24 February 2009

REVIEW: ALEXANDRA SOKOLOFF - THE HARROWING

Mass Market Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks (October 30, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0312357494
ISBN-13: 978-0312357498

Summary:
Baird College’s Mendenhall echoes with the footsteps of students heading home for Thanksgiving break, and Robin Stone, who won’t be going home, swears she can feel the creepy, hundred-year-old residence hall breathe a sigh of relief for its long-awaited solitude. As a massive storm approaches, four other lonely students reveal themselves to Robin: Patrick, a handsome jock; Lisa, a manipulative tease; Cain, a brooding musician; and Martin, a scholarly eccentric. Each has forsaken a long weekend at home for their own secret reasons.

The five unlikely companions establish a tentative rapport, but they soon become aware of another presence disturbing the building’s ominous silence. Are they the victims of an elaborate prank, or is the energy evidence of something genuine—something intent on using them for its own terrifying ends? Together, they’ll face three long days and dark nights before the world returns to find out what’s become of five students nobody wants and no one will miss…


Review:

Alexandra Sokoloff made me remember why I loved to read a suspense/ good horror story in my teens and twenties. The heart-in-throat moments accompanied with the sense of looming danger which could turn up at any moment is what fused my eyes to the pages. From the get go The Harrowing flares the senses alive with the reader that something is about to occur that will releases a whole heap of trouble. It is up to the group of characters to solve it and so the journey to uncover the truth begins.

Robin Stone is a bit of an outcast, not truly seen or heard…invisible. When everyone is leaving for Thanksgiving 5 students remain, they all have a troubled family situation though you would not initially say this. When a storm is raging they find each other’s in the common room and a Ouija board is introduced to have some fun. While this may sound like a classic set–up the author possesses the kind of writing skill that conjures up an atmospheric image of Mendenhall Residence Hall. This building includes rattling pipes, squeaking wood board floor and creepy rooms. I loved the use of descriptive scenery which invaded my mind! It connected me with Robin, Patrick, Martin, Lisa and Cain in their fear, anger, determination and well, they are college students so a bit of attraction and lust is thrown in the mix as well.

They all have a distinctive personality, Patrick as the brawny football star, Martin the inevitable book nerd, Cain is the one exuding mysteriousness, Lisa has a big mouth that hides an insecure heart and Robin takes the spotlight with her dark brooding thoughts and fears. The group dynamic is energetic and highly interesting, what started out in fun and giggles turns into something else as the Ouija board answers back. The use of a Ouija board speaks to the imagination and the “what if” factor held me spellbound. What if such an object could really evoke a presence beyond the physical realm? It added to the chills and thrills as event upon event speaks of one thing and the minds of 5 students railed against its possibilities.

Their fear protruded in The Harrowing succumbed me even more into this story. I was walking the corridors too as something loomed behind me….or was it just the imagination running wild. The prose used by the author added another layer of tension which made it all that much easier for me to live into the moment of sometimes horrifying events. What also caught my attention is the surprising well thought out plot. The combination of Freud/Jung teachings versus an evil of religious origin brought a frightening sense of reality to the tale. The knowledge of the topics in The Harrowing were evident is the larger scheme of things and sometimes in the tiniest details. For the two hundred and forty-three pages this novel contained it held a depth that captivated me. Sokoloff also used short chapters to keep the pace of storytelling up and while this sometimes can scatter the attention of the reader, in this formula it worked very well.

When I first read the synopsis of this novel I thought, been there, done that, with the whole college students going rampant in a haunted mansion/dorm as something unexplainable chases them. But from the first page it all clicked and worked for me, set off by the evoking writing style of Alexandra Sokoloff and the portrayal of a young woman who is a bit of an outcast. Because for every character in this book it is Robin with her sharp perception and gloomy moods who wants more answers than the rest of the gang.

The ominous vibe was there from page one and kept me firmly set at the dorm mansion of Baird College, intrigued, horrified and transfixed all at the same time. Robin, Cain, Lisa, Martin and Patrick invited me into their group and I became a part of this story. That this is a debut novel from Alexandra Sokoloff’s hand speaks of a bright future in the genre for her!

Quote Robin:
You saved us. I’ll never forget what you did. I’ll never forget you. You’re a part of me forever.


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