Harper Kent is a British girl of seventeen. She was born with an identical twin sister but Jenna died two years earlier of anorexia, Harper suffers from the syndrome known as survivor’s guilt.
Harper’s parents are ordinary working class people, her father a postman. Out of the blue they are rich, winning the lottery. Harper decides that she would like to attend an elite boarding school, Duncraggon Academy. Clarke’s narrative resumes in the first term of Harper’s last year at the Academy. By now she has formed a strong relationship with three friends, all female. A newcomer named Kirsty Connors joins the school. She has a strong initial bond with Harper, since Kirsty’s sister Rhiannon has also died. But Kirsty also has a secret which will affect her relationship with Harper and the other girls.
This book merits serious attention for two main reasons. First, it examines with great precision and accuracy the emotional response of a bereaved teenager to the loss of her sibling. It would be impossible to read the story of Harper’s grief unmoved. But second, this is a school story. But it is as far from the conventional image of a girls’ school as it is possible to be: this is no Malory Towers. All the girls have issues and struggle to find identity and equilibrium. At this posh school the reader will encounter profanity, alcohol and sex – though interestingly no drugs.
At the heart of this unfolding narrative is a huge deception, a lie told for an ulterior purpose and shattering in its impact when the truth emerges. The reader shares to the full the anguish generated when this untruth is exposed.
One minor violation of credibility threatens this otherwise convincing book. The Academy has a rifle range. The older pupils are allowed to shoot unsupervised and even have access to the armoury. This reviewer’s slender awareness of the rules at any school with a rifle range suggests that such laxity is improbable. This minor flaw should not detract from recognition of an important work of fiction.