My Rating: 3 stars
The Companion is a YA gothic thriller about Margot, a teenager who is the only survivor of her family’s tragic car crash. She is taken by the wealthy Sutton family to be a companion to their daughter, who is all but catatonic due to a mysterious illness, and moves into their country estate, a house filled with history and secrets. Alender writes lovely descriptions and does such a great job creating a gothic atmosphere. Things are uncomfortable from the moment Margot arrives at the house, and Alender builds the tension slowly and masterfully. The house, with it’s portraits, locked doors, and graveyard, is creepy, and Agatha, the daughter, standing silently gave me the chills multiple times. This is definitely the book’s greatest strength.
The characters were a bit of a mixed bag for me. I loved how uncomfortable their relationships with each other are. There is so much awkwardness between all of them. Margot is trying to form a relationship with a girl who can’t communicate, and she constantly walks on eggshells with Laura, the mother, for fear of being sent away. It’s a really fascinating dynamic, and it contributes to the creepy feeling of the book. However, the characters themselves aren’t well developed. Margot doesn’t have a personality besides people-pleasing and traumatized, and I never felt I actually knew her as a person. Agatha is interesting and I wanted to know more about her, but because of the circumstances we never really do. We also never get a decent explanation of certain characters’ motivations. I won’t say more than that because I don’t want to spoil anything. But it does heavily affect things.
My biggest problem with this book was the romance. Neither of the characters involved are developed enough individually nor is their relationship with each other. Ultimately, I just found it unnecessary. It doesn’t add to or change anything about the story. It’s just kind of there taking away time from far more interesting plot points. One of my major problems with YA literature recently is that every story seems to have a romance thrown in when it doesn’t need it. And they’re always the weakest part of the story. Please authors, not everything has to have romance!
I found the ending extremely rushed, especially considering how slowly everything is built up. I also hated the epilogue. It’s cheesy and completely out of sync with the rest of the book. Despite this, I originally gave the book four stars. However, after thinking about it for a week, there were aspects that stretched suspension of disbelief too far. I find it very difficult to believe that there wouldn’t be a case worker checking in on Margot occasionally. Margot is put into the Suttons’ custody without even meeting them first. They don’t even go to pick her up from the group home! And apparently her only option other than staying with the Suttons is to go to “the state institution,” which is apparently a psychiatric facility (or maybe not. It’s not entirely clear, but that’s what it sounds like from the way they discuss it). It just doesn’t seem realistic, and it makes the whole book a little hard to buy.
Overall, The Companion lives up to it’s promise of a creepy YA thriller. Though the set up is a bit unrealistic and the characters are weak, Alender creates a tense and chilling atmosphere that ultimately make the book a lot of fun.