Themes: Ghosts, Murder, Ambition
Audience: Young Adult
Publisher: Harper Teen
Released: September 6, 2016
When a novel opens with a group of teenagers fooling around with a Ouija board, you can be pretty sure it will be a scary read, and As I Descended by Robin Talley certainly lives up to this promise. It’s a modern retelling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth set at an exclusive boarding school in Virginia, and its pages contain all the murder and thirst for power anyone familiar with the play would expect. Add in the horrific history of slavery, the school being situated as it is on the site of a former plantation, and you end up with something that’s both creepy and highly original.
I was particularly impressed with the diversity in this book. There are four main characters, all identifying as LGBTQ and who, at the start of the story, make up two couples—one lesbian, one gay. Two of these characters are Hispanic, and I loved the way the author interweaves Hispanic folklore into the plot. Most of all, though, I appreciated the fact that one of the female protagonists is disabled, having suffered a serious car accident. As a visually impaired person myself, I’m a passionate advocate for greater representation of disabilities in YA fiction.
Much as I enjoyed this book on the whole, there were a couple of things that didn’t work so well for me. Firstly, though the overall story is entertaining and suitably spooky, I just didn’t connect on a deep level with any of the characters.
True, neither Maria nor Lily is especially likeable, but I think it had more to do with the fast pace of the plot. So much happens in such a short space of time that there simply wasn’t enough breathing space between major incidents for me to really get to know and understand the characters as fully as I would have liked.
Secondly, the narrative centres on Maria’s desire to attain the Cawdor Kingsley Prize, a prestigious award that guarantees the winner a place at a top university. Influenced by the dark spirits released via the Ouija board, she goes to extreme lengths to get her hands on the prize, spiking her rival’s drink before a drugs test and even bringing about the death of a friend who suspects her involvement. This would all have made perfect sense if Maria were a poor scholarship student. Instead, she comes from a wealthy family with the means to pay for her to attend any university she chooses.
For a fun and fast-pace retelling of a much-loved classic, a brilliantly creepy setting, and a richly diverse cast of characters, As I Descended by Robin Talley gets 7/10 rainbows.
About the Book
Maria Lyon and Lily Boiten are their school’s ultimate power couple—even if no one knows it but them.
Only one thing stands between them and their perfect future: campus superstar Delilah Dufrey.
Golden child Delilah is a legend at the exclusive Acheron Academy, and the presumptive winner of the distinguished Cawdor Kingsley Prize. She runs the school, and if she chose, she could blow up Maria and Lily’s whole world with a pointed look, or a carefully placed word.
But what Delilah doesn’t know is that Lily and Maria are willing to do anything—absolutely anything—to make their dreams come true. And the first step is unseating Delilah for the Kingsley Prize. The full scholarship, awarded to Maria, will lock in her attendance at Stanford―and four more years in a shared dorm room with Lily.
Maria and Lily will stop at nothing to ensure their victory—including harnessing the dark power long rumored to be present on the former plantation that houses their school.
But when feuds turn to fatalities, and madness begins to blur the distinction between what’s real and what is imagined, the girls must decide where they draw the line.
About Robin Talley
Robin Talley (she/her) is a queer author who grew up in southwest Virginia and now lives in Washington, D.C., with her wife and their kids. She did digital communications work for LGBTQ rights, women’s rights, educational equity, and other progressive causes for fifteen years before she turned to writing full-time, and is now the New York Times bestselling author of six novels for teen readers: Her books have won accolades including the Amnesty CILIP Honour and the Concorde Book Award, have been short-listed for the Lambda Literary Award and the CILIP Carnegie Medal, and have appeared on the Junior Library Guild, Amelia Bloomer Project, Kids’ Indie Next, and ALA Rainbow lists.