Night School (Night School, #1)Actual rating: 3.5
I honestly don't know how to rate this book. It's such an odd read, I came in with certain expectations as to the plot, the characters, and the writing, and none were reached. That isn't to say it's a bad thing, considering I had low expectations, but this book was so different from what I actually got. From the title, I expected a House of Night ripoff, and instead I got Gossip Girl meet cloak and daggers with a hint at the paranormal and a set of rules straight out of Fight CActual rating: 3.5
I honestly don't know how to rate this book. It's such an odd read, I came in with certain expectations as to the plot, the characters, and the writing, and none were reached. That isn't to say it's a bad thing, considering I had low expectations, but this book was so different from what I actually got. From the title, I expected a House of Night ripoff, and instead I got Gossip Girl meet cloak and daggers with a hint at the paranormal and a set of rules straight out of Fight Club.Just look at some of the rules in the student manual. I actually burst out laughing when I read them:
"6. The identities of those involved in Night School are secret. Anyone who attempts to find out their identities will be punished.
7. ALL Night School activities are secret. Any member of Night School found to be divulging the details of those activities will be punished severely."
Come on, doesn't that just scream Fight Club?
I'm just...speechless. This is not to say the book was bad, it's actually quite enjoyable, but then again, I place a high value on reasonable character behavior, good plot-building, and good writing, and the book has plenty of the above. It's just that it goes on so long, dangling various shinies in front of me as a promise to a Big Reveal...and when the mystery is finally resolved, it was so anticlimactic that it felt...flat. I understand that this is meant to be the beginning to a series, and as such, it feels like Night School 0.5, it would be better off as a setup to the actual book with an actual plot that doesn't require 3/4 of the book to unwind. The book is just far, far too long for what it contains.The premise: rebellious teenager Allie has been repeatedly arrested, and her parents are sick of it. She is sent to Cimmeria, a school where super-rich and influential people send their children. It appears that she's the only "normal" student there, who is neither admitted by legacy, nor with wealthy or powerful parents. She makes some friends, meets the Mean Girls, and falls in a love triangle. Strange things are happening on campus, students get mysteriously injured and attacked, accidents happen, Allie is bullied, and nobody seems to be able to give her a straight answer.The good: the writing. The pacing may be slow as molasses, but the writing is very well done. I expected piss-poor writing and storytelling, but I was proven utterly wrong. The atmosphere and setting are so well-described, I could visualize everything that the author describes, from the beautiful setting of the Cimmeria campus, to the simple appearance of the character. However, it is never overdone, you will not find descriptiveness rivaling Dickens here. The writing is simple, subtle, and evocative, the characters' speech are natural. The hints given are subtle and not obvious, we are not hand-fed anything. Whatever criticism I might have for the book, there is absolutely no complaints from me on the quality of the writing. That was what I most enjoyed about the book.The bad:
1. Allie: she is not the most sympathetic character. She is rebellious, snarky, with a teenager's apathy and hatred for authority. She was not always like this, as we know. Allie was previously a good student, a loving child, but all that disintegrated with the disappearance of her brother Christopher. She has since then done everything she can to make life difficult for herself, and her parents. In the beginning of the book, I felt so much sympathy for her parents when we meet them briefly, and for the only time in the beginning of the book as Allie is being arrested for the third time after having been caught vandalizing her school. They're weary, they're empty, they're humiliated from having gone through this three times, they're tired of all this. Her parents are sympathetic towards her, they, too, have suffered due to the Christopher situation, but this is too much. No yelling, no screaming, no threats. This is it. They're sending her to Cimmeria, which is her last hope, even if they have to make tremendous financial sacrifices for it.Allie is so tremendously immature. I think the writer intends for her to seem that way, to be unlikeable and childish and stupid initially, so that we can see her character development. Her lack of maturity seems deliberate but it doesn't really endear me to her:
"Setting the black pieces on her side, she handed Allie a white knight.Allie held it up and made a neighing sound. Jo gave her a withering look.
'Pony,' Allie said weakly."
"'What's a parley?' Allie had asked at the time, adding hopefully, 'It's
just a couple of letters away from party.'"Brilliant...
The problem is that Allie never really grows up. She is rendered somewhat less rebellious by the strict code of behavior at Cimmeria, but her mental immaturity remains. She is defiant and obstinate, but I don't think she's too intelligent. She seems oddly incurious, Allie is frustrated by the lack of answers and all the secrecy because obviously something strange is going on, but she never truly demands that Carter tells her what the hell is going on. I do like the fact that she questions things, if something doesn't make sense, she does not hesitate to call it out, but she never outright demands answers. I did feel bad for Allie. She is out of place there, and everyone seems to know it. She is made to feel like she stands out, in a bad way. "Everybody treated her like the village idiot who’d slipped in when the guard's back was turned." Eventually, we get to know more about Allie and why she acts the way she does.
"'My mum and dad fought with each other, and I was just this...nuisance to them that they had to deal with. It was like, when he left he pulled the stopper from our lives and drained everything good out. They didn't love me any more. And I felt nothing at all.'
She sighed shakily. 'Feeling something became really important to me. So I drank a lot; but actually that's kind of the opposite of feeling anything, you know?'"
2. Carter: man, what a douchebag. A mysterious, hypocritical douchebag, and part one of the love triangle. I hated Carter West from the beginning. "He's constantly in detention. Thinks he knows everything and everybody else is shallow. He's infuriating. Half the teachers hate him, and the others treat him like, I don’t know, he's their kid or something. And he's a notorious womanizer. He gets what he wants and then he's not interested any more." Allie is warned away from him from the start, and I have to give her credit for recognizing that she shouldn't waste her time on him at one early point:
"'God, can you believe the energy we’re giving this conversation about some guy we don’t even like?'"Carter doesn't get the message, he constantly gets underfoot and harasses her. He runs hot and cold towards Allie, and he irritates the hell out of me.
"'You don't. Ignore somebody. For weeks. And then. Ask them. Personal questions. You. Arsehole.'"
He tries to warn Allie of something but his warnings are vague and without reason, then Carter gets angry when Allie doesn't listen to his enigmatic warnings. He tells her to stay away from Sylvain because he is a womanizer, when he has done the same himself. The tension between Sylvain and Carter felt like nothing more than two alpha males defending their territory.
3. Love triangle - towards the beginning, you could see my lips curl up in disgust as I read the insta-attraction between Allie, Sylvain, and Carter.
"'Sylvain is kind of...special. His parents are very important people – he's from a very old family. And he's kind of an interesting guy in his own right. Lots of girls over the years have tried to get his attention, but nobody's ever really succeeded.'
Jo chimed in. 'But then you came along and suddenly it’s like he has this huge crush.'"
4. The mystery - this was the most frustrating part. The mystery and how it was revealed moved like molasses. It was so slow to get revealed, I don't think I'm particularly stupid, but I had no idea what the hell was going on with all the attacks and the mysterious accidents until a good 3/4 of the book was over. Strange things happen in the forest. Students get hurt. Hints get given, but they're misleading:
"'I heard something growl,' she admitted, 'like a dog. But I heard footsteps, too. The human kind.'
'What do you think it could have been?' she asked. 'I mean, do people have dogs here? Like teachers or...staff?'"
Reading this, one might think that the author is setting us up for a paranormal of the big, furry, go crazy during a full moon type of Reveal. One would be wrong. I was so frustrated reading this, and so angry at the final reveal. It's like having a big slice of chocolate cake dangled in front of you as you run, and then after getting the cake...it turns out to be carob. What a tremendous letdown. I like the story, I grew to eventually like the characters, I'm curious enough to find out where this series is headed, but I'm just disappointed at the conclusion because it felt like I was so mislead. It's like a paper maze where the beginning and the end are just adjacent to each other, only the path on paper takes you through half the maze to get the the exit....more