Author: Paige Harbison (Twitter)
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Publish Date: January 31, 2012
Genre: YA, Contemporary
Pages: 304 Pages
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.
She’s the New Girl. It’s hard to be that girl, in and of itself, but it’s even harder when the It girl disappears and her absence opens the spot for the new girl at the prestigious school. Life is complicated and messy at Manderly Academy with conniving, lying and deceitful students, dark secrets and a messy underbelly that, for some reason, the new girl has become a part of. For some reason though, the New Girl is slipping into Becca’s shoes. It’s both a gift and a curse though because if, God forbit, Becca ever returns, the New Girl is going to have to retreat into the shadows again because Becca rules Manderly…and a new girl is always a new girl.
New Girl is a treacherous take on contemporary fiction, brimming with twists and turns that threaten to send the story spiraling out of control at any given second. This is the second novel I’ve read by Paige Harbison, and it’s no less challenging than the first. The author is skilled at crafting artfully dislikable characters, which I’m assuming was her intention. There’s a deep-seeded animosity that fuels New Girl along, spreading the characters thin through intense angst and discord. Rather than give us the calm before the storm that we seek, New Girl thrusts the reader into a full-on onslaught of bitter teenage rivalry and sinks its teeth into you from the start.
New Girl was quite the challenging read for me. I’m going to state that outright because I have an extremely difficult time becoming invested in largely unapproachable characters. That said, there were a few breaths of fresh air throughout. The “New Girl,” herself, was actually a rather sweet character. Though we don’t learn her name until the very end of the book, which was either really clever or completely convoluted (I haven’t quite decided), the new girl shields us from the torment that Becca and her cronies wield daily. Becca was one of those characters that I wanted to kick in the face…multiple times. Her cruelty, manipulative nature and overall foul demeanor made me loathe her from the start, and I struggled to reconcile with the fact that everyone seemed entirely content to continue doing her bidding despite it. She, quite literally, reigned over the school, and that was difficult for me to read. Furthermore, there was a lot of weakness going on with many of the characters. For instance, the new girl very frequently caved to Max’s insistence, making her appear weak. I wanted to like Max and the new girl’s blossoming romance, but because of the stop-and-go nature of it, the dominant vs. submissive personalities and the weakness I saw throughout, I just couldn’t relate. At times, New Girl was over-the-top outrageously dramatic, then completely flat at other times. I felt that changing from the past to the present, as well as the switch between perspectives was a gutsy move for a novel like New Girl and, ultimately, it lost me because I felt the novel was too stunted to carry the weight of the challenge.
Overall, New Girl was a pretty well-written novel, though I struggled to find the true meaning of the book. I enjoy a challenge, but for me, it was too messy to carry the weight of such heavy drama. Clever in much of its approach to bullying and teenage relationships/drama though, New Girl will definitely find its place in many a YA shelf. I give it a 2 out of 5, and I recommend it to fans of YA, especially those who enjoy contemporary fiction and the novel, Here Lies Bridget.