Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Me on As I Descended

Title: As I Descended
Author: Robin Talley
Release Date: September 6, 2016
Publisher: HarperTeen (HarperCollins imprint)

Maria Lyon and Lily Boiten are their school's ultimate power couple—even if no one knows it but them. Only one thing stands between them and their perfect future: campus superstar Delilah Dufrey. Golden child Delilah is a legend at the exclusive Acheron Academy, and the presumptive winner of the distinguished Cawdor Kingsley Prize. She runs the school, and if she chose, she could blow up Maria and Lily's whole world with a pointed look, or a carefully placed word. But what Delilah doesn't know is that Lily and Maria are willing to do anything—absolutely anything—to make their dreams come true. And the first step is unseating Delilah for the Kingsley Prize. The full scholarship, awarded to Maria, will lock in her attendance at Stanford―and four more years in a shared dorm room with Lily. Maria and Lily will stop at nothing to ensure their victory—including harnessing the dark power long rumored to be present on the former plantation that houses their school. But when feuds turn to fatalities, and madness begins to blur the distinction between what's real and what is imagined, the girls must decide where they draw the line.

As I Descended is haunting, secretive, and atmospheric. Here are the many sides, the many faces of teens under pressure, haunted by their pasts and their futures, and how far they'll go to get what they want.

Maria is calm and collected on the surface, secretive and cautious down below. She's not about to rock the boat, to up end everything and everyone's hard work. She's fine staying back from the front, steering clear of the ghosts in her past. But they're always there. Haunting her. Following her. Calling to her, telling her they can help her, that she knows what she must do. But sometimes the ghosts aren't the ghosts she knows.

Lily is worried, near panic. She can't lose Maria, not as a girlfriend or as support. She can't lose everything they've worked toward, and she can't stand to see Delilah win everything as she lies and manipulates her way to the top. Not after Delilah hurt her so badly. Lily has a plan to keep her and Maria together, a plan that Maria has to follow through with. Lily pokes and prods, nudges at her to finally do something, and discovers she has to be the strong, ruthless one if they want to succeed.

This is a retelling of one of Shakespeare's classics, a tale of guilt and ghosts, of hatred and revenge and competition. What better place to set it than a high school, than a Southern boarding school full to the brim with geniuses, overachievers, and entitled white teens. What better setting than a former plantation marked by slavers and some rather suspicious and horrific deaths in its past.

In order to properly nail a revenge story, all the characters need agency. They need actual, credible reasons for doing what they do, for acting in order to ruin someone else's life. And all the characters here have that agency. This retelling was creepy. It was easy enough, as I read it, to picture myself on the grounds of the school, watching from the sidelines as events unfolded. As the first one fell. As the next one died. As the ghosts rose up. A must-read.

(I downloaded an e-galley of this title from HarperCollins through Edelweiss.)

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