she learns about Birch Grove’s recent past, the more Jane comes to suspect that there is something sinister going on. Why did the wife of a popular teacher kill herself? What happened to the former scholarship student, whose place Jane took? Why does Lucien’s brother, Jack, seem to dislike her so much?
As Jane begins to piece together the answers to the puzzle, she must find out why she was brought to Birch Grove—and what she would risk to stay there….
Are you ready for a long, involved discussion? Because that’s what you’re going to get. I felt like this book had lots of layers to it. Some of them I quite liked and others, I didn’t quite care for all that much. First, I appreciated how subtly clever the author was with the epigraph. (An epigraph, in literature, is a quotation/poem/etc at the beginning of a chapter or a novel that does two things: one, sets the mood of the novel/chapter and two, contextualizes the work or induct its among the ranks of a preexisting canon.) Acosta’s first epigraph is from a novel by Ann Radcliffe and if you know anything about Brit Lit, you will be aware that she was important where the Gothic genre is concerned. This epigraph lets readers know that Dark Companion is a Gothic novel and tells them to expect the eerie mood and atmosphere characteristic of Gothic novels. This is setting the mood of the novel without even writing a single word, people! Genius stuff. Acosta follows it up by naming the Headmistress Mrs. Radcliffe which I personally thought was a bit overkill but that’s just a personal preference.
There are several things I really liked about this novel. Let me tell you about them. The characterizations are well done. The characters pop out of the page at you and I have to admit, my favourite characters are Jane’s female friends. I love love love Mary Violet, she of the creative vocabulary and expansive gestures. Her brand of craziness is right up my alley. I also really liked the dynamics of their friendship. Obviously there’s an imbalance in their social and financial status – between Jane and the rest – but there’s an inherent honesty between them that makes the status thing obsolete. The writing is a pleasure to read as Acosta does not shy away from using words that may not be present in the vocabulary of every day teens, rather she revels in playing with language. I also appreciated how Acosta approached the Mean Girls. There were some present but they weren’t given as much prominence as they usually are. Another thing that I thought was well done was how Acosta took time and thought to portray Jane’s lack of choices where her life was concerned. She did this to prepare readers for a decision Jane makes that would seem like anathema to most of us (hopefully) but as she shows readers, Jane has literally no other choice. We are snug in our bedrooms, content in the knowledge that we are loved and have a roof over our heads and therefore, we may find it easy to judge Jane for her decisions. I’m not going to lie – I did. In fact, I got a squicky feeling that had me re-evaluating how much I liked the novel. Even though I realized that Jane had no other choice left to her if she wanted to get ahead in life – I still felt that she ought to have had fashioned for herself a different choice. Perhaps that’s just me and my personal limits and boundaries that I don’t see myself crossing no matter what.
What I didn’t care for at all in the novel is the romance. I understand this is a Gothic novel and I reckon this is a matter of personal preference but I cannot stand a main character who behaves stupidly where a boy is concerned. Especially one who is supposed to be street smart and cynical. On the flip side, this may exactly be why she behaves this way – because never before has she had so much attention showered on her by a guy who looks like well, who looks as gorgeous as he supposedly does. I honestly felt that the romance was the weak point of this novel. Jane’s justification about the change in her object of affection is frankly unbelievable and I would have accepted it once or twice but the repetitiveness of her justifications (but I love him!) drains away my patience. And then the sudden change makes things even more unbelievable. I was all for the change but come on now, make it a bit more gradual and not such a sudden epiphany. However, once my grumbling is done, I found Jack to be a very interesting love interest and Lucky…well, he’s Lucky, the less said the better. I will say, though, that once the mess was resolved, I quite liked how Jane and the guy she ends up with interact. It was cute.
I wish there had been more page time devoted to that wood creature that Jane seems to have such an affinity for. I wanted Jane to have some power of her own that offset the hideousness of her earlier life. I felt that she deserved it.
In conclusion, Dark Companion is a very readable book. It offers you intrigue, adventure, thrills and glimpses of very strong friendship. I can’t wait to see what Ms. Acosta comes up with next.