I wish I were surprised. I wish any of this were still strange to me.
Before I say anything else I have to mention the cover! Aykut Aydoğdu’s cover art is incredible and it’s what drew me to this book in the first place. Of course, the blurb sucked me in too but the cover had already solidified my need to have this book in my life.
I’m often wary about reading books that have a lot of hype surrounding them. The longer it takes me from discovering a book I desperately want to read to actually holding the book in my hands, the higher my expectations grow. Unfortunately this can result in reality feeling like a colossal let down, when it was actually the pedestal I built that was mostly to blame for the disparity.
I’ve been anticipating this read since January and while I enjoyed it, I didn’t love it. It was a quick read and I definitely wanted to know what was going to happen. I never felt a connection with any of the characters though, so no matter what they experienced I felt like I was watching on dispassionately from the sidelines when what I wanted was to be cheering them on, feeling their pain and mourning their losses.
This story is told from the perspectives of Hetty and Byatt, but Reese’s story is also important and I would have liked to have seen the events unfold from her point of view as well. Although I know some information about each of these girls I wasn’t invested in their friendship or their survival.
Once thing I absolutely loved was the descriptions of the Tox’s impacts on the individual characters. If you’re squeamish this may not be the book for you but I was all in for the flare ups of their conditions. I wanted to know why the effects were so diverse and I did get a partial explanation for the differences between students and teachers, and male and female, but I wanted more. I know in stories like this you don’t always get access to knowledge that the main characters aren’t privy to but I would have loved to have been able to read a confidential military report, even if parts of it were redacted.
Because this story begins a year and a half after the Tox began the Raxter girls have already settled into their new normal. It’s brutal but a lot of the emotion that would have been evident in the beginning has already evaporated. There are some scenes where you catch a glimpse of what life would have been like prior to the Tox but you don’t get to see everyday life devolving. This may have helped me to become emotionally involved in the outcome.
I expected to feel the urgency of the events in this book but I never did, even though numerous scenes should have had me on edge. Maybe I set my expectations too high. If I’d read this book earlier or on a day when I was already feeling more emotional I may have felt more for Hetty and her friends. I don’t know.
Despite my whinge (sorry about that. I had hoped to be rambling about my love for everyone and everything I encountered), I’m still glad I read this book. I don’t think I’ll ever want to reread it but I am still interested in reading the next book by this author.
Content warnings can be found on the author’s website here. They’ve provided a much more comprehensive list than I could have.
Once Upon a Blurb
It’s been eighteen months since the Raxter School for Girls was put under quarantine. Since the Tox hit and pulled Hetty’s life out from under her.
It started slow. First the teachers died one by one. Then it began to infect the students, turning their bodies strange and foreign. Now, cut off from the rest of the world and left to fend for themselves on their island home, the girls don’t dare wander outside the school’s fence, where the Tox has made the woods wild and dangerous. They wait for the cure they were promised as the Tox seeps into everything.
But when Byatt goes missing, Hetty will do anything to find her, even if it means breaking quarantine and braving the horrors that lie beyond the fence. And when she does, Hetty learns that there’s more to their story, to their life at Raxter, than she could have ever thought true.