Sanctuary Bay is a psychological thriller/mystery with a lot of elements I’d seen before, so I was very surprised at how unpredictable the plot turned out to be. I really expected to see a bunch of rich mean girls demoralizing the poor kid with pluck, and I was quite happy that the story didn’t go in that direction. And there is a secret society involved, so, of course I knew they were going to torture her in some horrible way. Instead, Sarah is embraced in her new world, but her new world really feels too perfect to be true (so, of course, it is).
Will Sarah Merson’s shiny new prep school change her life forever or bring it to a dark and sinister end?
When Sarah Merson receives the opportunity of a lifetime to attend the most elite prep school in the country-Sanctuary Bay Academy-it seems almost too good to be true. But, after years of bouncing from foster home to foster home, escaping to its tranquil setting, nestled deep in Swans Island, couldn’t sound more appealing. Swiftly thrown into a world of privilege and secrets, Sarah quickly realizes finding herself noticed by class charmer, Nate, as well as her roommate’s dangerously attentive boyfriend, Ethan, are the least of her worries. When her roommate suddenly goes missing, she finds herself in a race against time, not only to find her, but to save herself and discover the dark truth behind Sanctuary Bay’s glossy reputation.
Sarah is a narrative voice that most readers will relate to, and she has some pretty insightful revelations about judging others and embracing opportunity. I was pretty pleased with that extra depth in a story of this genre. The secondary characters in this story were also surprisingly dimensional, and that is kind of a rarity in a YA were secondary characters are often archetypes who offer little beyond a posse for the protagonist to hang out with. These were unique individuals, and they each served to move the plot further along.
As far as plot goes, I don’t want to ruin the fun, so I won’t talk much about it other than to say I really wanted to know how this mystery would play out, so much so that I read it in a single sitting. It was a pretty action packed ride, and it was not as predictable as I really thought it would be. That isn’t to say that it wasn’t logical, because it is, but the author chose to twist situations in ways I didn’t anticipate. I’m not going to lie. This is still a pretty surface read that is more about entertainment than improving your mind, but I enjoyed it.
The real stars in this book are the atmosphere and the setting. There was a juxtaposition of a beautiful facade with something rather terrible running underneath. I thought the unease the author managed to convey to readers was well done. I, like Sarah, knew there was something wrong with Sanctuary Bay, but as soon as I got really worked up about it, something totally normal would convince me I was just being paranoid. I’ll admit it was a bit of front loading to have an island cut off from the real world that had once been home to an insane asylum as well as a Nazi prisoner of war camp, but I was willing to suspend my disbelief and just enjoy the show.
Overall, I found this book compelling and engaging. I think my high school readers will enjoy unraveling this mystery, especially those who enjoy a creepy atmosphere. I’m adding it to my classroom library wish list. There is a little horror element to the story that I thought was surprisingly intense and there is some drug/alcohol use as well as some light sensuality, so this is most appropriate for high school readers.
I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.