Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Book review: The Revenant by Sonia Gensler

The Revenant by Sonia Gensler (Published by Knopf, June 14, 2011)

When seventeen-year-old Willie learns she must leave school and return home to help her mother on the family farm, she is desperate to escape. After her beloved father, who was an actor, died several years ago, her mother quickly remarried, to a farmer that Willie dislikes. When a classmate who recently graduated, who had been hired to teach at the Cherokee Female Seminary in Indian Territory, decides to marry instead of accepting the position, Willie decides to assume her identity. Although she doesn't know anything about being a teacher and hasn't even graduated herself, Willie sees it as her only chance to escape.

Willie is very surprised by what she finds when she arrives at the school. She expected a rural country schoolhouse. Instead, she finds that most of her students are wealthy, educated girls from upper-class families of mixed white and Cherokee heritage. Willie struggles to keep up her ruse, as she is challenged by the older students. She also learns that the year before, a student at the school drowned under mysterious circumstances - and Willie has been given her old room. Willie doesn't believe in ghosts, but after a series of strange events she begins to wonder if the dead girl's ghost is haunting her room. Meanwhile, she is attracted to Eli, a student at the nearby boys' school, but a romance between a teacher and a student would be forbidden, even though they are the same age.

I really enjoyed The Revenant for its unusual, detailed historical setting and the chiling mystery and ghost story. However, I thought the romance was a bit underdeveloped. Willie and Eli were attracted to each other, but they never really got to spend much time together so the romance seemed a bit superficial. I would have liked to see it developed more. However I did still really enjoy the book and would recommend it to readers who enjoy historical fiction or a good old-fashioned ghost story.

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