Book: Arcadia Falls
Author: Carol Goodman
Summary (from back of Ballantine Books edtion): Financial straits and a desire for a fresh start take recently widowed Meg Rosenthal and her aloof teenage daughter, Sally, to Arcadia Falls, a tucked-away hamlet in New York where Meg has accepted a teaching position at a boarding school. The creaky, neglected cottage they’ll be calling home feels like an ill omen, but Meg is determined to make the best of it. Then a shocking crisis strikes: During Arcadia’s First Night bonfire, one of Meg’s folklore students plunges to her death in a campus gorge. Sheriff Callum Reade finds the presumed accident suspicious, but then, he is a man with a dark past himself. Meg is unnerved by Reade’s interest in the girl’s death, and as long-buried secrets emerge, she must face down her own demons and the danger threatening to envelop Sally. As the past clings tight to the present, the shadows, as if in a terrifying fairy tale, grow longer and deadlier. -Ballantine Books, 2010
I can't stop raving about this book. Once I started reading it, I couldn't put it down. I finished it within three days; that's how much I loved it. So far, it is the best book I've read this summer. Let's proceed with the actual review.
I found this book in my local bookstore. The cover was what drew me to it. The above picture is the cover on my edition, though from my Google search it appears a new edition has been released with a different cover. I prefer my cover over the new one. But enough of that. I do have weird ways of choosing which books I pick up and, yes, pretty/mysterious covers is one of them. I immediately connected with the cover. It was mysterious, pretty, and practically beckoning you to pick up the book and take a look. I love mysteries too, so as soon as I read that someone dies and the heroine has to find out who, I was sold.
The story is primarily about Meg and her daughter, Sally. They're moving to Arcadia because her husband, Jude, died suddenly of a heart attack and, after his death, Meg finds out that they're basically debt ridden. They move to Arcadia because Meg is offered a teaching position and Sally has been accepted as a student there. The school is primarily for the Arts; basically my dream school since I love reading, writing, music, and drawing like nobody's business. Meg is hired there as an English teacher, her specialty being fairy tales and folklore. My response? Best. Job. Ever. Though her teaching does become a focal point for some crucial scenes, it's the school itself that becomes the main focus. All old, isolated schools in the middle of picturesque and creepy woods have secrets. Trust me. They do.
There are many references to nineteenth century authors and there are mentions of fairy tales from time to time. One fairy tale is featured more than the others since it is crucial to the story, but I'll keep it a secret since I'm going to keep this as spoiler free as possible. I remembered many of the referenced works since I took a nineteenth century English class in college and we had happened to read those stories. After reading about those references, I definitely felt more involved in the story. You don't have to know them yourself to get what happens in the novel, since Goodman mentions the certain parts that align with what's happening in the story. It helps to know the whole work, but it's not crucial to understanding the plot.
Supernatural elements are also present in the story, but more so in the figurative sense than the literal. Pagan rites are celebrated often at the school and I enjoyed the new knowledge I learned from the explanations of the rites. I don't practice Wicca and I have very basic knowledge of ancient pagan rituals, so this element was very interesting and enjoyable. Each rite is important to the story, though, so pay attention to what they are and what they celebrate. They all have a crucial plot point that follows after so, like the seasons, it creates a cycle that is meant to be completed.
The story is written in first person POV - Meg's POV. Although this causes the reader to fall into the trap of the unreliable narrator, Meg's musings and suspicions are enough to keep you updated and guessing. The mystery is a well written one. It has all of the good elements required of a true mystery; fully developed characters that keep you guessing, a location that is at once both beautiful and deadly, and clues that constantly change your own theories and make you rethink your own conclusions. By the end of the story, you're left either right or stunned.
Goodman is a fantastic writer. Her prose pulls you in and holds you tight. After each chapter ends, you're itching and eager to start the next one without delay. I truly had a hard time putting this book down. When I was finished, I looked at her other books to see what else she wrote about. All of them interest me and I am eager to pick them up. I'll probably start reading them once I finish my other summer books.
The only complaint I have about the book is the post-solution to the mystery. To avoid spoilers, I won't go into too much detail. The only real problem I have with it is that this final revelation of information is so far out of left field, I don't even have time to wrap my head around it before the novel ends. It's practically a deus ex machina that comes just because it has to or else. I understand Goodman's timing of this new knowledge, but I think that with a bit of tweaking, it would be make more sense to have prior hints and clues throughout the body of the story. Other than that, I really have no issues with it at all.
This book was fresh, exciting, and fun. I really enjoyed it and I think it's one of the best books I've read.
That being said, I give Arcadia Falls a most deserving A+.
As always, please support the author by buying the book from your local bookstore or library.
Thanks for reading!