I am so, SO conflicted about this one. 3.5 stars I guess because I enjoyed it, but not to the level I wanted to; this was a classic case of unfulfilled expectations, and I'm kind of sad about it.

Raxter School houses girls from eleven up to graduating age, out on a tiny island off the coast of Maine. A strange Tox has ripped through the school, causing all kinds of mutations and, in the worst cases, death. In this eat-or-be-eaten environment, Hetty and Byatt have banded together; Byatt is the strong one, the firecracker, the one willing to do anything to survive, and Hetty loves her for it. Reese is the third in their unbalanced triad, but when Byatt goes missing, Hetty will do anything to get her back, including sacrificing herself to the forest full of strange and unnatural creatures that surrounds the school.

Cool premise, right? A weird disease that causes mutations like second spines forming, gills sprouting, second hearts beating. The grotesque elements were done really well I thought - I had to put the book down a few times because the descriptions of certain mutations, activities, or injuries were so visceral that I wanted to throw up.

The characters were where I felt this one fell a little flat. I liked them well enough - or, more accurately, I disliked them well enough, since I do feel that all of the three main characters are meant to be unsympathetic in their own ways. Hetty is a follower, Reese, a closed book, and Byatt, a mean girl thrown into a situation where she is forced to work with those around her but who does what she wants when she wants at the expense of everyone else. But for some reason, I just felt them all to be lukewarm. I didn't really care when Byatt went missing; I was way more interested in hearing from her than I was with Hetty, because I did want answers about the Tox and why it ravaged Raxter.

But then, the plot was also lacking for me. There's great, atmospheric world-building (I often felt like I could smell the air on the island as I was reading) with creepy creatures everywhere and a foreboding sense of danger that's ever-present, but the plot is very much just things *happening* to these girls. Everything is cool and normal until Hetty is promoted to boat shift. Then again, it's all chill until Byatt disappears. I suppose there's not much else for these girls to do when they're quarantined on an island, but I just felt like the plot was lacklustre and somewhat predictable.

This is basically like Annihilation-lite. Granted, I didn't read the book, only saw the movie, but this feels like its cousin, right down to the creepy, skeletal bear. I liked the world, liked the premise, but I found the execution somewhat disappointing.

librarianjessicaboorsma's rating:
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