Back in November, I wrote about Marianna Baer’s Frost, a fabulous* modern Gothic made even more fabulous by its subtle parallels to Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. Later this month, YA aficionados will have the opportunity to revisit Rebecca again, this time in the form of Paige Harbison’s New Girl.
Read the last Bookshelves of Doom on great books about death in teen lit.
Unlike Frost, New Girl is, without question, a contemporary retelling of Rebecca: Maxim becomes Max, Rebecca becomes Becca, Jack becomes Johnny, housekeeper Mrs. Danvers becomes roommate Dana Veers, and our narrator, as in Rebecca, goes unnamed. Rather than a family estate, Manderley is a private school, and while the setting doesn’t act as a character as it did in the original, there are plenty of other recognizable parts, including the excruciating costume ball scene and Mrs. Danvers’ ultra-creepy let’s-go-through-all-of-Rebecca’s-old-underwear scene.
Let’s get this out of the way first: if you’re going to compare Rebecca to another novel, whatever that other book is will pale in, er, comparison. So, no. New Girl doesn’t reach the literary heights of Rebecca. Instead, New Girl reads like Rebecca, as done by the CW.
I don’t know about you, but that spells awesome to me.
For the first quarter of the book, Harbison’s close adherence to the source material** concerned me—as did some awkward dialogue centered around keeping the narrator’s name from being revealed—but I kept reading, because I was curious to see where she’d go. And I’m glad I did.
Because, ultimately, she did make some big changes. BIG changes. One of the most major (that I can mention without Huge Spoilers) is that the narrative follows both girls, the narrator and Becca. That’s fun on two levels. First, because mysteries that alternate between past and present views are Good Stuff, and second, because it forces the reader to think about du Maurier’s Rebecca as a real person with actual feelings, rather than purely as a sociopathic hell-beast.
The other big change she made was in giving the narrator a more visible spine—if she hadn’t, the narrator would have been saddled with Bella Swan Syndrome, and no one wants that. She still feels completely overshadowed by Becca, and she still has some horribly embarrassing I-would-like-to-sink-through-the-floor-now moments, but she sticks up for herself, and even though she occasionally doubts herself, underneath that doubt is a strong foundation of self-worth.
So, good stuff, Harlequin Teen and Harbison! Except for a few wobbly moments, New Girl works as both a slightly trashy (in a good way) YA update of Rebecca and as a story in its own right. I read an advanced review copy, but I’ll be buying a finished copy for my bookshelf.
**We all learned from Gus Van Sant’s hideous remake of Psycho that a shot-for-shot copy of a brilliant original doesn’t necessarily produce a brilliant copy.
***I should probably also mention here that I was on the panel that chose it as a finalist. But I was only one of seven!
If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy is impatiently waiting for the next winter share from her CSA.