Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Review of Tighter by Adele Griffin

Griffin, Adele.  Tighter.  Knopf, 2011.

"You'll have to give this book a try when I'm done with it," I told my 17-year-old when I was halfway through Tighter.  "It's creepy - kind of a modern version of Henry James' Turn of the Screw."  Which she hasn't read - but after hearing the plot, she agreed that Tighter might be worth a try.

It starts out most promisingly, with a troubled 17-year-old girl named Jamie getting what sounds like a cushy summer job babysitting a rich 11-year-old girl named Isa on a ritzy resort island in New England.  Naturally, there has to be a catch.  First there's the matter of the tragic death of last year's nanny, Jessie, and her boyfriend Peter.  Then there's the dour housekeeper Connie and Isa's disturbing older brother Milo.  Finally, there's the matter of that ghost that keeps popping up and doing mischief.  Add to all that Jamie's depression and pill-addiction, and it ends up being one heck of a summer.

Until about halfway through the novel, the tension keeps winding tighter and tighter.  However, with the introduction of some local teens with whom Jamie interacts, the plot loses some of its tantalizing claustrophobic menace and becomes more mundane.  The spookiness ratchets up a notch towards the end, when the reader finally realizes just how unreliable a narrator our Jamie is - but then fizzles out over the anticlimactic last chapter, which could easily have been left off to much better effect. 

There are some unanswered questions for readers to ponder - what is really going on at Skylark?  Are all the ghostly activities just in Jamie's head?  And what's up with Isa, anyway? 

Jamie's voice is compelling and will keep most teens reading breathlessly to the very end of the book - especially those who have never read Turn of the Screw.  As for my daughter, she snatched Turn of the Screw off our bookshelf after I described it; whether she'll read Tighter as well remains to be seen.

Recommended as a mildly spooky psychological thriller for ages 14 and up.

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