Desert Isle Keeper
All These Beautiful Strangers
Few things appeal to me more than a book centering around a boarding school, so Elizabeth Klehfoth’s All These Beautiful Strangers appealed to me from the moment I read its synopsis. It’s a YA thriller about a young woman struggling to come to terms with the dark secrets of her past while simultaneously sorting out where she fits in the complicated world she inhabits. This is a book I absolutely hated to put down, and if real life hadn’t interfered, I’m confident I would have blown through it in a single sitting. It really is that good.
Seventeen-year-old Charlie Calloway is tired of living in the past. It’s been ten years since the summer night when her beautiful mother disappeared, never to be heard from again, and Charlie knows she has to find a way to move on. So she decides to completely throw herself into her junior year at Knollwood, the prestigious New England boarding school she attends. She might never be able to forget her mom, but she can at least focus on the present rather than the past, and Charlie figures that can’t be a bad thing at all.
It certainly doesn’t hurt that Charlie has been asked to join the A’s, Knollwood’s legendary secret society. The A’s are rumored to be made up of the most powerful kids at school, those whose futures look to shine the brightest. Charlie has heard stories of the great things the A’s have accomplished. In fact, it seems that all of Knollwood, students and faculty alike, live in fear of incurring the wrath of this elite group of students. Charlie knows her life will never be the same once she proves herself worthy of being one of them, and she’s determined to do whatever she has to in order to secure her spot in the group.
But Charlie doesn’t know that, in order to become a full-fledged member of the A’s, she and the other initiates must play The Game, a semester-long scavenger hunt that will put her in unspeakable danger. Suddenly, everything Charlie thought she knew about herself, her dreams, and her future will be called into question as she fights to be considered worthy of membership in a group she suddenly isn’t sure she really wants to join after all.
As if all of this isn’t enough for one person to handle, Charlie received a note from an uncle she hasn’t heard from since right after her mother disappeared, telling her he has learned something new about the night she vanished, and he’d like Charlie to share anything she can remember about the last day she spent with her. At first, Charlie plans to ignore it. She has had very little to do with her mother’s family over the past decade, and there’s a part of her that thinks this is for the best – but an even bigger part of her is desperate to finally learn the truth about what happened to her mother, even if that truth turns out to be uglier than she ever imagined it could be. Soon, Charlie finds herself struggling to untangle truth from lies as she does her best to reconstruct the last summer she and her mother spent together. What she uncovers will change her in unimaginable ways.
I loved pretty much everything about this book. Charlie is an incredibly relatable heroine who, while she lives a super privileged life that bears absolutely no resemblance to my own, is surprisingly aware of how fortunate she is. Of course, since she’s a teenager, she doesn’t always make the best decisions, and I found myself a little irritated with her seeming inability to use common sense at times, but I suppose that’s par for the course when reading about a teenaged heroine.
Most of the story is told from Charlie’s point of view, but we get to know her parents a little as well. Charlie’s chapters take place in the present, while Grace and Allister Calloway take turns narrating the chapters set in the past. I know not everyone enjoys stories told in this way, but they tend to work well for me, and this one was no exception.
Some thrillers can be pretty violent, but this one is relatively tame. Bad things do happen, but the violence is hinted at rather than shown in explicit detail. The story does contain some references to domestic violence, but they’re not overly graphic.
If you ever wished you could spend time at a fancy boarding school, you absolutely must read All These Beautiful Strangers. Ms. Klehfoth manages to bring the boarding school experience to life in a way that felt completely authentic, and the secret society angle added an extra layer of yumminess to an already delicious plot. I’m not sure I’d ever want to actually spend time in a place like Knollwood, but it was a lot of fun to read about.