A mythical beast that supposedly roams the land outside of an English boarding school, the mother of all snowstorms and the claustrophobic hysteria worthy of The Shining. This is Monster by CJ Skuse.
Natasha, or Nash as she's known by her friends, is attending the highly acclaimed Bathory Boarding School. Nash is competing to be Head Girl, no easy feat when you consider the competition that surrounds her - conniving, ego-centric girls that will high five you with one hand and stab you in the back with a compass with the other.
Then there's Maggie, Nash's only real friend at Bathory. Maggie has issues, in that she appears to be desperate to leave Bathory under any means necessary. This includes violating every rule possible, resulting in the girls having all of their internet and mobile phone privileges removed by the school's Matron.
Nash has bigger fish to fry, though. Her brother, Seb, has gone missing on a trip to South America, the only contact she has with her parents is on a shoddy pay phone in the school's reception area. Added to this, she's convinced she saw something in the woods one evening after her school netball game. Something big, something with yellow eyes. Her instincts tell her it's nothing, a trick of her imagination, but there's also a part of her brain that tells her it could be the fabled "Beast of Bathory," a gigantic cat-like creature that prowls the area, feeding on unsuspecting tourists and students.
Nash's only reprieve in the mundane life of a Bathory girl is to travel into the local village to pick up supplies for the Matron. This means she gets to talk to the boy who works in one of the shops, Charlie. Nash is smitten with Charlie and his mysterious good looks, something that's not lost on Maggie and the other girls.
With Christmas approaching, most of the girls leave for home, but not Nash, she's stuck at Bathory because her parents are in South America desperately searching for Seb. Staying behind is her friend Maggie and a small handful of other girls whose parents have yet to arrive to pick them up.
Then, it happens. The snowstorm of the century. Now, I'm from Eastern Canada, and I couldn't help feeling that a lot of these girls' problems could be fixed with a Craftsman snowblower and a little elbow grease, but this England we're talking about here. I've lived in the UK for a few years and have seen bus services shut down after less snow to fill an ice cream cone. So when it snows heavily in this story, I'm sympathetic to the fact that there's literally no way anyone can get in or out of Bathory.
Things go from bad to worse when one of the girls goes missing, the Matron organizes a search party and things get even worse. Think The Shining mixed with The Hound of the Baskervilles and you'll get the idea. No internet, no cell phones, the power is going on and off, people are going missing, it's a glorious mess that will make you happy to be in the warm confines of your bed as you read it.
I'm excited for the release of this novel because I know the teens at my school are going to eat it up. Skuse creates a feeling of claustrophobia and tension that is ratcheted up a notch every chapter. You know things are going to go horribly wrong for the characters yet you can't stop reading, a sign of a great book.