Arcadia Falls by Carol Goodman

February 26, 2011

Plot summary (with spoilers): Faced with mounting debt, Recently widowed Meg Rosenthal takes a low-paying teaching job at a private boarding school in Arcadia Falls (in upstate New York). This seemed like the perfect position for her because her 16-year-old daughter Sally would be able to attend this special school for artistically inclined students free of charge. Plus, Meg hasn’t had a job since she waited tables in college, and this was the only place that had an opening in her obscure field of expertise (fairy tales of the 19th century or something like that).

Once the Rosenthals arrive at Arcadia Falls, Meg realizes that the place is the site of a story she used to read to Sally when the girl was younger. It was called “The Changeling Girl” and was written by Vera Beecher, the founder of the school, and Lily Eberhart, her lesbian lover who died under suspicious circumstances in 1947. Meg also happens to be writing her dissertation on Beecher and Eberhart, and thus cannot wait to delve into the school archives to see what she can dig up about the pair.

The school year gets off to a rough start, however, as a student named Isabel Cheney falls off a nearby cliff during First Night festivities. Sheriff Callum Reade comes out to investigate, and school dean Ivy St. Claire expresses grave concern as well. Meg wonders if this is a safe place for Sally, and briefly considers going back to Long Island before deciding to give the school a real chance.

Meg then discovers Lily Eberhart’s long-lost journal and gets caught up reading about her life with Vera Beecher. The history of the school is contained in that journal, as well as the story of Lily’s affair with a man — and the resulting child, which was given up for adoption. As Meg reads all this, she begins to wonder if Isabel’s death was an accident after all. Isabel had access to the journal, so if she learned these secrets, then she might have been killed to ensure silence.

The rest of the novel deals alternately with Meg’s strained relationship with Sally, her burgeoning romance with Callum, and her unofficial investigations into the school’s past and Isabel’s death. All storylines are tied up by the end, and the main characters triumph as expected.

Liked:

  • The atmosphere of the school was pretty interesting. I wasn’t aware that this was a “gothic” novel before I started listening to it, but I thought the author did a great job of setting the scene.
  • The woman in white mystery had a lot of potential, and I’d hoped there would be something more to it than there really was. The author’s explanation, while making sense, was extremely anticlimactic and commonplace.

Disliked:

  • Meg was far too much of a whiner and pushover for my tastes. She was not a very interesting lead character, and I absolutely hated how she caved in to her snotty daughter’s every whim. I know Sally recently lost a parent, but that’s no excuse for acting like a spoiled damn bitch. And there are few things I hate more than parents who let their kids walk all over them.
  • I could’ve done without the “love story” between Meg and Callum Reade. He was the only adult male character in the entire book, so of course he and Meg had to hook up, right? Whatever.
  • Was the reader supposed to care about a 40-year-old murder? I wasn’t expecting this to turn into an extended episode of Cold Case! Lily’s journal entries were boring and Vera only existed in those pages, yet I was supposed to care about their love life and personal drama? Yeah, right. BORING.
  • There should have been more scenes involving students and classes. I don’t mean that every other page had to contain descriptions of schoolgirl costumes and feature detailed conversations between the girls about dating and boys, but what was the point of setting the novel at a school if there was no intent to include typical school scenes?
  • In the same vein, was I supposed to care about the switched orphan baby crap? Or who was whose grandmother? Maybe I didn’t pay close enough attention to the entire story, but these “reveals” seemed rather weak to me.

Rating:

Arcadia Falls started out well. I was looking forward to an interesting story about a mother trying to work out her relationship with her daughter after the death of the husband/father. But the plot went in an entirely different direction, one that didn’t appeal to me at all. I suppose that’s not wholly on the author, but still… this just wasn’t for me. I give it 2 stars out of 5.

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