Novelist and nonfiction writer Pohler (The Calibans, 2015, etc.) kicks off a new YA series with the story of Daphne, a girl who can’t wait to die—until it becomes a very real possibility.
One slip of her mother’s tongue was all it took for teenage Daphne to shoulder the blame for her sister Kara’s death. When she attempts a guilt-fueled suicide on New Year’s Eve, her parents send her on a “vacation” to an island where she sees ghosts, hears her name whispered in the darkness, and encounters a string of people who don’t seem quite right. Daphne gets the feeling that “everyone around her [is] acting.” It turns out her parents dumped her in an extreme experimental program run by the questionable Dr. Hortense Gray, who claims to “give hope to family members with depressed and suicidal loved ones when no one else can.” Pohler lets Daphne enjoy a few beats of trust here and there as her closest friends and family join her on the island, but Daphne slowly begins to wonder if they’re really there to help her or to hurt her. The author ably balances the teenager’s suffering with her slowly growing will to live. But everything comes crashing down when one of Dr. Gray’s therapeutic “games” goes terribly wrong and Daphne is left to fend for herself on the most remote part of the island. Ultimately, the real experiment may not be about Daphne’s healing as it is whether she’s willing to inflict the same confusion and pain she received on others. Spooky touches like the whispering voices in the woods and Daphne’s likeness appearing in a painting in Dr. Gray’s office steadily build tension and supply chills. Readers must wait for the sequel to learn whether Daphne emerges triumphant or falls into a spiraling cycle of revenge and retribution.
Flashes of creepiness enhance this island-set YA thriller.