Monday 21 May 2012

New Girl – Book Review and Interview with Paige Harbison

New Girl – Book Review
Paige Harbison
YA Contemporary
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.
‘New Girl’ is a contemporary retelling of Daphne DuMarurier’s classic novel, ‘Rebecca’ which I read years ago and thoroughly enjoyed. Therefore I was particularly interested to see how Paige Harbison’s new version would compare and I can honestly say that it was pretty amazing. While keeping all the key elements of the original story, Harbison manages to put her own individual spin on the tale making ‘New Girl’ a really intriguing read.
The story begins when our main character (who remains unnamed until literally the very end!) is accepted into Manderley Academy, a prestigious boarding school that she dreamed of attending back when she was 11. However now 17 and about to start her senior year of high school, leaving behind her friends and family is the last thing she wants but, unable to disappoint her parents – she puts on a smile and accepts the offered place.
However when she arrives at the academy, her fellow students are not nearly as warm and welcoming as she had hoped for. Instantly dubbed as the ‘new girl’, our main character soon discovers that her spot at the school only opened up due to the disappearance of another girl – Becca Normandy.
Loved and popular, Becca Normandy was the centre of all things cool at Manderly Academy, but nobody wants to know the ‘New Girl’ who’s replacing her. Everything New Girl does, she finds herself compared to Becca and always falling short – But when New Girl lands herself Becca’s old boyfriend Max, the school erupts in rumours as everyone tries to discover what really happened the night Becca disappeared…
 A year apart, the story is told through the dual perspectives of both Becca and New Girl as they go through and experience the same things and situations in Manderly Academy. The plot – despite a few plot holes and slight ‘not sure that would really happen moments - is packed full of intrigue and suspense as every events leads up to finding the truth of what really happened the night Becca disappeared.
The characters themselves were also really interesting. New Girls roommate was sufficiently creepy, and Becca herself was as selfish but relatable villain. The romance however, between New Girl and Max didn’t really work for me – mostly as I found Max quite shallow in the beginning and for someone who supposedly doesn’t care what people think – he really dragged New Girl into a strange on/off relationship.
The ending though I thought was brilliant and ver cleverly done. It certainly put a satisfying end to the book and has put Paige Harbison on my 'authors to watch' list. Mysterious, suprising and all in all a great retelling, 'New Girl' was an intriguing read. 3 1/2 stars!

1)     What gave you the idea for NEW GIRL and how long did it take you to write?

Watching Hitchcock movies, remembering about Rebecca, and thinking: a girl is jealous of a girl and it’s fuelled by her interest in a guy?  High school! I also wanted to delve into the obsessive compulsion teenagers have when it comes to tragedies involving their peers. If someone goes missing, dies, gets pregnant or anything at all, they obsess. It took me about a year from the very start to the very finish. 
2)    While writing, did your characters behave as you wanted them to or did they ever change the direction of the story?

Oh absolutely they changed the direction. When I write, I plan out a couple of points I mean to hit along the way, but I completely let the characters and the scenes drive themselves. If a guy and a girl is arguing, I let them say the things they’d really say, wounding or not. So a girl says something she doesn’t mean to the guy and he ends it. I might have intended that, but as the dialogue crescendos, I just let it go where it wants.
3)    What was the biggest challenge you faced when writing NEW GIRL?

Writing the main character. She was based on, of course, the main character in Rebecca, who was unreasonably meek and spineless. I had to translate that quality to a modern day girl who you wouldn’t want to slap. And at times you still do want to shake my character and say, “stand up for yourself!” But she doesn’t, because she’s real. How many times have we all looked back and wished we done things differently or realized how much we let someone walk all over us? It’s the same for my characters. 

4)    Can you tell us anything about any new/future writing projects of yours?
I am working on my next book now. I can’t say too much, but that it delves into the friendship between two girls that become driven apart by their own personal fears made worse by a boy and a discovery in a creepy shop.
5)    And finally, what was the best piece of advice you received back when you were still an aspiring writer?

I never really aspired to be one, actually. It just kind of happened. I started writing Here lies Bridget, title and all, and the next thing I knew, I was a writer. But my mother, New York Times bestselling author Beth Harbison, certainly gave me advice once I was on the road. Most of it was in the form of her reading my books and making notes saying, “This part is stupid.” That’s the advice I took away: recognise when something you write is dumb and unrealistic.


  1. great review, I really enjoyed this book but can see why the characters can be a bit hit or miss for some people

  2. I haven't read Rebecca, but I love the sound of this! It's a shame about the romance but I'm intrigued by the ending! Great review :).