Khanh the Killjoy

Nancy Ohlin - Thorn Abbey

Thorn Abbey - Nancy Ohlin

Inspired by Rebecca, you say?

Daphne Du Maurier is rolling in her grave right now. I love reading alternative retellings of my favorite books. Most of the time, they're pretty bad; in some instances, they're incomprehensibly terrible. This book would be an example of the latter.

Rebecca holds a special place in my heart. I have a lot of favorite books, but back as far as I can remember, Rebecca has been my first favorite book. Hence, it has, and always will, hold a special place in my heart as my most beloved book.

With that said, if you're going to attempt a retelling of my favorite book of all time, you'd better do it right, or else face my wrath.

Grab some popcorn. Find a comfortable seat. Settle in.

This book fails as a modern-day YA adaptation of Rebecca. I can't help feeling that it's works better as a satire, because it is a mockery of a book. There are some tales that stand up well to a more modern interpretation, and I don't think Rebecca is one of them. In that case, it sets this book up for failure before the book already begin.


The setting is a modern-day boarding school, drama-laced version of Rebecca, with a forced and senseless supernatural twist. Our heroine is a poor, innocent, extremely naive, close-to-white-trash small-town girl uprooted to a very prestigious, very wealthy boarding school named Thorn Abbey. How a poor girl from a small town got there is unclear, it's implied that Tess chose this school for the challenging courseload, because she's very intelligent---I see no evidence of her supposed brilliance throughout the book.

She meets some exaggerated classmates, falls in insta-love with the brooding, ice-cold Max De Villiers, and in the course of events, must overcome the Mighty Max's memories of the dearly departed Becca. Max has a Tragic Past, about which everyone at school warns her. Naturally, Tess doesn't listen. She learns about his Sad Love Story with the beautiful, charming, charismatic Becca, and sets out to be the next reboundgirlfriend. Along the way, strange, mysterious, inexplicable things happen, and...yeah, it pretty much mirrors Rebecca in plot development, with some modern-day adjustments. The Manderley Ball? That's the Valentine's Day dance to you!

Challenging courseload? Boarding school? Oh, right, Tess is supposed to be attending school at some sort of point in the book. Nah. Tess pretty much plans her whole life around winning over the mysterious Max. My god, I have never met a character in an YA novel who is more pathetic than Tess. The feelings she has over Max, her constant mooning over him---the romance in this book is by far the worst I've read in a long time. Tess reeks of lovesickness, of desperation, as she pursues Max. As her roommate so appropriately puts it:

“Can’t you see that he’s using you to get over his grief? That you’re just a distraction? All the other girls know to keep their distance after what happened. He’s an emotional train wreck, and he needs time. Friends. Not some love-starved loner throwing herself at him.”

And throw herself at him, she does. She knows that Max was in love with Becca, so sure, let's use his grief to get to know him better!!!!! They're soooooooooo similar, too!!!!!

I’m sure it hasn’t been easy for him to find the right person to help him move on after Becca’s death. After all, we deep, smart, solitary types have a tough time relating to people who aren’t like us.

Her internal dialogue is completely laughable. She sees connections where there are none.

He and I definitely have a connection. I felt it when we first met, at the fountain, and even on the cliff.

She feels their hearts touch and their souls match. She sees an intimate moment in every single minute interaction. I suffered from constant secondhand embarrassment at how completely, utterly obsessed Tess becomes with the godly Max. She wants to be his friend, his lover, his everything. Anything he wants, she will become.

But now Max has me. As a friend. Even as more than a friend. Whatever he wants.

And what better way to get close to him than to use his dead girlfriend?

Still, maybe if I can learn more about Becca, I can get closer to Max. Find out what kind of girl he likes. And then maybe, just maybe, he’ll like me, too?

I have to stop talking about Tess and how much I deplore her character's obsession with Max or I'll get a burst blood vessel from the sheer frustration of it all.

As for her personality, Tess is absolutely dull. Max says he likes her because she's soooooooo different from all the other skinny, smart, socially acceptable girls at Thorn Abbey...but I can't see anything in her to like, and I'm reading the book from her point of view. Rebecca's main character, the unnamed "I" worked for her time, but in this day...any character of her nature comes off as insipid, stupid, weak. That is my thought of this book's main character; she is absolutely silly, she is completely spineless, she is clingy to the nth degree. Rebecca's unnamed heroine is a strong, modern, independent woman compared to the silly, fluffy-headed doormat that is Tess Szekeres.

The other characters in this book are lackluster parallels of their Rebecca equivalents. We have the house counselor, Mrs. Frith (Frith, the butler), Franklin, the loyal dog-like nice-guy friend (Frank Crawley), Devon, the super-creepy and strange and slutty best friend (Mrs. Danvers), the Abercrombie-lookalike cousin Killian Montgomery (Jack Favell).

I absolutely hated the rampant slut-shaming in this book. There is so much girl-on-girl hatred within this story; everyone is a slut, a whore, a dumb bitch compared to our sweet, innocent, naive main character. I cannot think of a single female character in this book who is portrayed in a positive manner. We don't even have the equivalent of Max's sister in this story to be a good companion to Tess. Sure, we have Devon and her circle of friends, but they're all shallow dumb bitches who are completely incomparable to the rational, no-nonsense, good-humored Beatrice. Tess feels the need to label anyone she doesn't like, any girl who has captured male attention a slut and a whore, like the girl who got her ex-boyfriend's attention in middle school.

The teenagers in this book are fucking caricatures, the female characters in particular. They are an overwrought, hypersensitive, paranoid 80-year old church-lady's version of what teenagers act like, and is no no way a realistic portrayal of any reasonable teen that I know. They eat nothing but lettuce and "tiny, doll-size salads" and "plain broth." They take drugs, specifically Klonopin and Hydroxycut. They name-drop brand-name labels, they sleep around, they hit each other, they call each other tramps, they say their mother is "such an annoying whore.” They make the cast of Gossip Girl look like well-behaved conservative young women. Their portrayal and depiction is an insult to young teenaged women everywhere. For a school of this supposed caliber, academics are but an afterthought. It's dumb. Give teenagers more credit than that.

I maintain my premise that this book is a poorly-written mockery of the original. It should be illegal to use the word Rebecca alongside the name of this book. Please do yourself a favor and pass.