Dark Companion by Marta Acosta
Publication date: 03 July 2012 by Tor Teen
Category: Young Adult Mystery/Romance
Keywords: Mystery, romance, Gothic, boarding school
Format: Hardcover, eBook
Source: ARC received from publisher at ALA
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.
Dark Companion starts off with a bang. A young girl battles for her life while a storm rages. Blood flows and she knows that she will die. A spirit takes her high into the trees, where she is safe and warm. When Jane Williams wakes up, she has no memory of the terrible events of that night, or her life before the accident.
Sounds good, right? Unfortunately, the first few pages of Dark Companion are probably the most compelling and I really struggled to finish it. I was never really able to connect with any of the characters and they didn’t feel real to me. The pace of the book was also really slow. Halfway through the book and still felt like I was waiting for something dark, scary, or even interesting to happen. There were definitely hints throughout the book that all was not right in Birch Grove. But Jane wasn’t putting the pieces together quickly enough. By the time she finds out what the Big Secret is, it’s very anticlimactic.
I also had issues with Jane and her friends. I read a lot of YA novels and, while I am no longer a teen, I feel like I have a decent grasp of what teens sound like. But Jane and her friends do not sound like any teens I know or have ever heard. They’d spout utter nonsense and slang one second and then top it off with a Latin phrase the next. And why did everyone and everything have a nickname? MV, JM, Wilde Thang, Ms. McSqueak, etc. etc. I actually got confused a couple of times because of all the nicknames. Perhaps I am not around teens enough but the dialogue seemed really forced and it took me out of the story.
The biggest disappointment for me was Jane herself. She starts off as a cynical, sarcastic, street smart young woman who has studied hard and earned herself an education at a prestigious school. And though she’s a fish out of water at Birch Grove at first, she remains true to herself and makes some good friends along the way. But then the inevitable happens and she falls for Hot Guy. In this case, the impossibly gorgeous and unattainable Hot Guy is Lucky Radcliffe, the town’s golden boy. And like most golden boys he’s smart, charming, and gets whatever he wants. The second that Lucky shows any interest in her, smart, strong Jane disappears and a Jane I don’t recognize takes her place. She ditches her friends and stays at home so that she can be available for him at all times. He proceeds to treat her like crap in public, while telling her how much he trusts and needs her and asks her to agree to a “secret relationship.” It’s never a good sign when a guy doesn’t want to be seen in public with you.
And what’s so great about Lucky? Truly I do not know. I could have understood Jane’s attraction more if he really cared about her or had some kind of redeeming personality traits, but I really did not see what Jane saw in him besides his good looks. He was clearly using her and she was so starved for love that she compromised herself to obtain it. I could kind of understand Jane’s desire for love and a family since she is an orphan, but it seemed very out of character for her to change so much and I started to lose a lot of respect for her.
As you can see, this book just wasn’t for me. It’s clear that Acosta has some writing chops and I did like certain parts of it. She has a knack for creating an atmospheric setting and the birch forest in particular had a real personality. I liked Mary Violet even though she was ridiculous and I didn’t understand half of what she was saying. However, she was sweet, and I enjoyed her rabid enthusiasm. I also thought that Acosta’s premise for the blood play was a really unique take on the vampire myth as genetic disorder. While the whole hierarchy and the traditions of the Family didn’t make sense to me (why do only men get Companions?), the scientific angle was original, and I wish we could have explored it more.
While I enjoyed certain parts of Dark Companion, they could not save the book for me. The various elements never quite came together and the book fell short.
*I received this book free of charge from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This, in no way, affected my opinion or review of this book.