In the day or so since I finished reading SARAH, I’ve been trying to figure out what it does right so as to utterly grip me. After all, this is a YA novel about the ghost of a teenage girl, and the other teenagers who encounter her. Written baldly like that, most people are going to feel that it’s something they’ve seen before/read before. (Teenage girl ghosts seem to be two a penny, why aren’t there more 1890’s escape-artist ghosts?) But Polen takes something that’s in danger of tipping into hackneyed cliché, and creates a book which builds up slowly until its genuinely edge of the seat stuff.
So how does she do this? Part of it is that in the character of Sarah, our titular ghost, Polen has created a spirit – who in the first part at least – is genuinely amorphous. You’re never quite sure where you are with her and so even without overly sinister goings on, the reader is already put that little bit on edge. And that leads into the second element which really makes this book stand out, Polen is a superb writer of suspense. She understands how and when to raise the tension, to maintain it and twist the nerves that little bit more. Even the ending, which in other hands might be a rote trip to predictability, Polen still finds discordant keys to play even as us readers turn to the last page.
Just one note, the narrative does end but there’s a coming next time hint, which is normally something with the capacity to really irritate me. This one though is so clever and deliciously evil that it’s more than whet my appetite for more.
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