Those who enjoy a creepy, Gothic read will not want to miss Anne Applegate's The Last Academy. The book begins with a confrontation between Camden and her best friend Lia at a summer party, but quickly shifts gears as Camden heads off to boarding school. On the plane, Camden encounters a strange man who seems to threaten her. At her new school, Lethe, she learns that this man owns the land on which the school is located. She also learns that another girl who was on her flight decided not to enroll after all. Weirder events follow, including odd visions by Camden, and the complete hushing up of middle-of-the-night the disappearance of another girl. Only gradually does Camden, and the reader, figure out what's really going on at Lethe.
Without giving anything away, this is one of those books where I didn't figure out exactly what was going on until about 2/3 of the way through, and yet I felt on looking back as though it should have been obvious from the start. And I mean this in a good way. Applegate doles out information at just the right pace, and draws all of the clues neatly together at the end. The Last Academy is a book that I thought about between reading sessions, and have continued to think about since.
The book does have one YA trope that I'm a bit tired of - the instant connection between teen boy and girl (Camden and love interest Mark). Immediate attraction on both parts, even though they barely know each other. That sort of thing. But at least Applegate keeps their relationship appropriate for middle school readers. And really, that's my only complaint.
I enjoyed Applegate's descriptive writing. Like this:
"The guy stared at me and I stared at him. I know sometimes people say, "skin that looks like leather," and they mean somebody's skin is wrinkled and thick and ugly like the hide of a dead cow. But the guy's skin looked like an expensive briefcase -- supple and soft and not what you see on most men in real life. Anywhere beyond the realism of Hollywood or the European yacht set, anyway." (Page 14)
She also hits certain aspects of boarding school right on the head. Like this:
"When Tamara (Camden's roommate) came back to our room right before ten o'clock check-in, I was already in bed. We both pretended I was asleep." (Page 82)
There's also a great description of how to cry in the shower so that no one can hear you.
The characters is The Last Academy are complex and damaged. The sunny California boarding school setting sets off the creepy, inexplicable events perfectly. And the plotting is complex enough to keep readers guessing down to the wire. All of which makes The Last Academy a wonderful summer read for those who enjoy mysteries, Gothic romance, or boarding school books (and who doesn't like one of those three categories?). Recommended for readers age 12 and up.
Publisher: Point (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: April 30, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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