Thursday, August 20, 2020

The Companion

Alender, Katie. The Companion
E ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central
August 25th 2020 by Putnam

Margot is dealing with a tremendous tragedy; her parents and two sisters were killed in a car accident while on a family vacation. Against all odds, Margot survived. Because there are no other relatives, she has ended up in a "nice" group home, but it's still far from ideal. When a college friend of her father's, a rich lawyer, finds out about her, he decides that his family will take her in. The Suttons live in the Copeland mansion, where Mrs. Sutton grew up. While Mr. Sutton is grateful that Margot's father saved him from drowning in college and is pleased to help her out, Mrs. Sutton has another motive-- their daughter, Agatha, has been suffering from a vague disorder that leaves her catatonic and barely able to take care of herself. Margot will serve as a companion for Agatha, just being another human presence for her. Agatha seems to be less than thrilled with Margot's presence, at one point dumping her clothes out of a dresser and hitting her stuffed bunny. Still, Margot knows that her options are limited, and is looking forward to starting a new school after the summer and getting on with her life. Even though she gets along well with Mrs. Sutton, helping her in the garden and having tea with her every night, there are a lot of odd things about the Copelands. Disused wings of the house, creepy portraits in the hall, and an abandoned garden all raise suspicions and motivate Margot to do some investigating. She finds plenty-- a dead sister, an odd book on the morality of children, and lots of secrets from the past. When Agatha's brother returns home from boarding school, it's good to have someone else to talk to, and Margot and Barrett develop a small romance. He even helps her investigate some of the mysteries and provides some welcome interactions. Before too long, however, he is sent away, and things start to escalate. Agatha becomes increasingly ill, and then Margot finds herself slipping into a variety of ailments as well. Clearly, something is very wrong at the Copeland mansion, but will Margot be able to figure out exactly what is going on before she succumbs to it?
Strengths: To my everlasting shame, Picky Reader was a huge V.C. Andrews fan in high school, and I'm thinking that this might be the perfect holiday book for her. From the fantastic mansion to Mrs. Sutton's cool, pale cashmere look, this has a definite Flowers in the Attic vibe, minus the really icky parts (if you've read the books, you know what I mean). Mrs. Sutton seems so kind and helpful at first, and then descends into a controlling, horrible person in a completely believable way. Agatha is a shadowy character who barely functions, yet seems to have a message for Agatha. The brief romance with the brother adds a nice touch, and also serves to distract us from the underlying horror. The desperate isolation and the trauma of her car accident affect the way that Margot interacts with the world. When things escalate, the book takes on a pell mell urgency that had me holding my breath! Great stuff.
Weaknesses: This is more of a YA book, in that it takes a long time for things to get bad. That's okay for middle school students who can handle psychological horror, but will disappoint readers who want a grisly murder on the first page!
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. The cover is fantastic, and Alender has a huge following at my school. This reminded me strongly of some of Lois Duncan's books, especially Locked in Time (1991). You know something is wrong, you know Margot shouldn't drink the tea, and yet, the cashmere sweater is SO nice... One of the best mysteries, along with Caroline Cooney's adult book, Before She Was Helen, that I've read in recent months.

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