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by Alexandra Sokoloff
St Martin's Press, August 2006
256 pages
ISBN: 0312357486

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Alexandra Sokoloff is a talented screenwriter whose first foray into fiction is a strong one. THE HARROWING is the story of five college students who stay at school for the Thanksgiving break. Each student has a reason, but it is Robin's story to tell. Seems like a straightforward plot, right?

Robin is a disturbed young woman. She entertains thoughts of committing suicide over the break. Just a bottle of liquor and a bottle of pills, and she can escape the horrid life she's living. She arranges these items and begins the slow and painful process, but is interrupted by the four other people who have chosen to stay over the break.

Robin is quickly entranced by the group -- Patrick, her perfect Southern roommate's boyfriend; Cain, a dark and handsome guitar player who send tendrils of hope into Robin's fragile heart; Lisa, a punk rock diva who dabbles in life itself, and Martin, the obligatory geek, a student who is consumed by learning.

On a literal dark and stormy night, these five improbable associates find a quick bond in the drink and drugs that permeate campus life. When they realize they are all outcasts for some reason or another, they settle in for a comfortable weekend away from the rigors of their college personas.

Searching for something to pass the time after the lights go out, an innocent turn on a ouija board unearths a terrible secret -- there is a ghost living in the dorm.

This novel could stop right here and be as predictable as the next. But Sokoloff uses the setting, the storm, the fears and strife of the characters to unleash a horrific tale. The students find themselves in a life or death battle with true evil, with nowhere to hide from its gaze.

I was concerned when the book opened with the portending storm, as many authors use weather to their disadvantage to set the scene. But Sokoloff manages to create such a mood, such a sinister atmosphere that those concerns went away as quickly as I had them. This is a stellar book, an excellent debut. I look forward to more of Sokoloff's work.

Reviewed by J. T. Ellison, August 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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