Black Mirror by Nancy Werlin

Frances and her brother Daniel are scholarship students at the prestigious Pettengill School.  Both have gladly escaped their deteriorating home life with their broken father, crotchety grandmother and memories of their absentee mother, who has left the family to find herself in a Buddhist colony.  Upon boarding at school Daniel immediately associates himself with Unity, an organization on campus which dedicates itself to running a food bank that organizes and distributes boxes of food for needy families.  All of the scholarship students attending the school have associated themselves with the charity with the sole exception of Frances who is not a joiner and prefers to delve and lose herself in the depths of her art.

When Daniel commits suicide, Frances is shocked, but starts looking for ways to honor him and to connect with him in a way that she never had in life.  To that end Frances makes attempts to join Unity after resisting for most of her high school career. Never really believing that her brother would be the type to commit suicide, Frances feels that something must have gone terribly wrong.  Daniel’s girlfriend Saskia attempts to warn her off from joining the group right from the start, and Frances doesn’t feel entirely comfortable with the mega wealthy mentor who plays a prominent part of the organization.  Making this time in her life even more complicated are her burgeoning feelings for post-grad bad boy and resident drug dealer, James Drussian.  Will Frances be able to figure everything out before she gets into serious trouble?

Frances is a very internal character.  She doesn’t interact with a lot of people and chooses to focus on her art as a means of expression.  Her closest “friends” on campus are her art teacher and a developmentally disabled groundskeeper.  A lot of who she has become is driven by the relationship (or lack thereof) that she has with her family, but I couldn’t really get a clear idea of who they were to judge how and why they they had affected her so deeply.  We know that her father has some unnamed issues, her grandmother is vile, and her mother absent, but I would love to have had that aspect of her life explored a bit more in detail.

I wondered why her relationship with her father was so troubled, and how things became so tense between her parents that her mother left.  Daniel only appears in the story as a voice in her head, maliciously repeating the Buddhist aphorisms of which their mother is so fond, and through Frances tries to find meaning in their relationship after his death, it’s hard to imagine that their was any warmth from Daniel when he was alive.

Frances’ feelings of isolation are palpable and well expressed though their origins are vague.  I felt for her as she tried to open up to people who may or may have not been the right choices for her or able to offer the support that she needed.  The mystery in this novel proved to be elusive for me.  I had just enough to form some speculations that I almost could have made a case for, but in the end it all came together too quickly for me to be full satisfied with the resolution.

FTC Disclosure-  This book is from my personal collection.  I am an Amazon Associate.

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