Friday, May 3, 2013

Review: Thorn Abbey by Nancy Ohlin

Review: Thorn Abbey by Nancy Ohlin
Release Date: May 7th, 2013
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Rating: What a colossal disappointment. Thorn Abbey purports to be based on one of my favorite novels of all time, the tense and psychologically mesmerizing Rebecca, but this retelling falls short in every way.

Thorn Abbey

Nothing is as it seems in this darkly romantic tale of infatuation and possession, inspired by Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca.

Becca was the perfect girlfriend: smart, gorgeous, and loved by everyone at New England’s premier boarding school, Thorn Abbey. But Becca’s dead. And her boyfriend, Max, can’t get over his loss.

Then Tess transfers to Thorn Abbey. She’s shy, insecure, and ordinary—everything that Becca wasn’t. And despite her roommate’s warnings, she falls for brooding Max.

Now Max finally has a reason to move on. Except it won’t be easy. Because Becca may be gone, but she’s not quite ready to let him go…

The cover: Damn you treacherous, beautiful cover! Why must you deceive me so, with your swirling iron gate and Gothic font and pretty dress? Oh, how I wish your contents had lived up to the promise of your cover.

The story: So the book starts off with this awesome, dramatic prologue, full of horror and screaming and fear, and I was like, yes! A haunted Rebecca! With a gorgeous, Gothic setting! And spellbinding romance! A dramatic tale of jealousy and revenge!

Prologue, you lie.

I had so many problems with this book, but I'll start off with the biggest one: Tess. She is, to put it bluntly, a total creep. She literally meets the surly and boring Max once, and she basically starts to obsess over him. And I do mean obsess. Seriously, their meeting consisted of him striding up to the person Tess was talking to, his roommate, Franklin, and demanding he leave with Max immediately, without once making eye contact with Tess. Swoon. But apparently, more happened in that brief five-second encounter, because all of a sudden Tess is IN LOVE. Full, one hundred percent, Max and Tess 4evah!!!!!1!! And it's borderline psychotic. Also, the level to which she becomes obsessed with Max's ex Becca is just... There is something wrong with this girl's brain. The whole point of Rebecca is that everyone but the second Mrs. de Winter (aka Tess) is a fruit loop. But Tess is seriously unbalanced when it comes to this boy. And I don't think that's what the author intended. She follows him around, thinks about him constantly, obsesses over the three words they exchanged in class, digs into his personal life, and cries about him, all before their second full conversation.


Somehow, miraculously, this evolves into them dating.

I guess it's not a good YA romance these days if there isn't at least a little bit of stalking involved, right? Gender equality! Teenage restraining orders-- they're not just for male vampires anymore!

So not only is Tess a creep, but she's dumb. She has tiny moments of being charming, mostly when she's talking with Max. But then she'll be hanging out with the rich bitches (more about them later), and they will say something unrealistically evil, and all of a sudden Tess literally has straw between her ears. My particular favorite moment was when this supposedly straight A student, repeatedly shown to be the most BRILLIANT student of English in the history of Thorn Abbey, literally does not know what a curling iron is. She calls it a "long, hot metal thing" that's being used to curl her hair. She's also totally baffled by the term "LBD". IT STANDS FOR LUCIFER'S BUTT DISCO WHAT DO YOU THINK

But the worst part about Tess is that she's really, really insecure. And not in a relatable, what-girl-doesn't-hate-the-way-she-looks? way, but in a non-stop pity party way. As In Imma smack you silly if you say another damn word about it. She's fat. She's ugly. She's poor. She's socially awkward. She says the wrong things. We get it, Tess, you're the worst. Can we get back to the non-plot, please?

Yes, Tess, it's because you're fat. Everything is because you're fat. Climate change. War in the Middle East. Voldemort's return to power. All because you're fat.

But of course, Max becomes totally smitten with her upon their third creeptastic meeting, and somehow they start dating, which is achieved with such little fanfare that I actually missed it. That's right. The part where the two main characters became a couple did not even register on my radar. That's how little impact the "emotional" moments of this book had.

Ditto the romance. Like... whatever. I did not give one flying frittatta about Max and Tess. I have no idea why they were in love, or how they fell in love. They were both horrible, boring people who should be in therapy.

I love boarding school stories, and I love fish out of water stories, and I love ghost stories. So a confluence of all three of these things should have worked for me. But the boarding school aspect was dull. Tess struggled with the most stereotypical rich bitch mean girls on the planet. I mean, she is basically Jenny Humphrey, and they are basically Blair and Serena, and she is poor and ungroomed and deserves constant reminds of her inferiority. Whatever.. Must I really be forced to read about yet another clique of supernaturally beautiful rich divas with unlimited access to their daddys' platinum AmEx cards, who talk about nothing but manicures and clothes and dieting and popping pills? It's so beyond cliche now that it's actually offensive. As if all private school kids are like this. And Tess! She's so special because she eats food and she doesn't color her hair and that's why Max likes her!

No. He literally says that. "I like you because you don't know what to wear." Real flattering, jerkface. So if she suddenly developed a sense of style you wouldn't like her anymore? True love right there.

And then there's the supernatural element. Yawn. Predictable. Everything happened exactly as I thought it would, and Tess was so behind the times it was annoying.

There is almost something there in this book. The concept and setup are pretty great. The writing is simplistic, and at times irritating, but it's not awful. I actually really liked aspects of Devon, Tess's roommate, who was the deceased Becca's old roommate and ex-best friend. She's charming one moment, heinous the next, and it's appropriately unsettling. But this book never reaches full boil. It's at a simmer. An annoying, spineless, insta-lovey simmer.

I just wrote and deleted a whole long diatribe about the original novel and how this book deviates from it in ways that are upsetting, but I'd rather judge this book on it's own merits, for those who haven't had a chance to read Rebecca (do!). Needless to say, I think it's way better than this.

And UGH. The ending. Eye roll. It was supposed to be so dramatic and emotional but I just found myself giggling. This is a pretty readable book, and may appeal to some people. It just really pushed my buttons, and I read it right after a string of other disappointing debuts, so I just wasn't in the mood for yet another lackluster read. I'm probably being too harsh on this one, but it drove me nuts.

I promise good reviews are on the horizon. I'm as tired of writing Negative Nancy reviews as you probably are of reading them!


  1. You go girl! I can't wait to post my review as well!

    1. I CAN'T WAIT EITHER FOR THE ROBOT mumblemumble... wink wink nudge nudge

  2. Ew. Changing some plot points in a retelling can be groovy, like in The Trouble with Flirting. However, doing so only to make shit worse? No. And, honestly, how could this change, turning Rebecca from the only sane one into a batshit obsessed obnoxious person be a good change?

    Errr. Did the book refer to Lizzie Bennet Diaries? Because I don't know another LBD. *is puzzled*

    Hahahaha, Tess ruins everything with her fat ass.

    OMG, I don't care gis is perfect.

    WHY? I am so sick of the guys being like "you're fat and eat food and don't wear make up so I love you, not those sluts." For real, that does not happen in real life, yo. How about complimenting her fucking personality? Oh, right, you can't, because she's the worse.

    So I still need to read Rebecca. My bad. I did like New Girl, the retelling that came out a year or two ago, though I haven't read Rebecca, so...grain of sand.

    I love reading all of your reviews, Negative Nancy, Positive Polly, or Meh Margie.

    1. I mean, the Rebecca character is plently loopy, but I was FAR more annoyed by Tess, who was clearly meant to be head over heels in love, but just sounded obsessive.

      As much as I wish LBD stood for Lizzie Bennet Diaries, they are referring to a Little Black Dress. It's pretty obvious in the context.

      NO THAT DOES NOT HAPPEN IN REAL LIFE. It's just as shallow as liking someone FOR wearing makeup and nice clothes and being an anorexic. GIF WIN.

      New Girl's a lot better than this, though obviously not as great as Rebecca, which I love.

      Aw, thanks! I've just been in such a negative streak lately. I have like ONE positive review in the last five.

    2. I really need to read Rebecca. Just not sure when I will have the time for it.

      Agreed on that being no less shallow. It's still all about the surface, and the fact that you're resisting popular opinion on what constitutes good looks doesn't change the fact that you're shallow.

  3. OH MY GOD, dying. :)

    I was actually in the library yesterday, and watching you update Goodreads in real time, and I was already shaking with laughter at the LBD and hair straightener comments, but NOW, after reading your review, I just know that I will be in the midst of polite company later this evening, trying to make conversation, when all of a sudden, "Lucifer's Butt Disco" will fly into my head, and I will snort like an idiot.

    Yet another book I will not read, thanks to Gillian! (And seriously, I would have stood powerless to the awesome that is that cover. Damn!)

    1. I am so sorry for being the one to putt "Lucifer's Butt Disco" in your head. I honestly don't know why i say these things, but thank you.


  4. I was intending to read this book, but I somehow think I'm just not going to like it. I struggled with New Girl, which was also a Rebecca retelling, though I did think it was pretty good. I can imagine that it'll probably be harder for me to get into this one. Your review made me laugh though ;)

    1. If you struggled with New Girl, I really think you'll struggle with this. Glad to make you laugh though!

  5. You know, I actually want to read this for the LOL, but then again I'm not sure I want to waste my time. Too bad it fall short because from the synopsis it does sound like an interesting read. Tess sounds like she's too stupid to live if she doesn't know what a curling iron or LBD is.

    1. So stupid. Except for when she's in English class. Ohlin puts the most BRILLIANT literary commentaries in her mouth, and we're supposed to go, "Mmm, yes, what a clever protagonist we have here," and then she leaves the class room and can barely function as a social human being.

  6. Um, no. I, for one, am NOT tired of your Negative Nancy reviews. I love them! If there were a way to get them consistently without making you actually READ the dreck they're inspired by, then I'd be so down for that.

    Anyways, thanks for taking one for the team on this one. I will definitely avoid this book.

    1. I am glad that you're not sick of my crankiness. I have to admit, I LOATHE reading bad books, but there is something therapeutic about reading bad reviews. I definitely agree that somebody needs to come up with a way to get the bad reviews out of me without having to do the reading.

  7. Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear. That is... wow. I'm not sure I actually have any words for this one. I'm sorry for your pain, I guess is applicable here? And thank you for saving me from this mess. Tess sounds awful. I'll be staying far away.
    Also, your gif usage is top notch. Just sayin'.

    1. Why thanks you :) And yes, Tess is the worst. I would NOT recommend this book, unfortunately.


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