Friday, February 3, 2012

Book Review: New Girl by Paige Harbison

New Girl by Paige Harbison
Release Date: January 31, 2012
Publisher: HarlequinTeen
Pages: 304
Received: ARC from publisher, via NetGalley
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars


From Goodreads:

They call me 'New Girl'...

Ever since I arrived at exclusive, prestigious Manderly Academy, that’s who I am. New girl. Unknown. But not unnoticed—because of her.

Becca Normandy—that’s the name on everyone’s lips. The girl whose picture I see everywhere. The girl I can’t compare to. I mean, her going missing is the only reason a spot opened up for me at the academy. And everyone stares at me like it’s my fault.

Except for Max Holloway—the boy whose name shouldn’t be spoken. At least, not by me. Everyone thinks of him as Becca’s boyfriend but she’s gone, and here I am, replacing her. I wish it were that easy. Sometimes, when I think of Max, I can imagine how Becca’s life was so much better than mine could ever be.

And maybe she’s still out there, waiting to take it back.


New Girl is a tough book to like, but it's worth pushing past the the gratuitous sex and noxious characters to experience the brilliant retelling of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca hidden in this contemporary gem. I have read and love Rebecca, so keep in mind my experience with New Girl is colored by that.

Never say never

The pacing is moderate to slow and not all that much happens. Mostly it's contemporary inter-personal stuff without any BIG events (there are a few Medium events).

You know I have no patience for that, but surprisingly, I was actually ok with this. The original book doesn't have a whole lot going on either and I managed to love that one. Just like the original, I was totally transfixed by New Girl and I can't even pin point why. I felt that need to keep reading throughout the whole book.

These people!

Part of my fascination was because I was so wrapped up in watching these crazy people spiral out of control. Reading about them was almost like a guilty pleasure. I wanted to see what messed up thing they'd do next.

Their characterizations are spot on. The original characters were real pieces of work, but Paige Harbison managed to add humanity to her versions while still maintaining their Gothic lunacy. Don't expect swoony heroes and heroines you can whole-heartedly root for. Neither Rebecca nor New Girl are that kind of book.

The epically creepy Mrs. Danvers was reimagined as the tragic, but no less skin-crawlingly weird, Dana Veers. Dana's reenactment of Mrs. Danvers' creeptastic walk down memory lane through Rebecca's clothing was pitch perfect. Yikes! I'm getting shivers down my spine just thinking about it.

Even more notable was Paige Harbison's treatment of the Rebecca/Becca character. Rebecca is morphed from a goddess she-devil into a somewhat sympathetic Becca struggling with mental illness (sympathy only gets her so far though. She's still a she-devil I'd want to stay as away from as possible).

Unlike Rebecca, who haunts the periphery of the novel while never actually making an appearance in the flesh, Becca is given almost equal pagetime as the narrator. Third-person POV chapters alternate with the narrator's first person chapters and tell the tale of Becca's bombastic, twisted time at Manderly.

YAY, you have a spine!

The narrator of Rebecca was a total weenie. Her narrative was completely absorbing, but gosh did she go on and on about how she didn't think she could ever measure up to the mesmerizing Rebecca. She was so utterly eclipsed by Rebecca that her name isn't even mentioned in the book (she is known only as the "second Mrs. de Winter").

Given that, I was surprised when the narrator in New Girl actually stood up for herself! The title (naming "New Girl" and NOT Becca) should have been my first clue that this girl is not about to indulge in the pity part the second Mrs. de Winter was so known for.

Instead of internal torment, the narrator gets hit with an onslaught of "You're not as good as Becca" from her classmates. There was an oppressive feeling of the faceless mob always whispering behind her back. I was reminded of those books where the whole town accuses a woman of witchcraft and then makes her life miserable.

Where did the stars go?

I was fine with the less exciting plot because it was totally enthralling. What I wasn't fine with was the detour home the main character took during winter break.

There is sort of a point to it (it shows her personal growth and how she's moving on), but, meh, it did nothing for me. I'm not really into that kind of thing, but more importantly it felt like a DETOUR. I was antsy to get back to the story already. It doesn't take up much time though.

There were also some inconsistencies in voice, particularly with the narrator. For the first few chapters her voice seemed like a put-on trying to seem more intellectual and highfalutin but it evened out and sounded a lot more "normal high school girl" after that.

I was also kind of bummed that the ending didn't have an explosive conclusion like the original with fire and murder and secret revelations and mental breakdowns. New Girl's ending was far too tame.

But the biggest reason for stars off is the level and treatment of sex. It DOES serve a point, but I wish that point had been made in more of a PG/PG-13 manner. It's not graphic, but only just barely. It's described in such a crass manner, which is perfect for the characters, but not so perfect for me as a reader. Many of these scenes contributed to my total lack of respect for most of the characters. Even more frustrating is the fact that these scenes are so prolific and detailed that I can't comfortably give this book to my library kids (and I so would have if it weren't for these scenes).

Bottom line

This is one of the better retellings I've read. Paige Harbison honored the sentiment of the original, but deftly twisted events and characterizations in ways English teacher's assigning literary comparison essays can only hope for. I am impressed.

I would definitely read another retelling by Paige Harbison, but I'm not fully sold on reading an original story of hers yet. The non-retelling parts were a little rough and I'm still hung up on her handling of the sex scenes.

New Girl is a standalone.

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

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

Add New Girl to Goodreads!
Buy New Girl from your preferred bookseller!

Looking for another book like this? 
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Click on the cover to go to my review.


  1. I seriously didn't know that this was a retelling! Thank you for pointing this out. But anyway I really loved that one and I didn't mind the sex involved. I loved the mystery and suspense behind Becca's disappearance and the different POV's always one year back and forth.

    I laughed and love your sentence about the book "Part of my fascination was because I was so wrapped up in watching these crazy people spiral out of control." This sooo sums it up perfectly! *still giggling*

    1. Oh my gosh Danny you MUST read Rebecca! It is such an amazing book!

      I really appreciated the way the different perspectives were handled. I thought it was a great way to increase suspense. I'm so glad you liked New Girl!

  2. Yikes - this sounds DARK. I felt like you were able to give such a thoughtful, compelling review bc you had actually read Rebecca! Thanks for a great introduction.

    1. It is pretty dark. There are some pretty heavy hitting issues touched on (mental illness, rape, to name only a few).

      Thank you! It was so hard not to dive right into a literary analysis comparing and contrasting the two, but I figured that would probably make me even more long-winded than I usually am :P

  3. Reading the reviews of this book is so much fun because there is a wide spectrum of those who didn't like it and those who enjoyed it. Like you, I was a huge fan of Rebecca. It was actually the first book my school librarian recommended to me in high school so it's got a good memory attached to it as well. I was glad to read your review (which is awesome btw) and I have a feeling it's going to be close to how I would react to yet (I've yet to read it) but I'm really curious now.

    1. Oh yes, the widely differing views make this a perfect candidate for a review comparison.

      I can't even look at the name Rebecca anymore without thinking of that scene where the second Mrs. de Winter is describing the swooping R in Rebecca's signature. :)

      I am really, really curious to see what you think about this, especially since you will be coming from both a library perspective and as a Rebecca fan.

  4. You said it exactly as I did! As an adult, this book was certainly a guilty pleasure, but I absolutely couldn't put it in my classroom library for my high school students and feel good about it. It also really bothered me that rarely was a turning point reached without vodka. The whole "alcohol leads to clarity" message, though probably unintentional, is problematic.

    If you like Rebecca, you should try DuMaurier's My Cousin Rachel. Equally creepy and engrossing!

    Great review!

    1. Very good point, about "clarity through alcohol." It felt like the characters were drunk more often than not, which was disappointing.

      Ooh thanks for the recommendation! I'll add that to my TBR. I've only read Rebecca and Frenchman's Creek (good fun, but not as well done as Rebecca, I thought).

  5. I read Rebecca once and loved that book disliked how the main character never stood up for herself. I'm glad the main character does in this retelling does.

  6. All I hear about this book is graphic sex, which is a total bummer for the author I'm guessing. She can't have wanted that to be the buzz floating around this one. Why did her editor let her keep it so explicit?

    1. Yup, graphic sex and tons of boozing were prominent features, unfortunately. The retelling parts were well done, which makes it extra disappointing that they're so overshadowed. :( HarlequinTeen seems to have very permissive editors (Legacy by Calya Kluver comes to mind).

  7. It seems that alcohol and sex were a big part of this one. I really don't think this one interests me. Although I'm glad the narrator stands up for herself. Great review!

    1. VERY big part. It's a shame because they're overshadowing the retelling parts, and those parts were really good!

  8. Small, I've been stuck on this one. I can't get past the first 10% and I feel like I might DNF it. It's a review book, so I feel bad, but I also feel like I haven't really given it a chance. It seems like maybe I should keep pushing through and get to the good stuff. I don't mind a slow story, but this one seems extremely so. Still...after your review, I think I'm going to keep reading and see if I can't finish it. :D

    1. If I remember, the beginning was pretty slow (or, at least it felt slow for me, being an impatient reader). Have you gotten to the part where she's at school yet? Stuff starts happening more after the first Becca flashback, I think (I don't remember exactly).

      You know me and DNF-ing books though :) You can always pick it up again in the future and see if you click with it more then.

  9. I've got this one in my pile and I'm glad you gave me the heads up on the content. Not exactly looking forward to that, but I am interested to see how it relates to Rebecca.

    1. The sex/drinking are so, so prevalent, but I tried to see past that because the retelling parts were good. I think she put an inventive twist on everything. The narrator isn't as weak, and Becca is the one who feels internal torment. I thought it was an interesting shift.

  10. I am nearly finished with this one. Its fun we've been reading a lot of the same books. I haven't ever heard of Rebecaa, though I was aware this was a retelling. I had nothing to compare it to.

    Personlly, I really like Paige's writing style. Her realistic and easy to read prose kept me engrossed, even though there wasn't a whole lot of action, interpersonal "stuff" was going on instead.

    What I didn't like, is exactly what you point out, I didn't think this book with its underage drinking and promiscuous teenaged sex was really all that appropriate for the age level it was intended. That's my number one beef with the book. I know teenagers drink and have sex, but this book seemed to really put emphasis on this and nothing else.

    I'm curious to see how this one ends, I'm didn't really understand why "New Girl" didn't have a name. After reading your review, I see it has to do with her insignificance.

    What a great review. I may visit you on GR when I finish to have a deeper discussion with spoilers involved, especially if the ending is not what I like. (I'm at 89% finished right now)

    1. I am really looking forward to discussing this one with you! I'm curious to see what you think coming from the perspective of having not read Rebecca. Rebecca completely colored my impression of New Girl. (Rebecca is fantastic, btw!)

      Ok, I'm going to hold off and wait for Goodreads where we can use spoiler tags! :)

  11. Surprisingly, I like the sound of this- which is good because it's on my tbr pile! - though I dunno if I'll be able togo through with it because of the slowish pace and the fact that the characters sound like they are kind of mean!

    But after reading your review I feel like im more prepared for it.

    I hope I like it.

    1. The characters are completely mean. Really. It's, ack, if I hadn't read the original (where the characters are also awful, but that's the point), then I don't think I would have liked New Girl half as much as I did.

      But the slower pace didn't bother me at all. It's not so much that the pace is slow, because things DO happen without much boring filler. It's more that the events are, like Gina said, "interpersonal stuff" going on instead of BIG ACTION. I hope you like it!

  12. I really loved New Girl. The sex and drinking didn't bother me either. It's realistic to me, a part of high school, especially twelfth grade. And I remember from the boarding school in my city growing up that sex and drugs and drinking were prevalent. Hell, they were prevalent in my public high school and that was forever ago. I don't like books that aren't realistic about what's going on, that pretend these things aren't going on.

    To me, it seemed that Becca's scenes were the ones that were the most explicit and I think that's because she was the most disturbed (next to her roommate). Maybe that's why they were explicit, she had no boundaries, no limits to what she would do. And Harbison showed how far she would go to get what she wanted, explicitly.

    I had no sympathy for Becca, sick or not sick, she knew what she was doing. I only felt for what happened to her at the end.

    I never read Rebecca, but I really want to now that I've read this one. Though I prefer New Girl with a backbone!


    1. same here all i wanted heather said already
      i heard of rebecca since final year middle school

    2. I agree that it is completely realistic. It really did ring true--not only the actions, but also the feelings and motivations attached to them. They really did help to establish Becca's mental state.

      Still, they frustrated me because even if they're totally realistic and even if, because of that, they aren't inappropriate for a lot of YA readers, I still couldn't give the book to them at work. That disappoints me.

      You must read Rebecca! It's such a good book, and New Girl is different enough that you'll still be surprised by a lot of the plot.

  13. There's so much range on how people feel about this one. I really didn't like it but perhaps that's because I've never read Rebecca so all the unpleasant and crazy characters didn't do much for me. I liked how you compared New Girl to Rebecca, Small. It helped me understand a little better why the characters were the way they were.

    1. If I hadn't read Rebecca first, I'm not sure I would have stuck with New Girl. Most of my enjoyment came from comparing and contrasting it with the original.

  14. Ooh, I loved reading Rebecca too, but I haven't read any modern re-telling. Maybe I should pick this up.

    Great review!

    1. I'd be really interested in seeing what you think! I know some readers hated the changes Paige Harbison made, but I thought she did a good job adapting the original.

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