Author: Laura J. Burns & Melinda Metz
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
About: When Sarah Merson receives the opportunity of a lifetime to attend the most elite prep school in the country-Sanctuary Bay Academy-it seems almost too good to be true. But, after years of bouncing from foster home to foster home, escaping to its tranquil setting, nestled deep in Swans Island, couldn't sound more appealing. Swiftly thrown into a world of privilege and secrets, Sarah quickly realizes finding herself noticed by class charmer, Nate, as well as her roommate's dangerously attentive boyfriend, Ethan, are the least of her worries. When her roommate suddenly goes missing, she finds herself in a race against time, not only to find her, but to save herself and discover the dark truth behind Sanctuary Bay's glossy reputation.
Spoilers ahead, proceed if you dare...
I need to start this out by saying there is no way a school like this would fly. High school aged kids alone on a island for school with no way to contact their parents? No leaving, no letters, no email? No way. "Total immersion" my ass. So let's just suspend some disbelief here to get us all on this minimally supervised island.
Sarah is your typical 90s teen horror main character: an orphan who has bounced around foster homes for most of her life (so no one will miss her when she disappears, prove me wrong, you can't). Not only does she have a photographic memory, she has a freaky memory issue where she is sometimes "transported" back into her memories and relives them.
The kids at this school are the total opposite of how she expected them to be. She imagined everyone would be completely snotty and judgy, but they actually accepted her very quickly. She forms a quick bond with her roommates, Karina and Izzy. (Last chance to turn back before major spoilers) On the flip side, they're in a freaky secret society that likes to drink psychotropic drugs mixed with bone fragments and blood to have a good time. Bone fragments. And blood. Girl, I promise you don't need friends that badly.
One night, in order for the group to bond more fully, the leader of the society decides they need to kill one of their own. Nothing makes a group tighter than a little ritual sacrifice. The group ties Karina up, Izzy shoots her, and everyone scatters immediately. This is the point when Sarah decides she's not really cool with murder. Kids these days, am I right? She runs to one of the teachers to tell him what's been going on, goes back to her room to sleep, and wakes up to everyone bullshitting her. 'What do you mean where's Karina? We all watched a movie last night and you and Nate totally made out the whole time right in front of us. It was super gross, why can't you two get a room, etc. etc.' The longer this goes on, the more Sarah can't tell if her freaky mind made up the murder or if her friends are actually lying to her.
If you think this sounds wild, you ain't seen nothing yet. While investigating, Sarah and Karina's boyfriend Ethan stumble upon Izzy getting some sort of medical looking treatment in the school's basement. Treatment involving something plugged into the back of her head and some evil seeming scientists/doctors. What is with this school? It's like The Skulls meets Disturbing Behavior. I don't care what Ivy League school you promise to get me into, no freaking thanks.
This book had a lot of things going on: a light love triangle, maybe murder, mind control, an abandoned insane asylum, boarding school...If you can get past the highly unlikely island boarding school totally cut off from the outside world this was a decent YA thriller with a 90s-style horror heroine. The mysteries of Sanctuary Bay don't get tied up in this book, so I'll be keeping an eye out for a sequel.