My Thoughts On: Harbinger by Sara Wilson Etienne

Posted February 22, 2012 by Asheley in Uncategorized / 16 Comments

by Sara Wilson Etienne
Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons BYR

Publish Date:  February 2, 2012

320 Pages
My Source:  Borrowed

Plagued by waking visions and nightmares, inexplicably drawn to the bones of dead animals, Faye thinks she’s going crazy. Fast. Her parents beleive Holbrook Academy might just be the solution. Dr. Mordoch tells her it’s the only answer. But Faye knows that something’s not quite right about Dr. Mordoch and her creepy, prisonlike school for disturbed teenagers. —-  What’s wrong with Holbrook goes beyond the Takers, sadistic guards who threaten the student body with Tasers and pepper spray; or Nurse, who doles out pills at bedtime and doses of solitary confinement when kids step out of line; or Rita, the strange girl who delivers ominous messages to Faye that never seem to make any sense. What’s wrong with Holbrook begins and ends with Faye’s red hands; she and her newfound friends–her Holbrook “family”–wake up every morning with their hands stained the terrible brown of dried blood. Faye has no idea what it means but fears she may be the cause. —-  Because despite the strangeness of Holbrook and the island on which it sits, Faye feels oddly connected to the place; she feels especially linked to the handsome Kel, who helps her unravel the mystery. There’s just one problem: Faye’s certain Kel’s trying to kill her–and maybe the rest of the world, too.   -(summary excerpt from

Harbinger by Sara Wilson Etienne 

My Thoughts:  Harbinger is one of those rare books that – when I finished – I think I actually knew less about it than when I started. Confused by that statement? Well, I was confused by the whole doggone book. Let’s see if I can make sense of a few thoughts without being branded by the entire reading community. 

Let’s talk our way through Harbinger

1. The Characters. There are a whole lotta characters in this one, and I attribute this to the fact poor Faye has been dropped off at an asylum a school. Faye is a young girl that thinks she is just visiting Holbrook Academy, but her sneaky parents have actually packed her bags and intend for her to stay. See, she doesn’t cope well with reality and they just don’t know what to do with her anymore. I actually like Faye – she’s a strong and fierce protagonist, but she’s just got the system working against her. How’s she supposed to be anything but helpless in an environment where everything she does is pretty much forced upon her? Thankfully, she questions everything and is resilient and has a thirst for the truth…because she doesn’t give up until she has the answers she is looking for. 

There are a group of other people that are lumped in with Faye. They’re presented like classmates that are broken off into a group to attend therapies and classes together. They are a motley crew, a bunch of misfits themselves, each with their own identities and voices. I suppose their families have dropped them off too because of their own inability to cope with reality or something of the sort. Anyway, they’re all different and fun and I really, really liked them all. Truly. They lacked the depth and development that I long for in a really great novel, but I understand that when you have a character base of this size, that is not always possible. Still, they’re fun and mischievous and at times they even made me chuckle. 

I also need to mention Kel. He’s the oddball of this group. Of the rag-tag bunch, Kel is the one that catches the eye of Faye and he also seems to be the one she seems the most comfortable with….sometimes. At other times, she doesn’t trust him at all. Which is bizarre, given the fact that she seems to also be crushing on him pretty hard. Anyway, when Faye likes him, so do I. When Faye doesn’t trust him, neither do I. So understand, you see, that the jury was out (for me) on Kel for pretty much the entire book, until the end. I read other reviews by other readers and they had their minds made up from the beginning, but not me. Not this girl! I was as confused as I could be by this boy. I hesitate to call him mysterious in the way that is awesome…I just couldn’t figure out what he was up to. He was mysterious because he confused me. Is that a good thing? I’m not entirely sure, you guys. He kinda made me feel weird…at least until the end. Confusing, right? I KNOW. 

2. The Plot. Phew, the plot! Well, if you read the summary, that’s pretty much the best I can do in terms of the plot. I mean, I read the book and I could follow along, but it is confusing. C-O-N-F-U-S-I-N-G. And, y’all, I’m a pretty smart gal. At least I think I am. Still, it was confusing in a way that kept me engaged and wanting to read it because I kept thinking that if I kept going, things would eventually unfold and reveal themselves. And they did. You just have to stay invested in the book and read every word. No skipping around on this one! 

Harbinger is dark, creepy, chilling, disturbing, and psychological. It is a mystery. I am not one to typically read a mystery story as it isn’t my favorite genre. So when I finally got to the end, I was like WHAT?!?! because that ending is crazy and completely out of left field. I literally felt like I needed to restart the entire book and read it again. What burns is that I can think back on little details that I read that didn’t seem like anything important at the time – but NOW I can see that they tie into the ending and mean a HUGE thing. And that frustrates me so much! Fans of mysteries of thrillers will LOVE this about Harbinger

Also, not really about the plot, but this is just as good a place as any to mention that the writing is really beautiful. This author has a gift for the written word and her prose is quite stunning. So even though I was confused for most of the book, I did find myself hanging on her words and her descriptions and her imagery. This book played out quite like a movie in my head, which I LOVE. 

3. The Setting. I very much like the setting of Holbrook Academy – on a wooded cliff overlooking the ocean. With the author’s excellent imagery, I could visualize it quite nicely and you all know that setting is important to me. I even liked the description of the buildings and the map of the grounds that was included inside the book (shout-out for illustrations of any kind!). BUT…outside of the school grounds there was some sort of dystopia that was explored only briefly, and that was a little odd and disjointed to me. There is mention of some apocalyptic-type event that has occurred (I think?) that has left communities gated and rationed…and most of the area is treeless and polluted…and that’s about all I’ve got as far as the dystopian setting is concerned. So, my question is: Why is it necessary at all? Did I miss something? 

4. The Creep Factor. Let’s explore this further, because it certainly was an element of fun in this book. Faye and her friends wake up every morning covered in mud and red stuff that appears to be blood. Sometimes they wake up in their beds, sometimes they’re on the floor – they NEVER remember the events leading up to the filth and displacement. They’re horrified, though, because they are always locked into their rooms and they don’t know how they’re getting out and wandering around. Little by little, clues come up and things come into place. It takes the entire book, but it’s revealed and the big reveal is even creepier (to me) than the mud and blood. 

Also, Faye has these bizarre visions or hallucinations or illusions or whatever you want to call them. She has some odd distorted reality and it is what landed her in Holbrook Academy in the first place. The description of these events is creepy, you guys. So vivid and scary, I even feel claustrophobic and a little scared myself at times. Kinda cool but also kinda weird. Some of you will like that. 

The closer to the end of the book you get, the weirder and creepier things become. Trust me. Just because things become more clear to you and make more sense doesn’t mean they aren’t freaky as heck. 

5. Betrayal & Plot Twists. Everywhere & All the Time. You guys know y’all love this sort of thing. Get ready. 

6. The Cover. So pretty, this one. I’m a sucker for a splash of red, and it was the blindfold that had me at hello. Well, I liked the moon too. This cover is actually cohesive to the plot of the book (YAY!) which doesn’t always happen with YA covers. Also, the marketing campaign that went along with the cover art was really neat. Nice job, marketing team and cover artists. 

So after reading this book, I determined that I liked it, but I didn’t really love it. I loved certain parts of it, but I just felt like I was being strung along without anything to grasp onto – and that totally weirded me out. Well, that and the chanting and the animal bones and stuff. 

The romance between Faye and Kel was not enough to reel me in, either. It had potential, but because of my confusion over Faye’s feelings for Kel, I just couldn’t commit to it. I understand throwing it in there, and I think other readers will too once they reach the end of the book, but I invested so much into not knowing what it was all about that when I finally did, I think I was exhausted from the effort. So, on the romance: meh. I like emo-boys, and Kel was an emo-boy, but I wasn’t sure if he was on my side or not. So I kept him at arm’s length. I never fully invested in their relationship. Bummer, dude. 

I totally recommend Harbinger for other readers, because I think it is beautifully written and I realize that most other people will relate to it better than I will. Looking at the ratings for this book, I totally understand that I am in the minority on this one and I understand why. But I’m just being honest in my feelings. If you love clues and piecing things together and a big reveal at the end, Harbinger will be fun for you. By the time I finished reading it, I just wasn’t really sure what I’d actually read and what I’d imagined reading…

Why did this book confuse me so much? 
Did it confuse you? 
Help me out here!!

Harbinger will appeal to fans of

Dark, Creepy Psychological Mysteries
Paranormal/Fantasy Genre 
Beautiful Writing with Excellent Description

Plot-Driven AND Character-Driven Stories

Unique Settings: in this case, a Boarding School 
Romance/No Love Triangle
Plot Twists, including Betrayal

Harbinger by Sara Wilson Etienne 
is currently available for purchase.

*I borrowed this book as part of Southern Book Blogger Tours in exchange for my honest thoughts and opinions. I received no compensation for my review.  


About Asheley

Asheley is a Southern girl. She loves Carolina blue skies, Ben & Jerry's ice cream, and NC craft beer. She loves all things history but prefers books over everything.

You can find her somewhere in North Carolina, daydreaming about the ocean.

Find Asheley on Litsy @intothehallofbooks!


16 responses to “My Thoughts On: Harbinger by Sara Wilson Etienne

    • I've read tons of thoughts on it and everyone seems to feel opposite of me. So you'll probably love it. I just was oddly confused. Perhaps it's just not my genre. Despite that, it is a beautiful prose and a beautiful cover.

      I'll be ready to read your thoughts when you read the book. 😉

  1. JP

    This is a great, honest review! I've been pretty excited about reading this one, and I was actually considering buying it today. I think, though, that I'll hold off. Not sure it'll be worth paying full-price to me.

  2. I've been wanting to read this novel ever since I saw the book trailer. It sounds really mysterious (to take a page from your review) and I honestly can't wait to check it out 🙂

    • Definitely mysterious…and creepy. I know I said that a bazillion times. Read it and write about it and I'll be waiting for your thoughts.

      BTW, I just found your blog a couple of days ago…I'm not sure how I missed that I wasn't following it. I can't remember if I told you that or not… *embarrassed*

  3. I love your review style, it's really detailed and thorough, which is a good thing. I'm on the fence as to whether I want to read this book. I know it's been hyped, and as you said most reviews are positive, AND I am a fan of all those things you listed at the bottom (Dark, creepy psychological mysteries, etc.) but something just holds me back.I'm not always into books that leave me with the "What the heck just happened??" kind of feeling. Maybe I'll wait and see if my library gets a copy first:) Thanks for the honest review!

    • Thank you!!

      I think the library option is a wise one. Then if you really love it, you can buy it. When my library gets it, I'll probably read it again and see if I'm still feeling the same.

      It just showed me that I can't follow the hype machine all time. It was a beautifully presented book – the cover, the marketing, etc. – I'm just missing something that everyone else is apparently picking up on and I'm puzzled by that!

  4. I love illustrations and maps, too. I wish all books had them, even adult books.

    I haven't read HARBINGER, but is it at all possible that it's secretly part of a series? Maybe that would explain the dystopia outside of the school grounds–it's something that will be explored further.

    (P.S. You somehow understood the extremely complicated MB, so you are a smart gal.)

    • You know, if this was secretly part of a series, I might feel a little better. I haven't heard that, though. I feel like I need to read it again and one day I probably will…

      Since EVERYONE is loving it so much, it's not a bad book AT ALL. It's just something I'm not picking up on. I don't normally have trouble with complex plots (winkMBwink) but it just puzzles me that I'm missing something when everyone else isn't. Oh, well. Still a gloriously lovely book, no? Beautiful cover and I absolutely agree with the illustrations 100%, for all ages. 😉

  5. Well, we can't love every book we read. I am one of those that loved this book from cover to cover. But, I also love your honest review. When I finished Harbinger I remember closing the book smiling and telling Richie how much I loved it. Then saying to him that I didn't think he would like it because he would not go for the last 1/4 of it:) Great review as always!

  6. Thanks Rebecca. I remember how much you loved it. And I agree, it doesn't really seem like a Richie book. I just didn't really get it. Maybe if I read it again? I don't know…but I had to be honest.

    Thanks for stopping by. 😉

  7. I just got this from the library today, but I think I'm going to pass it up. The creepiness and the confusedness kind of turns me off. I have problems with those two things…So Asheley, thanks for the review! And don't feel bad, I have so many books to read, lol.

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