Saturday, October 8, 2022

REVIEW: The New Girl (book) by Jesse Q. Sutanto

The New Girl is a YA thriller/mystery. I bought my copy brand new.


Content warning: drug use, a scene with eyeball-related gore, and possibly other stuff I've forgotten.

Lia Setiawan is Draycott Academy's newest student, there on a track scholarship. Although her fellow students, with their designer clothes (and designer drugs), might as well come from a different planet, Lia is determined to do her best. Unfortunately, there's an established pecking order on the track team, and Lia's presence disturbs it, earning her an instant enemy. It's not all bad, though: she also gains a few friends and somehow manages to catch the eye of super-hot Danny.

Her future at Draycott is put in jeopardy by Mr. Werner, her English Lit teacher. She strongly suspects that he's allowing students (like her track team nemesis, Mandy) to pay for good grades, and for some unknown reason he seems determined to fail her. If she can't keep her grades up, she can't stay on the track team, and she can't keep her track scholarship. Something's gotta give.

As the situation goes from bad to worse, Lia scrambles to keep everyone from finding out what she's done and desperately tries to find a solution that doesn't involve flushing her own future down the toilet. Even if she manages to figure something out, will she be able to live with herself afterward?

I very much enjoyed Sutanto's The Obsession and was sure I'd love this one too. I was especially intrigued to learn that the two books were set at the same school - I thought The New Girl might turn out to be a sort of sequel, but it's actually more of a prequel. There are cameo appearances from Sophie and Logan, and readers get a peek at aspects of their story that Logan never found out about.

Whereas The Obsession was a darker YA thriller starring a heroine who increasingly comes across as sociopathic, The New Girl had aspects to it that made it feel like a black comedy. Lia, unlike The Obsession's Delilah, had a conscience, and she spent a good chunk of this book being eaten alive by it. I don't know whether Sutanto meant it that way, but there was something darkly funny about her desperate efforts to somehow find a pathway through all of her problems that she could live with. Every mistake she made somehow worked out, but so narrowly that she was left queasy with guilt and anxiety. The first few times, I worried right along with her, but after a while it became a morbid comedy of errors. 

Lia was really, really bad at solving her own problems, and a terrible judge of people, but at the same time also ridiculously lucky when it counted. This was the literary equivalent of a train wreck - I mean that in the best possible way. I'd feel guilty about how much I enjoyed watching things fall apart, except most of the people who experienced the worst consequences were, to put it mildly, pretty awful. Draycott is a delightfully horrible solid gold mess. 

Overall, this was a fast-paced and addictive read. If Sutanto writes more YA thrillers, I'll definitely read them.

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