Author Gretchen McNeil
Published September 18th, 2012 by Balzer + Bray
Pages 304 Pages
Intended Target Audience Young Adult
Genre & Keywords Mystery, Horror, Thriller
Part of a Series? No
Source & Format Purchased from Chapters, Hardcover
Find It On Goodreads ● Amazon.com ● Chapters
It was supposed to be the weekend of their lives—an exclusive house party on Henry Island. Best friends Meg and Minnie each have their reasons for being there (which involve T.J., the school’s most eligible bachelor) and look forward to three glorious days of boys, booze and fun-filled luxury.
But what they expect is definitely not what they get, and what starts out as fun turns dark and twisted after the discovery of a DVD with a sinister message: Vengeance is mine.
Suddenly people are dying, and with a storm raging, the teens are cut off from the outside world. No electricity, no phones, no internet, and a ferry that isn’t scheduled to return for two days. As the deaths become more violent and the teens turn on each other, can Meg find the killer before more people die? Or is the killer closer to her than she could ever imagine?
“Shhh! Don’t Spread the Word!
What: Epic house party
When: Presidents’ Day weekend
Where: White Rock House on Henry Island
Why: Because if you miss this party you’ll regret it forever”
The concept behind Gretchen McNeil’s Ten is simple enough: Inspired by Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, like the final act in a horror movie, Ten follows the lives of ten teenagers who have traveled to and become stranded on a secluded island home after receiving invitations to attend a weekend house party. Taking place over the course of three days, the novel follows the teens as they are slowly picked off one-by-one by an unknown assailant.
“Be careful? It was a weekend party full of hookups and beer bongs. Other than mono and dehydration, what did she need to be careful of?”
Now, in theory, this book sounds like it was tailor-made for me. Having spent my formative years compulsively reading about the adventures of famed, beloved detectives like Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew and Hercule Poirot and devouring ’90’s teen slasher films like the Scream series (To say I’m a fan would be a gross understatement) and later Harper’s Island, I think it’s fair to say that I’m a fan of the mystery and horror genre. Almost nothing can beat a great murder mystery. When executed properly, there’s nothing like the rush of adrenaline and excitement one can experience when racing to determine who the murderer is and what their motive is before the reveal at the end of the story or episode.
Unfortunately, Ten seems like a story I’ve read (or watched) at least a half a dozen times before.
“You know what?” Minnie said with a dramatic pause. “This is how horror movies start.”
“We’ve already had one near-death experience,” Kumiko said.
Ben laughed. “Just an accident. Nothing sinister.”
“Dude!” Nathan pointed at T.J. “You’d better watch out.”
T.J arched an eyebrow. “Why?”
“Well, if this is a horror movie, you’re the first to one to go. The black dude’s always the first one to die.”
My largest problem with the novel stems from the characters and their development (Or in this case, the lack thereof) Having a large cast is always problematic as the author is faced with the challenge of creating ten distinctive voices and identities that will allow the reader to easily distinguish one from another. Ideally you want the reader to be able to connect and sympathize with your characters, as that will make their loss all the more keenly felt.
“Meg froze, her eyes locked on the shadow. The heavy form, oblong and amorphous except for the dangling appendages…
Legs. Holy crap, they were legs.
Meg turned her head and came eye-to-eye with a face hanging in the stairwell. The noose around the neck. The purplish-blue hue to the skin.
Meg opened her mouth and screamed.”
Unfortunately, what McNeil provides us with instead is a trite set of formulaic characters, each one encompassing at least one recognizable high school cliché. For example, we have T.J. (The jock), Ben (The mysterious new guy), Gunner (The laid-back surfer), Nathan (The obnoxious, over-sexed douche-bag whose confidence far outweighs his actual appeal), Vivian (The pearl and J-crew wearing uptight Type-A personality) and Kumiko (The edgy, alternative girl with the requisite unusually dyed streak of hair). Despite what McNeil likely hopes are recognizable character types, the majority of the characters blend together to form a bland, single entity. I often found myself having to flip backward to remind myself which name went with which stereotype. I also found myself looking forward to the first murder, if only because it would help to thin the faceless herd a little.
“Eyes rimmed red from crying, mascara running in jagged black trails down her face, sunken cheeks, pinched jaw…Minnie had flown into a crying rage. She grabbed Meg’s shoulders so fiercely she left five-pointed bruises on each side. “You’re going to Homecoming with T.J.?” She spat the words out, her fingernails digging through the thin cotton of Meg’s T-shirt and her eyes dashing back and forth across Meg’s face.”
While the majority of the characters are as innocuous as they are forgettable, one character stands out in the worst possible way. Minnie, the protagonist’s best friend, has the distinction of being one of the most obnoxious, insufferable characters I’ve encountered in fiction in quite some time. She is the epitome of the question “with friends like her, who needs enemies?” Self-absorbed, entitled, volatile and spoiled, Minnie has the unique ability to make everything in Meg’s life, from what prospective college she attends to who she goes to homecoming with, somehow about her. She brings nothing to the story from what I can tell, apart from inevitably casting everyone around her in more flattering light as a sheer result of her existence.
“You’re trying to make me someone else’s problem before you leave me.”
“I’m not leaving you! I’m going to college.” These arguments were starting to make them sound like a married couple on the verge of divorce.
“You could do that here.”
Rather than confront Minnie, our long-suffering heroine instead chooses to bite her lip and ignore Minnie’s borderline-abusive behaviour. Meg resorts to counting down the days until she leaves for college like a prison inmate scratching out the remaining days until their release onto their cell wall. And really, who could blame her? Five minutes in Minnie’s company might inspire me to become homicidal. It’s a sad state of affairs when you begin sympathizing with the murderer. I found myself wondering if they had ever met Minnie. It would explain a lot.
“Maybe this trip to the boathouse wasn’t such a good idea. Rickety wooden land bridge? Check. Storm of the century? Check. Certain death at the hand of the rocks on the beach? Check and mate. Just like Nathan’s painfully racist joke last night: This was how horror movies started.”
Apart from the poor characterization, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the novel itself. It’s simply adequate. McNeil excels with the setting and pacing of the novel, penning a fast-paced, atmospheric thriller that you find yourself reading in a matter of hours. It’s the perfect choice for a dark and stormy night spent alone while huddled beneath the covers. Ten doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it’s a fairly reliable, albeit simple, addition to the genre. It delivers exactly what one would expect from this sort of story but does not try to subvert expectations in any way. The murderer’s identity is easy to discern if you’ve ever watched a single episode of Masterpiece Theatre. The plot is also fairly predictable, relying on the standard red herrings and ambiguous diary entries left by an unknown entity that have now become staples of the horror genre. The self-aware characters who are well-versed with the horror oeuvre suggest that McNeil has taken a page out of the Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson playbook, an approach which was revolutionary when Scream premiered in 1996 but has become rather commonplace in the ensuing sixteen years (Boy, do I suddenly feel old).
“With more force than she intended, Meg flattened the frame against the dresser. She was about to leave when she noticed some writing on the back of the picture frame. With one finger, she spun the frame around so she could read the words.
They were written in red ink: I will repay.”
I have no doubt that Gretchen McNeil is, in fact, a talented writer and I will not hesitate to read her other novel, Possess, which sounds like it has a promising premise. The horror and mystery genre are woefully underrepresented in books aimed toward the young adult age group and while I admire McNeil’s ambition in attempting to delve into these relatively unexplored waters, sadly Ten sinks rather than swims. I don’t believe that this novel showcased McNeil’s abilities to their furthest extent or added anything substantial to the fledgling horror and mystery genre for young adults and will most appeal to those who are relatively new and unfamiliar with the horror genre and have fewer expectations or less experience with it.
Around The Web
Still not sure this is the right book for you? Why not listen to what some other bloggers had to say about it?
● Thea @ The Book Smuggles wrote “All in all, I enjoyed Ten. It’s not the most memorable book, and there are certain things that bothered me, but it is undeniably entertaining and a competent YA mystery/thriller/horror novel. Good, fluffy, finish-it-in-about-an-hour reading.” (Read the rest of the review Here!)
● Steph @ Steph The Bookworm wrote “While there were a few things that kept me from loving this novel, all in all I enjoyed it quite a bit. I really liked the suspense, mystery, and eerie setting. I would recommend this to YA fans that are looking for a creepy read!” (Read the rest of the review Here!)
● Becca @ Nawanda Files wrote “A heart-pumping horror story with graphic deaths that’ll stay with you long after you close the book. Good enough to read once and pass along to your friend. “ (Read the rest of the review Here!)