When seventeen-year-old Jamie’s mom sends her to the tiny New England island Little Bly to work as a summer au pair for an old friend of hers, she’s not exactly thrilled, but she knows that she has to make a change. After a sports-related injury and a little heartbreak from an inappropriate relationship, Jamie has taken to self-medicating with pills she swiped from her parents’ medicine cabinet. A summer away might be the thing that pulls Jamie out of her funk.
Of course, nothing on the island is how Jamie thought it would be. In charge of lonely eleven-year-old Isa, Jamie soon finds that Skylark, the mansion she’s living in, is full of secrets. Isa’s older brother Milo shows up unannounced, and his constant taunting of Jamie works her last nerve. She also discovers that Isa’s au pair from the previous summer looked remarkably like her–and she died with her boyfriend in a terrible plane crash. As Jamie starts to investigate the deaths of the young couple, she also finds herself haunted by their presence.
Loosely based on Henry James’s novella The Turn of the Screw, Griffin’s gothic ghost story is full of twists, turns, and incredible plotting. Best read near the water (or a campfire, or at night), Tighter will keep readers guessing about what’s really happening right up to the end. This story is really, really good.
Griffin plays with the reader by creating an unreliable narrator in Jamie. She pops pills on a daily basis to help numb her pain and make her reality a little less real. Because the pills are kept in a plastic baggie hidden in her room, Jamie doesn’t know which ones are which most of the time, and it becomes a bit of a guessing game to see how each will effect her. This is, I think, intentional on the part of Griffin, who wants to keep the reader guessing about what Jamie does, sees, and says at all times. This uncertainty and haziness about the events at Skylark and on Little Bly help propel the story forward and make for an absolutely riveting read.
It helps, of course, that Griffin is a really good writer. Her prose is tight (pun not intended, I swear); her characterization strong. Jamie might not always be very likable, but she is well-drawn. The surrounding characters–from the cantankerous housekeeper with a lisp to sad little Isa to her entitled teenage brother Milo–are fully-developed and compelling. Even minor characters, like the local teens that Jamie befriends, seem realistic and serve their purpose well.
Because of Griffin’s skilled writing and excellent pacing, readers aren’t going to want to put this one down. I read it in two chunks and loved every minute of it. The twists and turns are fresh, original, and thought-provoking. Even savvy, jaded readers who think they have it all figured out will be surprised by what’s in store for them in this excellent novel.
Highly recommended. One of the best books I’ve read this year.
Tighter by Adele Griffin. Knopf Books for Young Readers: 2011. Library copy.