* I received this book on NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. *
Title: Santuary Bay
Author: Laura Burns and Melinda Meta
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Publication Date: January 19, 2015
Synopsis from Goodreads:
In this genre-bending YA thriller, will Sarah Merson’s shiny new prep school change her life forever or bring it to a dark and sinister end? When Sarah Merson receives the opportunity of a lifetime to attend the most elite prep school in the country-Sanctuary Bay Academy-it seems almost too good to be true. But, after years of bouncing from foster home to foster home, escaping to its tranquil setting, nestled deep in Swans Island, couldn’t sound more appealing. Swiftly thrown into a world of privilege and secrets, Sarah quickly realizes finding herself noticed by class charmer, Nate, as well as her roommate’s dangerously attentive boyfriend, Ethan, are the least of her worries. When her roommate suddenly goes missing, she finds herself in a race against time, not only to find her, but to save herself and discover the dark truth behind Sanctuary Bay’s glossy reputation.
I can’t say that I loved Sanctuary Bay, but nor did I hate it. It’s one of those books that was certainly an interesting read. It was quick, light, and easy, so it’s perfect if that’s what you’re looking for. It’s a fast moving novel, driven by the uncertainty of what might happen next and there are some surprising and completely unexpected twists. In the end, there were too many things that I couldn’t get on board with that got in the way of me really enjoying this novel.
Firstly, Sarah Merson is an fascinating character with her eidetic memory and the trances that make her relive many awful things from her past, however she doesn’t quite come alive in this story. It’s hard to get a sense of who she really is besides the fact that she has a chip on her shoulder towards anyone of affluence. She’s quick to judge, and doesn’t try to change her tendency to jump to conclusions although time and time again she realizes she’s pegged someone incorrectly. I appreciate this character flaw as it’s always refreshing to see characters who aren’t fully perfect. She has the trait of identifying everyone first and foremost on race, which I found really odd because this isn’t tied to any outstanding, particular incident involving race in her past. And this tendency soon disappears into the story, as if the author wants to prove a point or to initiate a discussion, but then forgets to continue doing halfway through the book. She then continues to check little boxes, almost turning the people around her into stock characters with a mental checklist. Perhaps this is part of her judgement process, however I’m not sure what it’s supposed to achieve for her as both an imagined character and a real person within her story.
Secondly, the conflict is quite over the top, that even if we suspend disbelief, it’s hard to accept that there is no one questioning what’s going on at this school. No employees speak out against it, there are no teachers who oppose it, and of course no one on the outside world knows about it. The main villain who we only meet for a second, reveals all of the information about the secret operation that the school has been trying to hard to hide, without a second though. While I think that there’s in incredible potential for this story to be great–aspects of mind control, skull and bones societies, potentially haunted asylums–I think it fell short with it’s 2D characters, poor dialogue, and lack of character development.
Now, if you take it at face value and if you’re only looking for a quick read, then I can understand why it’s received such good ratings on Goodreads. Many people have really enjoyed this book, and it does have many merits. I seem to be in the minority in not enjoying this novel as much. I hope you’ll find it a more exciting read than I did.