Spoiler-Free Book Review: “Girls With Sharp Sticks” by Suzanne Young

This book caught my eye after coming across a blog post that was raving about it. Since I’ve mainly been reading fantasy and horror for the past few years, this looked like a fascinating change. Set in the near future and full of mystery and intrigue, I devoured the hardback in three days.

71P+RWVS0JL

Some of the prettiest flowers have the sharpest thorns.

The Girls of Innovations Academy are beautiful and well-behaved—it says so on their report cards. Under the watchful gaze of their Guardian, they receive a well-rounded education that promises to make them better. Obedient girls, free from arrogance or defiance. Free from troublesome opinions or individual interests.

But the girls’ carefully controlled existence may not be quite as it appears. As Mena and her friends uncover the dark secrets of what’s actually happening there—and who they really are—the girls of Innovations Academy will learn to fight back.

Bringing the trademark plot twists and high-octane drama that made The Program a bestselling and award-winning series, Suzanne Young launches a new series that confronts some of today’s most pressing ethical questions.”

Philomena, called Mena by her friends, is a student at Innovations Academy, along with many other beautiful young girls like herself. However, instead of learning about science, maths, or world history, they are taught instead how to be “perfect” – manners, sophistication, politeness, self-control, and physical beauty. It was like 17th-century values were being ingrained into a modern school. It was really… weird.

Everything about this “private school” had me on edge. The teachers were sort of nice, but also incredibly controlling. The students took “vitamins” at night. Any whisper of doubt or rebelliousness was instantly “remedied.”

I liked Mena very much. She is down-to-earth, clever, and loves her classmates like they’re her sisters. She isn’t bitchy or over-the-top sassy like we see in some female characters.

Each page I turned only brought more questions. What is this “therapy” they go under when they’re disobedient? Why would their parents send them to such a strange academy? What is their intended purpose once they graduate? Why do Mena’s parents neglect to visit her? Who are they, really?

I didn’t guess the final twist, which was great and made everything fit into place. Though plenty is left to the imagination, I was deeply satisfied with the explanations shown to us in the exciting last third of the book. That’s not to say the first part was boring; I was hooked from the first chapter, and instantly loved it.

Girls With Sharp Sticks is a must-read for those who love suspense. There are feminist themes for those who are into that. The only thing I wasn’t keen on was the present tense narrative, which I’m not a fan of, but I quickly got used to it (as with the Divergent trilogy) and it didn’t take away from the story.

I give Girls With Sharp Sticks five stars out of five!

img_4438

Get Girls With Sharp Sticks on Amazon US
Get Girls With Sharp Sticks on Amazon UK

Spoiler-Free Book Review: “Apt Pupil” by Stephen King

So continues my venture through Different Seasons, Stephen King’s four-part collection of novellas. After Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption is Apt Pupil, the story of a young boy and an old man who share and suffer mutual blackmail. A movie adaptation came out in 1998, sixteen years after the book’s release.

kapook_world-176686“If you don’t believe in the existence of evil, you have a lot to learn.

Todd Bowden is an apt pupil. Good grades, good family, a paper route. But he is about to meet a different kind of teacher, Mr. Dussander, and to learn all about Dussander’s dark and deadly past… a decades-old manhunt Dussander has escaped to this day. Yet Todd doesn’t want to turn his teacher in. Todd wants to know more. Much more. He is about to face his fears and learn the real meaning of power—and the seductive lure of evil.”

Todd is described in the very first line as an “all-American kid.” On the surface, he’s perfect. Sun-kissed blond hair, a great smile, and even better grades. Too clever for his own good.

He’s sussed out his neighbour’s true identity. The old German isn’t an innocent immigrant, but an ex-Nazi with a truly horrific past. Todd’s got the goods on him. But he doesn’t want money… he wants to be told. Told everything. Every grisly detail of the Nazis’ horrific acts on their victims.

If only Todd knew at thirteen where his actions would lead, he’d have left the old man alone.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novella. Stephen King doesn’t digress as much as he did in Shawshank, which I preferred; we lived through Todd and Dussender’s mutual disdain, their hold on each other, the odd relationship not of friendship, but respect forming between them. Todd’s grades suffer; he has nightmares, his sick fascination with the unthinkable twisting his life in ways he could never have anticipated.

Horror isn’t always monsters and zombies; there are many horrors of real life that we have to live with, some more than others. In Apt Pupil, there was always something lurking, something that was going to happen, I could feel it. The tension was paramount throughout, leading to an explosive and satisfying ending. Neither characters were likable due to their natures, but it was fascinating to experience their discomfort, their constant fear, and their growing disdain of those they felt were beneath them.

The past is the past, but is it truly? Todd is affected by things that happened before he was born, and yet he is living them.

The dialogue was just great. I was in the 1970s, experiencing the slang of teenage Todd and the second-language love of idioms by Dussander. Stephen King also has a gift of taking similes and idioms a step further, making them his own. There were some quotes that had me laughing.

“It was impossible to tell his age. Todd put him at somewhere between thirty and four hundred.”

“Don’t you dare die on me, you old f***!”

“He looked like death with a hangover.”

It was a fun little Easter egg that Andy Dufresne of Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption was mentioned, too. He was one of Dussander’s bankers before he (Dufresne) was arrested.

Apt Pupil was awesome, and I might check out the movie at some point. I give this charming novella five stars.

img_4438

Get Different Seasons on Amazon US
Get Different Seasons on Amazon UK