Monday, 31 August 2015

Review: Supervision by Alison Stine

400 pages, Published April 9th 2015 by HarperVoyager

Goodreads synopsis:

Something is wrong with Esmé. 

Kicked out of school in New York, she's sent to live with her grandmother in a small Appalachian town. But something is wrong with the grandmother Ez hasn't seen for years; she leaves at midnight, carrying a big black bag. Something is wrong with her grandmother's house, a decrepit mansion full of stray cats, stairs that lead to nowhere, beds that unmake themselves. Something is wrong in the town where a kid disappears every year, where a whistle sounds at night but no train arrives.

And something is wrong with the friendly neighbor Ez's age with black curls and blue eyes: He's dead.

(I was given an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)

3 Stars

This book is a bit difficult to describe as so many parts are quite original but just a little confusing, as well. Esme Wong has gotten into a mess of trouble and is banished to live with her grandmother in a large house in a small town. Everything seems pretty normal, until Esme notices that not only has no one spoken to her, but people have tried to sit on her a couple of times. Now that just isn't right.

She is able to call her sister back home, but here in town is another story. Even her grandmother doesn't seem to ever see or hear her. As things get creepier, Esme meets a couple of teens, Tom and Clara, who turn out to be long dead and haunting the area. There are a few other ghosts as well, some not as nice as others.

The story has a little bit of a "Secret Garden" feel at times with the large house and the maid named Martha. A scene featuring an apple in the school cafeteria is reminiscent of a scene in Twilight, and I also got a strong Winchester Mystery House feeling with the stairs that lead to ceilings and the Builder who keeps on building. I've been to the Winchester Mystery House a couple of times and there's a fountain outside it that reminded me of the pond in the story. 

The atmosphere is sufficiently creepy and the story carries a good level of suspense. I do most of my reading late at night, and actually felt uneasy while reading Supervision, so if you like a little creepy-factor, this one hits the mark.

Esme eventually has to deal with some very strange goings on concerning her place in the world. At first, Tom and Clara tell her she's dead like they are. How else could they see and talk to each other? But no, that isn't exactly the case because Esme's family are quite gifted in diverse ways when it comes to the supernatural. Her grandmother can hear spirits, and her sister can sort of see them (well, at least parts of them at times.) What's happened is that Esme has received her gift early, and because of its strength, it's just not working properly.

The Stationmaster is the villain of the novel, an angry entity who goes around trying to kill (and re-kill) children, just for kicks. I think he is the most confusing of all the characters, especially in the denouement. I don't want to spoil the ending, but it's hard to wrap your head around. The title of the book comes into play in an incredibly weird way, and I'm still trying to make sense of it. I feel unsatisfied with the way the Stationmaster's story plays out, and we really need more information on who he is and why he does what he does. The action scenes involving him with his ever present and ominous lantern are solid, and he is a menacing figure who presents constant danger. 

There's a little side romance between Esme and Tom that never overpowers the book and is nicely paced. A couple of the minor ghosts also get a suitably minor love story as well. 

Stine's writing is fairly strong, but there are problems with the plot and character development. Everyone could have used just a little more fleshing out, and the overall tension builds and builds, only to leave you scratching your head at the way the Stationmaster is dealt with. He keeps insisting that Esme needs "manners" for half the book, but his reasoning isn't sufficiently explained. 

Some of the mechanics of the world were difficult as well, like how the "work of the dead" undoes itself. This can work on a small level, but at one point we watch as entire buildings un-build themselves even in the presence of the living. And the ghosts tend to re-live their deaths but also seem to have a choice whether to "participate". 

I must say I definitely don't often find books like this with Chinese heroines, so that was a plus for diversity. I don't know if Stine wanted to keep it on the down low, but Esme's race and ancestry is just mentioned a few times and doesn't really factor in with the plot. 

This is a first book and I have high hopes that Stine will grow in her craft. Supervision is an entertaining read but definitely has some plot holes (some of which can be overlooked) and could use a little polishing up.