You know who Adele Griffin is not? She is not Adele Geras. I thought she was the whole time I was reading her book Tighter. My bad, Adele Griffin. You can see how I would make that mistake.
Adele Geras is the author of this book my middle school librarian gave me (I helped her in the library so she would often let me pick out a book at Book Fair and she’d buy it for me), a dark retelling of Sleeping Beauty called Watching the Roses in which the protagonist has withdrawn from regular life after being raped by the gardener or something. I don’t remember it that well because it scared the living shit out of me and I hid it in the room farthest away from my bedroom so I’d never have to think about it again. It is probably still there if nobody has found it and donated it to the library book sale yet. I don’t remember anything about the plot except that the Prince Charming character was called Jean-Luc and when the protagonist, Alice, gets raped, the rapist tells her not to scream and he says “Or I’ll cut you, Alice. I’ll cut your pretty face.”
It was very upsetting for middle-school me and still feels upsetting to grown-up me. I never want to read that scary scary book ever again.
Anyway! Adele Griffin is not affiliated with that book! Adele Griffin is the author of Picture the Dead, a spooky book I have been wanting to read for a while. Tighter is also spooky although I did not end up loving it that much. It’s about a teenager called Jamie who goes to work as an au pair to a little girl called Isa on the island of Little Bly. Before leaving home, Jamie stole a bunch of undifferentiated pills (sleeping pills, pain pills, etc) from her mother and takes them to cope with the deaths by suicide of two of her family members, whose ghosts have been haunting her. After a short time on Little Bly, she learns that she bears an uncanny resemblance to her charge’s last au pair, who died in a plane crash with her boyfriend. Jamie cannot stop thinking about the dead couple, Jessie and Peter, and she begins to believe that Isa’s older brother, Milo, is being possessed by Peter’s spirit.
I love a ghost story, and I thought I would love this one. It did not prove to be the case, however. The atmosphere of the house and the island didn’t chill me the way I wanted them to, and the climax of the book felt sudden and unearned. And plus, the major twist(s) of the story, which I will spoil for you in this paragraph so stop reading if you don’t want to know, has been done before enough times that it’s not so interesting to me anymore. It turns out Milo isn’t real. Isa never had a brother but just played a game about having a brother called Milo, and everyone thought Jamie was just playing along with Isa. This would have been fine as a plot twist if Milo had been a ghost, but instead he was a hallucination. Because Jamie is schizophrenic.
I’m interested in mental illness and I like reading books with mentally ill characters, as I do think there should be a wider range of representation of mental illness in popular culture. But to bring it in at the end like that, as the resolution to the mystery, irritated me. If it’s a ghost story then let it be a ghost story, or if it’s a story about, like, abuse of prescription drugs then let it be that. Introducing schizophrenia as the solution to everything at the eleventh hour is not treating it with the respect it deserves to be treated with. (I felt.)
Of course, I could just be angry that it didn’t turn out to have real ghosts, and I’m shifting that anger to something I can be self-righteous about. WHO KNOWS.
Apart from that, which, since I read the end before I read the middle, was pissing me off throughout most of the book, it was a serviceable spooky story. Jamie’s kind of a Gillian-Flynn-style heroine, and I was willing to spend some time watching her kick around the island trying to figure out what was going on with Jessie and Peter and poor little Isa. If everyone had ended up being ghosts this review would still have been a 3-star review but it might not have been such a cranky 3-star review.