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Review: Ten by Gretchen McNeil

Shhhh! Don’t spread the word! Three-day weekend. House party.
White Rock House on Henry Island. You do not want to miss it.

It was supposed to be the weekend of their lives—three days on Henry Island at an exclusive house party. Best friends Meg and Minnie each have their own reasons for wanting to be there, which involve their school’s most eligible bachelor, T. J. Fletcher, and look forward to three glorious days of boys, bonding, and fun-filled luxury.

But what they expect is definitely not what they get, and what starts out as fun turns dark and twisted after the discovery of a DVD with a sinister message: Vengeance is mine.

Suddenly, people are dying, and with a storm raging outside, the teens are cut off from the rest of the world. No electricity, no phones, no internet, and a ferry that isn’t scheduled to return for three days. As the deaths become more violent and the teens turn on each other, can Meg find the killer before more people die? Or is the killer closer to her than she could ever imagine?

Agatha Christie is arguably the greatest mystery/crime writer of modern times –I’ll defend that position with my last breath. What made her stories so wonderful was the ability to create tension and suspense even amongst characters you may only have just met, and to sustain that tension throughout the entire story until the final page. Ten by Gretchen McNeil echoes the structure of one of Christie’s most beloved novels, …And Then There Were None, and it’s a testament to the writer’s skill that she has updated this tale so successfully for the YA audience. Even though I’m more than familiar with the story, I was on the edge of my seat throughout, and almost regretted reading it while up north and alone (read: undefended and terrified).

Ten is the story of Meg and Minnie, (so-called) best friends who are invited to spend the weekend at an exclusive house party on Henry Island. However, when they arrive with the others, all is not what it should be. Their supposed hosts are nowhere to be found, and the house has not been prepared for their arrival in the way that they would expect. Things take a twisted turn when the group watches a DVD filled with disturbing images, and the final words, “Vengeance is mine”. One by one, the guests begin to die, and Meg (who is our main eyes and ears for the story) must have all her wits about her if she is to survive.

Without giving too much away, McNeil is able to use the seemingly innocent actions of teens in how they behave towards one another as building blocks for a greater story. Each piece is significant, and it’s important to pay attention to the details in order to try to figure out the mystery.  At the same time, the language and actions of the teens in the story are vibrant and true-to-life. While the female characters may have seemed a little more hysterical than their male counterparts at times, I didn’t find that to be as distracting as others might. Let’s be honest: teens in real life are snarky, sarcastic, sensitive, funny, rude, hurtful, annoying, intelligent, and witty – in short, human. McNeil allows her characters to react to an extreme situation in a realistic fashion, and this goes a long way to drawing in the reader.

The pacing of the story is also done extremely well; the three-day time period flows by for the reader with ease. What makes this an even greater read for teens is that the idea of {MILD SPOILER} bullying as a motive for the killings is very quickly noted by several of the characters, yet the suspense level does not dip once. The drama ramps up with each death, and the pace and energy of the book keeps the reader engaged and (in my case) on the edge of the bed. Ms McNeil, we will have words about my electricity bill – I had every light in the house on as I was reading, especially since I was in the wilderness and alone. If I was that uneasy (and I was familiar with the original story), then I can only imagine what might transpire in the mind of YA reader in similar situations!

The original titles are based on an old English children’s rhyme that is used as a plot point within the Christie version: it foreshadows what will happen to everyone in the story. In the book, the play and the movie, each of the deaths follows the pattern of the rhyme, with ghoulish results. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how well Ms McNeil manages her own spin on the rhyme, giving a sly Easter egg to those who are familiar with the original without compromising her own storytelling. Over all, Ten hits all the right notes as a teen horror novel. She is able to  build suspense through her use of the implied, rather than the explicit, and it garners shivers as a result. This is an engrossing read, perfect for Halloween for that teen who enjoys frisson of fear down his or her spine. I also enjoyed her debut novel, Possess, so I’ll be sure to keep my eye out for future work by this very talented author.

For those who may be interested… the rhyme goes something like this (please note: I’ve chosen to use the more modern version of the rhyme as previous incarnations are now quite obviously racist):

Ten little Soldier boys went out to dine;
One choked his little self and then there were nine.
Nine little Soldier boys sat up very late;
One overslept himself and then there were eight.
Eight little Soldier boys travelling in Devon;
One said he’d stay there and then there were seven.
Seven little Soldier boys chopping up sticks;
One chopped himself in half and then there were six.
Six little Soldier boys playing with a hive;
A bumblebee stung one and then there were five.
Five little Soldier boys going in for law;
One got in Chancery and then there were four.
Four little Soldier boys going out to sea;
A red herring swallowed one and then there were three.
Three little Soldier boys walking in the zoo;
A big bear hugged one and then there were two.
Two Little Soldier boys sitting in the sun;
One got frizzled up and then there was one.
One little Soldier boy left all alone;
He went out and hanged himself and then there were none.
~ updated version from Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None

TEN is published by Balzer & Bray, a division of HarperCollins Canada. It is available from Indigo, Amazon and your friendly nieghbourhood indie bookstore. ISBN: 978-0-06-2118783, 294 pages.

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1 Response »

  1. I agree. This is a great YA horror novel. I was so into it I had to lock myself in my room so no one would bother me while I was reading it. Can’t wait to read more from McNeil.


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