First appeared on Goodreads, December 23, 2011.
It's hard to review retellings.
No, not parodies. I made my feelings about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies known a long time ago. Retellings are harder to tackle, especially when they're different from their source material, because you don't know whether to measure them by their own right or whether you should look at the original book and see how it holds up.
The story follows the "new girl" (whose name we find in the last pages) who moves from Florida to a prestigious boarding school in New Hampshire, only to discover that she is a pretty hot topic because she got the place thanks to the disappearance of another student, the golden Rebecca. New Girl has to put up with a lot of shit, trying to establish her identity separate from the one of the girl before her, dealing with a troubled room mate and somehow navigating the waters with Rebecca's ex, Max.
As its own story, New Girl is a pretty strong book. The characters are solid and three dimensional - the MC, Blake, Dana especially. The MC has a very strong voice and a very distinct personality and isn't about to take shit lying down (for the most part). The plot is poignant, not shying away from the more touchy subjects such as teen sex, under-age drinking and drug usage.
However, I wasn't wild about Max. Yeah, he was messed up by Rebecca and things weren't going too well for him, but I couldn't help but feel like the MC should have stood up to him better. She has some instances when she draws the line with him, but not in a single instant did I feel like she might not get back with him. I didn't think he was so great - much like the Hitchcock movie, I felt like his character was revamped so that he would escape blame.
Dana's story arc was a mixed basket for me. I loved her character, but I couldn't help but feel like she didn't get the resolution she deserved. I guess I was hoping she'd get a happier ending. After the rape subplot, who wouldn't? And the thing Becca did, for her and for Lulu? Not cool. At times, I wondered if all the drugs and rape weren't gratuitous.
Becca... oh, Becca, you did not want to be loved, did you? I don't know what to make of her character - she is just made so unpleasant throughout the book that by the time I reached the end, I was in no mood to pity her, although I found her breakdown to be realistic.
And what about Rebecca? How does the Du Maurier story translate into New Girl? Well, for the most part, it is a good retelling, although not quite like you might imagine. In the original text, Rebecca was the empowered, strong female who died because she didn't fit the mould of the deeply traditional Max de Winter. Even with the apparent happy ending, the prologue of the story suggests that the heroes are living a half-life, and that Rebecca has won.
In the retelling, it's the MC who is the powerful character and who gets to beat circumstances to emerge strong in the end. But if that's the case, why is her name not known until the end? In the original novel, the whole point of Mrs. de Winter not having a name is to show how dependant she is on the men in her life, how quick she is to efface her personality and bend backwards to please them. The New Girl is neither a doormat nor does she particularly care for pleasing others. If this was indeed a reversal of the roles of the women, shouldn't the new girl used the name from the very beginning.
Or maybe I think too hard. Either way, it's worth checking out, because it is a good story with a gutsy heroine.
Note: A copy of this book was provided by the publishers via NetGalley.
Note 2: Image via Goodreads.