by Marisha Pessl

I can bestow on this book the highest compliment I have: I want to own it so I can write all over it. I borrowed it from friend Lyza after reading her review and inhaled it. At 500 pages, it was well under 24 hours in my hands.

Written from the perspective of a precocious book-wise teenager, I found her voice resonant and familiar (though in possession of an infinitely better education). Her narrative is self-aware and liberally dosed with quotations and references from books, magazine articles, and movies. And any child this scholarly and still relatively sane and down to earth has my admiration, if not, perhaps, my unmitigated credulity.

Our narrator Blue VanMeer clearly and unabashedly orbits her brilliant and eccentric father both intellectually and emotionally. Gareth VanMeer, who seems to have no compunction about carting his young daughter all over the landscape, still never fails to see to her instruction during countless hours of auto rides and semi-ritualized moments in places scattered from coast to coast. Having decided to finally settle in North Carolina so Blue can complete her senior year at the exclusive St Gallway, the VanMeers begin to feel the gravity of other bodies in the wider universe. Blue is drawn into a clique of privileged students who seat themselves as acolytes to one Hannah Schneider, the film studies teacher at the school. Though they seem initially resistant to her inclusion in the select group, eventually these people begin to influence Blue in ways both subtle and overt: her frame of reference widens in tandem with her wardrobe.

But the appearance of normalcy in this group is fleeting indeed. Ultimately a custom of secrecy and deception begins to reveal itself from beneath the veneer of benign mentorship in Blue’s relationship with Hannah and the others. Inexplicable and bizarre stories swirl between the students about their teacher, as well as tales told by Hannah about her disciples. And disciples are just how these adolescents are portrayed: dazzled by Hannah’s allure and deeply possessive of the intimacy she has afforded them despite the misgivings they frequently recount to one other in her absence. The conflicting stories, coincidences, bizarre behavior, spying and conflict that brews within the group creates a sense of mounting tension and a deepening mystery as the novel progresses. And to Blue’s increasing confusion and dismay there seem to be strange concordances even from within her own unorthodox life that make some elements of these mysteries seem to mean something more to her than to the other teens in the circle.

Eventually a schismatic event completely dismantles any relationship between Blue and her compatriots. When she discovers Hannah’s lifeless corpse, the momentum built in the novel to that point is unleashed in pursuit of answers that become increasingly personal for Blue as the truth begins to out.

Though there were some mechanisms in the story I found a little too pat for complete conviction, overall I found this a compelling and enjoyable read. I found the rhythm of the narrative woven with the citation of sources from classic literature to pop culture rich and satisfying, even if many of said references flew right over my wee little head.

Recommended.
Penguin (Non-Classics) (2007), Paperback, 528 pages