At first sight this book is a story of affluent North American families, living privileged lives on a private island in three mansions, of which Clairmont in the most prized. To ordinary readers it is not a way if life with which it is easy to sympathise. The narrator is Cadence Sinclair Eastman, aged almost 18. She is presented initially as the perfect blonde American idol, complacent in the extreme about her drug-free, addiction-free and failure-free life style. But all is not quite as perfect as it seems. Aged 15 Cady had some unspecified kind of accident which left her with cerebral damage and memory flaws.
Meantime Cady and the other teenagers inhabiting the three mansions are riled by an argument going on among their elders. Cady’s family reckon they are in line to inherit Clairmont. The other families disagree. The teenagers come up with an ingenious way of resolving this dispute, a radical (and violent) solution which would be a huge spoiler if revealed at this point.
This book is over-ambitious. The climactic ending saves the book from mediocrity. It comes as genuine shock and awe. But the book has three defects. It is a challenge for any author to create a character with convincing and appealing attributes when the setting is as clichéd as a beach party for American teenagers, Grease on the sand. Cady does not make the grade as an appealing protagonist. Second, this is a complex family narrative where the reader’s sympathy is should swing back and forth: Cady is not a sufficiently authentic narrator to carry conviction. In short we doubt her word.
Finally I would argue that the book is underdeveloped. The complexities of the family conflict demand a convincing back story and living characters to make them credible and potent. A novelist like Rowling would create just such a context. In this book everything is too rushed.