Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Book Review: The Revenant by Sonia Gensler

The Revenant by Sonia Gensler
Release Date: June 14, 2011
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Pages: 336
Received: Library
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Goodreads Page


From Goodreads:

When Willie arrives in Indian Territory, she knows only one thing: no one can find out who she really is. To escape a home she doesn't belong in anymore, she assumes the name of a former classmate and accepts a teaching job at the Cherokee Female Seminary.

Nothing prepares her for what she finds there. Her pupils are the daughters of the Cherokee elite—educated and more wealthy than she, and the school is cloaked in mystery. A student drowned in the river last year, and the girls whisper that she was killed by a jealous lover. Willie's room is the very room the dead girl slept in. The students say her spirit haunts it.

Willie doesn't believe in ghosts, but when strange things start happening at the school, she isn't sure anymore. She's also not sure what to make of a boy from the nearby boys' school who has taken an interest in her—his past is cloaked in secrets. Soon, even she has to admit that the revenant may be trying to tell her something. . .


When being a judgy-pants is a BAD thing

I so let my cover (and title) judgments get the better of me with this book, much to my detriment. I took one look at that cover, and for whatever reason I thought, "Meh, I'll pass" and that's exactly what I did.

Then I attempted to read Die For Me and I was totally turned off by the concept of revenants as romantic leads and my inner Ms Judgy-pants felt fully justified in turning up her nose at Sonia Gensler's take on revenants.

But holy moly did I make a mistake!

A revenant of a different color

Sonia Gensler's revenants are nothing like Amy Plum's revenants. The revenant in Sonia's book is a ghost! If I had known that, then I never would have skipped over The Revenant.

The ghost is also much more like the traditional Gothic horror ghost. That is, the main character spends a lot of time alternatively terrified of and intrigued by the malignant spirit, but never swooning over it.

Even though I do love a good ghostly romance, I adored Sonia Gensler's spooky tale and I'm glad she didn't fall back onto the topic du jour paranormal romance-angle.

So, wait, what genre is this?

I would comfortably put it into the genre of historical Gothic horror (and historical fantasy), with the Gothic parts taking center stage. The mystery of the hauntings is the central focus and I thoroughly enjoyed following Willie as she slowly unraveled the secrets of the past.

I thought the mystery was particularly well done. One minute I was convinced I totally had the Big Bad pegged, but then the next minute a piece of information was introduced that made me think maybe I should trust that person and be fearful of another character instead. But then that was called into question too! I loved how Sonia Gensler kept me constantly on my toes and never knowing who I could believe.

The historical parts are present through the setting and the conflicts surrounding the Cherokee girls, but I don't think you need to be a history buff to enjoy The Revenant. Actually, the setting was a lot more like a boarding school book than a heavy historical.

I do love historical fiction though, so I was fascinated by the details surrounding the Cherokee girls (and I learned a lot that I hadn't known).

For the romantics, there is also a touch of romance, but because Sonia Gensler is a diabolical genius when it comes to red herrings, I never knew whether I should allow myself to swoon over Willie's romantic interests (yes, possibly two--but this is NOT a love triangle) or whether I should start screaming at Willie to run for her life. I loved it!

Willie, you are a liar (but I love you)

I clicked almost immediately with Willie, despite the fact that she probably wouldn't be someone I'd love if I was looking at things objectively. She is a liar and she is attempting to fill a position she is clearly unqualified to hold. Plus, she has some issues that could make her an unreliable narrator.

But I loved her anyway. I don't know if it was because she was brave and daring, or if it was because she tried so hard to improve her life, or because I could relate to her feelings, or if it was simply just because I liked her first person narrative voice, but Willie totally gets an invite to my sleepover party.

The ending (no spoilers)

I'm still conflicted about the ending. I don't mean the resolution of the story arc, because that was great. But after the big bang finale, there's a whole 'nother section that felt to me like a very long epilogue.

I love that Sonia Gensler gave this last final peek into Willie's life because it is in this section that Willie seems to really grow the most and come to terms with her situation.

But...I don't know, as much as it felt like the perfect resolution for Willie and as much as I loved the character depth it provided, it also felt like it didn't really belong in this book. At least not to the extent it was expanded to. I think I would have preferred if it had been shortened to an epilogue.

Bottom line

This was the kind of book where, halfway through, I was already planning on adding to my TBR everything else the author has ever written (except this is a debut, so instead I added Sonia Gensler to my "Authors to Watch" list). I clicked with the writing style, pacing (moderate, but tantalizly tense), and characters and now I cannot wait to see what Sonia Gensler writes next!

The Revenant is a standalone.

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

Do you have any questions about The Revenant that I haven't addressed? 
Feel free to ask in the comments!

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  1. I really want to read this book after reading your review. I wasn't pulled in my by the cover, but now that I know its a ghost story I am intrigued.

  2. I would definitely turn my nose up at this cover and title so thanks for bringing this one to my attention. Not sure if I will get to it due to the horror element but at least I know there's a good story within the covers.

  3. Shamefully I also passed over this one because I thought it looked and sounded a bit 'meh'. (Boo to me!) Now I'll have to pick it up because it sounds like something I would love! I still haven't read Picture the Dead by Adele Griffin yet either. I so need to read that one!

  4. I LOVE when a book keeps you on your toes, never too sure who the bad character is. I enjoy being surprised far more than predicting the plot. And I seriously need to increase my historical YA quota. The Cherokee girls and revenant aspect has me so intrigued!

    Thanks for the awesome review, you have me lusting after this now. Cannot wait to read it!

  5. I'm still sad that you didn't like Die For Me. :-( But I can see how it's a love or hate book.

    This sounds great. I love that it has elements of Gothic horror. Too many ghost stories are like Casper grown up. All sweetness. It's nice to have some fear occasionally.

  6. Small, I had the same reaction! Plum's Die for Me was just...ick. After I was long into the blog tour for this one, I actually looked into the book and sought reviews. It sounds pretty good and now I'm waiting for my turn to read it at the library. I'm really digging the Gothic mystery aspect. Glad you enjoyed it!

  7. All Right, Miss Small, I want to read this book now and it's ALL your fault!

    I think you're secretly -and evilly - trying to blow out my book buying budget.

  8. I'm so happy I won this book, then. I haven't read it yet. Foolishly putting it off to the side, but now I want to hurry through my to-read pile just to get to this!

    - Asher (from Paranormal Indulgence)

  9. I am totally guilty of cover-judging this one as well (that and I'm not huge on ghosts). But your review definitely makes me want to give it more of a chance! Sounds like just the right amount of suspense and spookiness.

  10. Andrea, I'm so glad you do want to read it now! I don't know what it is about the cover, but it really didn't grab me. The ghost story was a lot of fun though!

    Bookworm1858, You're welcome! It's kind of horror-lite. There's nothing gory or anything like that.

    Leanna, I can see you liking this one! And Picture the Dead! You have some reading to do :)

    Brodie, Me too! It's so much fun when I have no idea what is going to happen next. I hope you like The Revenant! :D

    Alison, :( Aw, I'm sorry! haha "Casper grown up" So true! There was one scene in this book that had me turning on all the lights at night :P (but I'm a wimp!)

    Rummanah, Yup, I could not do romantic zombies :P I hope you like The Revenant more. It's really COMPLETELY different.

    Alex, :D Looks like my alter-ego the Tiny Terror has struck again! (usually it leaves tons of messes and unfolded laundry, but it has been known to encourage out of control book buying binges :P )

    Asher, You won it?! AWESOME! Congrats! I hope you like it.

    Danya, I hope you like it! The ghost aspect was a good mystery and spooky enough to frighten me. :O

  11. I turned my nose up at this one because of the cover and the name expecting zombies. Now, it sounds like I might want to read this one. Thanks for the review, I'll be adding this one to the list. The long, long, long, list that grows every time I come here!


  12. I don't really like the cover so I'd probably skip over this one too if it wasn't for great reviews like yours :) I loved Die For Me unlike you but am curious to see Gensler's darker take on revenants. The mystery sounds really nice and I always seem to love reading POVs from unreliable narrators.

  13. But it's so much fun to be a judgy-pants! They say you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but what do they expect us to do when they make stupid covers? :p

    I'm definitely in agreement about the "corpse as love interest" being kind of creepy. Ghosts are in the "fully dead" category, and vampires are "undead," but just regular dead? Yea, not into necrophilia.

    I'm really liking Gothic stories recently; I hadn't read many until participating in the Gothic Reading Challenge this year, they're such fun stories. Fantastical and dark and a bit spooky.

    I'll be putting Gensler's book on my TBR list, although I doubt I'll get to it this year. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

  14. Heather, Me too! It's a real shame Die for Me came out so close to The Revenant because they really are completely different books. I hope you like it!

    A Canadian Girl, I'm so glad my review helped change your mind :) It really is a totally different paranormal creature than Amy Plum's revenants. The mystery was fun, especially with the unreliable narrator aspect. I hope you like it!

    Couch Potato Critic, haha yes, it is fun! I don't see myself giving up being a judgy-pants anytime soon :P LOL at your distinctions of dead love interests! 100% agree! I've enjoyed the Gothic Reading Challenge this year (even though I'm sadly failing at it!)


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