Loosely based on the famous novella The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, Francine Prose’s The Turning is a modern retelling with an epistolary structure that fell flat for me. The protagonist in Prose’s version is a young man named Jack who accepts a companion position for two small children on a remote island called Crackstone’s Landing. The pay is enticing; Jack will earn $200 per week, which he will put toward college so that he can attend the same one as his girlfriend, Sophie.
As he is traveling toward the island, Jack perceives that he has been sent a sign to turn around and go home. Jack’s summer charges, Flora and Miles, seem anything but ordinary children. They speak like grown-ups and wear old-fashioned clothing. The house they live in is painted black in remembrance of a tragedy that occurred decades earlier. There is no Wi-Fi or cell phone service available, cutting off all of Jack’s lifelines to the mainland.
I hated the epistolary structure of this novel; if done correctly, it can be a wonderful and different than normal way to tell a story. But in this instance, I felt it was very limiting. It seemed to me that even Prose felt the same way; Jack’s letters often stopped feeling like letters pages and pages into certain ones because they included paragraphs of back and forth dialogue between Jack and other characters. Prose could have done so much more with the story she set out to tell if she had simply told it in first person and included some letters, perhaps ones relative to events from the house’s history. Additionally, I disliked constantly being reminded who certain letters were addressed to; the majority were to Sophie, and Jack repeatedly addressed her by name every couple paragraphs in the earliest letters.
It took far too long for anything particularly creepy to happen. The Turning is pretty short for a YA novel at only 245 pages. Precious page time was wasted on pointless discussion that wasn’t relevant to the “supernatural” aspects of this story. I wasn’t creeped out by either Miles or Flora, though I do agree they didn’t behave like other children their age. I was mildly interested in the ghost parts, but they were totally ruined for me when Jack claims to have fallen in love with one of them.
The Turning was neither exceptionally well-written or terrifying, which was disappointing since Francine Prose is an award winning author. There were too many plot lines that weren’t well defined, and once Jack started to seemingly go crazy he began to annoy me. I’ve never actually read The Turn of the Screw, but I am positive that it is the better story of the two. Perhaps Prose would be better off coming up with something more original rather than trying to reinvent someone else’s well-respected story.
Jennifer graduated from the University of Utah with a BA in English. She occasionally dabbles with her own fiction writing, particularly with the Young Adult and Paranormal genres. She currently resides in Utah with her husband and daughter.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by HarperTeen. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.