Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Unseemly Education of Anne Merchant by Joanna Wiebe

The Unseemly Education of
Anne Merchant
Author: Joanna Wiebe
Publisher: BenBella Books
Pages: 272
Release Date: January 14th, 2014
Source: Received free from Netgalley in exchange
for an honest review.

So many secrets for such a small island. From the moment Anne Merchant arrives at Cania Christy, a boarding school for the world’s wealthiest teens, the hushed truths of this strange, unfamiliar land begin calling to her—sometimes as lulling drumbeats in the night, sometimes as piercing shrieks.

One by one, unanswered questions rise. No one will tell her why a line is painted across the island or why she is forbidden to cross it. Her every move—even her performance at the school dance—is graded as part of a competition to become valedictorian, a title that brings rewards no one will talk about. And Anne discovers that the parents of her peers surrender million-dollar possessions to enroll their kids in Cania Christy, leaving her to wonder what her lowly funeral director father could have paid to get her in… and why.

As a beautiful senior struggles to help Anne make sense of this cloak-and-dagger world without breaking the rules that bind him, she must summon the courage to face the impossible truth—and change it—before she and everyone she loves is destroyed by it.

My Thoughts

In 2004, ABC aired a show known as Lost. The story line in this television show was so disjointed, few could make sense of what was happening, and fans pressed forward with faith the answers would be revealed in good time. The Unseemly Education of Anne Merchant felt much like this, while the reader patiently waits for things to be unveiled in the end. A fantasy novel, masked with elements of typical high school drama, there was something creative in engaging in this work. My only caution to the reader is to keep going, and hopefully your perseverance will be worth it.

In the beginning, I wasn't sure how I felt about this novel. I liked Anne, and found her voice honest, realistic, somewhat sassy but still relatable. Anne lost her mother a few years before, her father is a mortician, and her high school career was pretty much a flop up until that point. Going to this new school is supposed to be her 'new start', so she tries to make the most of it, but you can feel her frustrations when it feels like that hope is vanishing. She is immediately pegged as being an outsider, and the schools policies are twisted and confusing. While success means everything to Anne, she has begun to question what it will take to achieve it.

The other characters in this novel grew and transformed with time, which I appreciated, even with the fuzzy story line. There is more under the surface, which is something I really enjoy discovering with books. While it was frustrating at times to be tethered to Anne, who struggles to piece together the clues of Cania Christy, I found it easier to get through the book realizing I was sharing Anne's frustration. 

Much of this novel is written to see things through Anne's eyes; the unbelievably perfect characters, the frightening staff, the mysterious villagers. Sure, she doesn't solve everything right away, but I liked the small clues along the way that kept me going. By the time I closed the book, I felt like most of my complaints vanished because those elements made more sense. This is a book to suspend your disbelief for, although I will be honest, that can be a struggle. Most books we judge from the very beginning, but this is one I really think needs some time to settle before putting it down too hastily.

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