Dark Companion by Marta Acosta

“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.

They are.

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..because even the brightest people make terrible decisions when they are offered the things they desire most.”

There is much to enjoy in this novel.  Acosta’s writing is evocative and often quite beautiful.  From the prologue’s storm and blood to the brooding grounds of Birch Grove, readers will have no trouble visualizing the scene and being pulled into the tale.  The author’s writing style also meshes well with the mystery woven through the story.  The dark, insular setting complements Jane’s explorations of the events that led her to Birch Grove and its odd happenings.

There are some supernatural elements in this book, but they are not what I expected.  The good news is, this is definitely not your typical teen vampire/ghost/what-have-you novel.  Much of the story is rooted more firmly in the real world than most other tales on the shelves today.   However, the author spends so much time building the mystery and the portions of the story that are not supernatural that when the supernatural does show up, it doesn’t fit into the plot as well as it might have.  I almost wanted the plot to be entirely mundane, because I found that part to be more fleshed out.

The author falters the most when it comes to the characters.  Jane’s friend Mary Violet loves poetry and being flamboyant, but at times it comes off as being almost a caricature.  This is especially true when she’s first introduced, but I’m happy to say that she does grow on you.  Lucien and Jack are not really all that likeable, as they spend a good chunk of time being jerks to Jane and then trying to make up for their actions.

Jane is the character with the most dichotomies in her actions.  She comes from the streets and seems to have a side to her that is hard and fierce; and yet, she moons over Lucien and Jack and lets them treat her with little to no respect for much of the novel.  It’s like two entirely different characters, and frankly, I like street-smart Jane better.  She’s daring enough to approach the local gang leader for help, and her interactions with her friend Wilde and her history with another friend named Hosea are gritty and realistic.  I guess I wanted to see that tough Jane more during the Birch Grove sequences.

On the one hand, I did enjoy this novel; on the other hand, I had mixed feelings about the way the story was presented.  I do still recommend it, but do be aware that it has some rough patches.  Dark Companion is lovely and disturbing by turns, and if you like teen supernatural tales, this might be one that you’ll enjoy.

This review was originally posted on March 2, 2013.

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

(Description nicked from Goodreads.com.)

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