Maddie Crane has lived all her life in Hawthorne, a little town close to the infamous Salem, MA. Together with her mother and grandmother, she lives a pretty routine life. But there is some darkness about her. For one, her father abandoned her and her mom, and, together with four other school 'friends', Maddie belongs to a secret club called Sisters of Misery, one of those mysterious fraternities going back many generations. The leader is Kate Endicott, a rich, evil girl who has a psychological hold over Maddie and the other three girls, and whose favorite past time is to make other people suffer. Though Maddie is a good girl, she's too affected by peer pressure to stand up to the girls.
Then one day her cousin Cordelia and her mom come from California to live with them in Hawthorn. At once, Maddie is mesmerized by her beautiful redheaded cousin. Cordelia is mysterious, ethereal, and very different from the regular girls at school. Immediately, Kate is overcome with jealousy and does her best to humiliate Cordelia. She also torments Maddie with having to choose between her loyalty to her 'sisters' and her friendship to Cordelia.
Eventually, things go too far, and what is supposed to be a night of harmless initiation on the Island of Misery turns into a bloody, sadistic ritual...
I have very mixed feelings about this book. I like the author's prose and the way she weaves elements of history, witchcraft, and superstition into this modern day story, but there are aspects of the novel that didn't work for me nor allowed me to connect with the protagonist.
To start, the protagonist is a weak follower. She's good at heart, but never really stands up for what she believes is right, in spite of the atrocious, sadistic actions of her so-called 'best friends'. I found the violence in this book excessive for the age group (13 and up, I'm guessing, since the protagonist is 15). I feel that the author is talented enough without having to resort to shocking her readers in order to get their attention (yes, I feel this book is one of those with shock value). I would have found the novel more believable if the characters were older. The villainess, Kate Endicott, is so mean that she borders on the cartoonish. Her evilness is too exaggerated, to the point of being unbelievable. Let me put it this way: Cruella could learn some tips from this fifteen year old. The most sympathetic character is the victim, Cordelia, which is a real pity because she is gone for half of the book.
But, as I said, there are many good things about this book. The prologue is really grabbing, in fact one of the best and most memorable I've read in a long time. The darkness and the vivid, macabre images will stay in my mind for a while. The story moves at a fast pace, is quite suspenseful, and has a lot of imaginative twists and turns, so I'm sure many readers will enjoy this book.
I, however, kept turning the pages, hoping that justice would be done and that Maddie would get some backbone and stand up to her 'friends'. Even though I know the story isn't finished and there will be a sequel, I was disappointed. Granted, Maddie is a victim of peer pressure, but to me, a protagonist must have substance, even if she initially starts off being weak. So I guess this is my problem with Maddie. For me, she lacks substance. Reading this novel has remainded me of the important role of a sympathetic protagonist.