For Hannah Sanders’ sweet sixteenth, her parents, Kim and Jeff, allow her to have a sleepover. Just pizza, cake and a few of her closest friends. No boys and definitely no booze. Hannah is a sweet, compliant overachiever, so naturally she’ll follow the rules and everything will be dandy.
But Robyn Harding’s The Party begins with Kim waking from an Ambien-assisted sleep to find a sobbing Hannah, her hands streaked with blood. There’s been an… accident.
This was a gripping hook, and the story pulled me in. Kim and Jeff discover that one of the girls, Ronni, fell through a glass coffee table, face first. As Kim races with Ronni to the hospital, Jeff drives the other girls home and asks them to keep it a secret that he slipped Hannah a bottle of champagne when his wife’s back was turned, even though he knows only one bottle of bubbly couldn’t have left the girls that drunk. And one of Hannah’s guests is Lauren, a manipulative queen bee who quickly realizes that she now has a hold over Jeff.
The situation rapidly worsens. Ronni’s injuries prove to be worse than expected, and she loses an eye. Her mother, Lisa, goes from distraught to livid, suing Kim and Jeff for three million dollars since the accident happened under their roof. Meanwhile, Hannah returns to school, where she discovers that since Ronni is now out of favor with the popular crowd, there’s an opening for her… provided she falls in line with everything Lauren does, and never, never says anything about what really happened at the party.
Plot-wise, this is solid, but while I read rapidly and never looked away from my screen, most of the characters were unpleasant. Jeff is so invested in being the cool dad to Kim’s uptight mom, that he mocks her when she can’t see it, but in full view of his daughter and her friends. Kim is a snob who revels in her family’s polished perfection, yet seems bored with her life to the point where she almost has an affair. Lauren is a complete sociopath. And I sympathized with Lisa up until she kept insisting her daughter was “blind and disfigured”. She made the poor girl sound like Quasimodo.
As for Hannah, she was the best of the lot – torn between her conscience and her desire to be popular – until she did something out-of-character at the end. This twist seemed intended to wrap up the novel with a bang, or at least a pop, whereas otherwise matters would simply have petered out. The overall impression I got was that these rich upper-class beautiful people were incredibly messed up, which is fine in a superficial way, but which wouldn’t make me want to reread the book.
There are also some potentially triggering moments, such as the bullying Ronni endures when she returns to school – which is vividly and painfully described – and a suicide attempt. I felt the school should have done more about the bullying, especially when it escalated to open taunts and vandalism, and the consequences of all this were unsatisfying.
The Party was a so-so read. While I’m not likely to remember it after a while, the fast-paced plot entertained me for a couple of hours, and the story might be worth a look for readers into the ‘when Gossip Girl goes horribly wrong’ scenario.