Lindsay is leaving San Diego and her troubles behind. Having recently suffered a mental breakdown, she is shipped to Northern California and the medicinal sun, sand and surf. She is enrolled in the prestigious Marlwood Academy for Girls and things start to look up.
But there is something strange brewing in the Marlwood Academy.... Lindsay’s roommate and new bestie, Julie, is hell-bent on joining the popular clique. Queen bee bad-girl, Mandy, is a vicious and vindictive High School ruler and one night Lindsay witnesses the impossible. Mandy and her minions perform a séance; their eyes turn black and they call on the spirits of the dead. The spirits come, and they possess.
The first two books in Nancy Holder’s ‘Possessions’ series are wonderful modern gothic YA reads. Don’t be fooled by the sunny California setting – Holder is writing thrilling horror that will have you shaking in your boots. The gothic horror in both ‘Possessions’ and ‘The Evil Within’ are what makes the novels stand-out. Holder draws on old mythologies and voodoos, writing séances, spirits and superstitions with a bone-chilling flourish. The best scenes involve the Marlwood girls being physically consumed by the spirits, their bodies overtaken and overrun by the dead;
“You took my love from me!” Belle shrieked. “And then you killed me! Damn you to hell, Celia Reaves! You killed me!”The darkness of the books is emphasized by Lindsay’s social struggles. The bullying and pecking order of the High School is a different sort of darkness to the horror/fantasy, but still compelling for Holder’s sombre writing. Mandy and her ‘Mean Girls’ are grade-A bullies; horrible and vicious social-climbers who live by their clique. Mandy herself is a just the type of antagonist we love to hate – she is truly awful, but awfully good to read. Mandy’s character becomes all the more fascinating in ‘The Evil Within’ when her brother, Miles Winters, steps onto the scene and Holder writes a twisted sibling relationship for them.
As Celia stared into Belle’s black eyes blazing at her from Mandy’s face, she dropped the rock.
We dropped the rock. I dropped the rock.
Celia was squirming and shifting inside me, agonized and confused. I felt her. I was her.
I will say that the relationships in both books didn’t always work for me. Lindsay is very quick to claim her roomie, Julie, as her ‘best friend forever’. But their relationship was very quick and too underdeveloped for me to believe their BFF tag. The relationships that did work for me were of a more twisted nature – Mandy and Miles, and even Mandy and Lindsay. Holder has written a wonderful hero/villain dynamic for these two, and I felt every push and pull of their relationship. I also enjoyed reading the creepy coupling of Lindsay and Celia, her possessing ghost. These were the unconventional relationships that worked for me, as opposed to Holder’s attempt at the cookie-cutter connection between Linday and Julie.
I also really loved Lindsay. When the book opens she is in a very fragile mental state, and is very aware of her shortcomings and desperation to be ‘normal’. Throughout the books Lindsay is battling herself as much as outside forces, and I loved reading her struggles. I also liked the fact that she was often a clumsy heroine – she gets into sticky situations, makes dumb decisions and at times I wanted to scream at her. But she soldiers on. Even when she is terrified she gets up, dusts herself off and does the right thing. I love reading a protagonist (particularly in YA) who isn’t perfect, but rallies regardless.
Nancy Holder’s ‘Possessions’ series is a dark, gothic YA read. It’s a horror-ific series and I am thrilled to learn that a third book called ‘The Screaming Season’ will be released next year.