The Last Academy, by Anne Applegate (2013, Point, a Scholastic Imprint, younger YA)
Sometimes one can rely on cold, hard facts to judge one's reaction to a book. Fact--I started reading The Last Academy at 4:40pm, waiting for my bus ride home. Fact--when I came home, instead of getting a snack, tidying the house, spending time with the family, I kept reading. Fact--I read straight on through, finishing ten minutes ago (c. 6:10), and still feel somewhat teary and shaken.
I guess that I can say of The Last Academy that it was "gripping." "Moving." "Memorable."
I was not without doubts at first--it starts with two best friends, fourteen years old, falling out. The beautiful one is mean to our heroine, Camden. Not so interesting.
Then Camden is on her way to boarding school, in California--I knew it was a boarding school book, so I wasn't surprised; I like school stories, so I kept reading. A sinister dude shows up on her airplane. Turns out his last name is Charon. Turns out the school is called Lethe Academy. I began to expect that Camden would start manifesting Greekly mythological wonderfulness. My doubts continued.
The appearance of a Handsome Dude and subsequent insta-crush intensified them.
But then...it became clear that I was all wrong about the direction the story would take. I began to care about the characters--even the new bitchy beautiful girl character and the Handsome Dude. And I realized, still pretty early on in the book (I take no credit for this--it's spelled out pretty clearly, and I think we're supposed to guess) that things were not all sunshine and roses at Lethe Academy.
And I was teary at the end. I hugged the nearest child, but it wasn't really what I wanted...I think I would like to call my own mother, but she is currently birdwatching in Kazakhstan.
This isn't one I'd give to a reader who is grieving. It would be too close to home. But it's one I can imagine being intensely appealing to the teen girl readers out there who want an emotional punch packaged inside lightly paranormal romance/generic teen angst wrappings.
True, it is not subtle. True, it is possibly a tad manipulative in its emotional knife twistings. True, since the clues were all there, the characters really should have figured things out a lot more briskly...But it worked for me.
Be warned--not every one loved this one. Here are some reviews much less favorable than mine:
Katie's Book Blog
Birth of a New Witch
The YA Sisterhood
Dear Restless Reader
One thing that seems to have been off-putting is how young Camden is; I barely registered this, maybe since I read more middle grade than Young Adult, and so I was unbothered...So in light of that, I'll revise my recommendation--give this to a twelve-year old girl. Not to a committed reader of YA.
disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher