Author: Marianna Baer
Genre: Horror, Speculative Fiction, Young Adult
Publisher: Balzer & Bray (HarperCollins)
Publication Date: September 2011
Hardcover: 400 pages
Leena Thomas’s senior year at boarding school starts with a cruel shock: Frost House, the cozy Victorian dorm where she and her best friends chose to live, has been assigned an unexpected roommate—confrontational, eccentric Celeste Lazar.
What Celeste lacks in social grace, however, her brother, David, a recent transfer student, makes up for in good looks and charm. But while he and Leena hit it off immediately, Leena finds herself struggling to balance her growing attraction with her fear of getting hurt.
As classes get under way, strange happenings begin to bedevil Frost House—frames mys-teriously falling off walls, doors locking by themselves, furniture toppling over. Celeste blames the housemates, convinced they want to scare her into leaving. And while Leena tries to play peacekeeper between her best friends and new roommate, soon the mysterious happenings in the dorm, an intense triangle between Leena, Celeste, and David, and the reawakening of childhood fears all push Leena to take increasingly desperate measures to feel safe. But does the threat lie with her new roommate, within Leena’s own mind . . . or in Frost House itself?
Frost is a stunning and surprising tale of suspense from debut author Marianna Baer.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone novel
How did I get this book: ARC from the Publisher (at BEA)
Why did I read this book: I love a good horror novel, and I’ve had my eye on Frost – with its promising mix of psychological and supernatural horror – for months.
The senior year of high school is a stressful time, especially for a dedicated overachiever like Leena Thomas. With college applications and extracurriculars on the horizon, running her co-chaired student peer counseling program, and balancing her friends and homework, Leena’s plate is full. Thankfully, Leena’s senior year at Barcroft Academy promises to be a fantastic one, thanks to her awesome living assignment. Since setting eyes on Frost House, a Victorian home converted into a 4 person dorm at the edge of campus, Leena has known that she just has to live there. With her two best friends assigned to the dorm – and a third good friend on the way when she returns to Barcroft the following semester – Leena could not be more thrilled. But when Leena starts to move in, she finds that her idyllic living assignment has been shattered; the artsy, beautiful, but infamously mercurial Celeste has been assigned as Leena’s roommate for the first semester, due to a broken leg.
As Leena struggles to cope with her unexpected roommate, she finds herself the perpetual peacemaker in the house, trying to appease Celeste and her best friends. And then the occurrences start – Celeste complains of a rotting smell, a feeling of being watched, and isn’t able to sleep in her and Leena’s shared room. Though Leena can’t find anything wrong with the house – she’s never felt more at home anywhere in her life – things escalate when Celeste’s belongings are destroyed, she’s left menacing messages, and then whatever is plaguing Celeste turns to physical abuse and her body is riddled with bruises.
Leena refuses to believe that these happenings are more than coincidence, or worse, the product of Celeste’s mental health. Making matters more complicated, as Leena’s relationship with Celeste deteriorates, she finds herself in a growing attraction with Celeste’s protective brother David.
As the occurrences continue, Leena’s grades begin to slip, and somehow she finds herself alienated by not only the adults she has admired, but her best friends, roommate, and new boyfriend. The only thing she knows for certain is that she never wants to leave Frost House, and will do whatever she can to protect it.
This is a tough review to write. On the one hand, I enjoyed reading Frost and breezed through the novel in a single day. This is Marianna Baer’s debut effort, and her writing style is assured and smooth, with a fantastic sense of pacing and surprising restraint (at least until the very end) with regards to revealing the twists and hows of the story. I loved the mounting sense of dread and the palpable something-is-not-right-ness that Ms. Baer builds throughout. From Leena’s first glance at Frost House, readers instinctively know that something malicious lurks in the darkness, manipulating our protagonist. What starts off as a type of endearing reliance on childhood memories – Leena “talking” to her carved owl Cubby for advice – quickly turns sour (predictably – when has holding a conversation with an inanimate object in a horror novel ever led to anything good?!).
Which brings me to my next point. While the storytelling was nicely paced and generally well-executed, there were a couple of things that detracted from my enjoyment of the novel. First, the biggest monkeywrench in my reading experience concerned Leena’s characterization. Leena is a sweet, caring girl; she’s a classic over-achiever who is both pretty and smart, a good friend, and more importantly, a person with her priorities straight and her heart in the right place. That’s great. But, when things start going to hell, Leena’s reaction is immediately: This is all my fault, I’m worthless, I hate myself, I don’t deserve to be with anyone. Instead of talking about the things that are happening to her and to others, she passively accepts them. In short, Leena becomes that submissive, self-loathing female victim character that seems so popular these days, and it pushes me into a me-hulk-me-angry-green-monster-transformation state of RAGE.
Beyond Leena’s passivity, the other characters also left something to be desired – in particular, new hot dude David, with his incredibly creepy ‘protectiveness’ (actually, more like ‘possessiveness’) of his sister. I loved that Ms. Baer uses flawed characters to tell her story, but it’s frustrating to me that the only time Leena questions David’s behavior, it is because of the supernatural ‘ghost’ placing those doubts in her mind. There’s also the problem that the novel is essentially another boarding school story, in which Bad Things Happen, but there’s a New Hot Dude that instantly captures the heart of our serious, wonderful, completely passive and self-deprecating heroine.
And finally, the other major flaw in this book is the fact that the novel never really knows what it is – is it a psychological thriller about drug abuse? A treatise on mental illness? A supernatural haunting? The way the novel ends is incredibly dissatisfying and stinks of hedging. SPOILERS BELOW, HIGHLIGHT TO READ:
It turns out that all along there has been a CARBON MONOXIDE LEAK. That Leena and Celeste have been exposed to. For the entire semester. BUT AT THE SAME TIME, Leena and Celeste know that something supernatural is afoot. ARGH. And while I’m in the spoiler tag, also infuriating is the way that Leena’s very real DRUG PROBLEM is completely glossed over and she gets off scott-free without having to go to therapy or deal with her emotional and substance abusive issues. The doctors attribute her pill overdose to confusion from the CO poisoning. GAAAAAAH!!!!
Also, after so much effective buildup early in the book and dollops of tension and character backstory so nicely restrained and measured out, the book’s revelatory scenes are rushed, sloppy, and dissatisfying. Many a horror novel stumbles in its final act, but usually I’m willing to overlook any ending issues if the ride was worth it. Ultimately, I’m not quite sure I can say that for Frost.
Notable Quotes/Parts: You can listen to Marianna Baer talk about her novel and read an excerpt from Frost HERE.
Rating: 5 – Meh. Though the writing is solid and I would be willing to try other books from Marianna Baer in the future, this one just didn’t really work for me.
Reading Next: Rip Tide by Kat Falls
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