Book Review: The Unseemly Education of Anne Merchant by Joanna Wiebe


Title:  The Unseemly Education of Anne Merchant
Series:  (The V Trilogy #1)
By: Joanna Wiebe
Author Info: Website | Twitter | Goodreads
Age Group: Young Adult
Genre Type: Mystery, Paranormal, Romance
Publication Date: January 14th 2014
Pages: Hardcover, 272 pages
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Publisher: BenBella Books

So many secrets for such a small island. From the moment Anne Merchant arrives at Cania Christy, a boarding school for the world’s wealthiest teens, the hushed truths of this strange, unfamiliar land begin calling to her—sometimes as lulling drumbeats in the night, sometimes as piercing shrieks.

One by one, unanswered questions rise. No one will tell her why a line is painted across the island or why she is forbidden to cross it. Her every move—even her performance at the school dance—is graded as part of a competition to become valedictorian, a title that brings rewards no one will talk about. And Anne discovers that the parents of her peers surrender million-dollar possessions to enroll their kids in Cania Christy, leaving her to wonder what her lowly funeral director father could have paid to get her in… and why.

As a beautiful senior struggles to help Anne make sense of this cloak-and-dagger world without breaking the rules that bind him, she must summon the courage to face the impossible truth—and change it—before she and everyone she loves is destroyed by it.

My Review

Filled with rich atmosphere, a mind-bending mystery and romance, The Unseemly Education of Anne Merchant by Joanna Wiebe, began as an exciting and intriguing read but too many dark secrets, odd characters, and a confusing cliffhanger caused me to have mixed feelings towards the story.

Anne Merchant, an art prodigy and the daughter of a poor funeral director, has just been accepted into Cania Christy, an elite and mysterious boarding school that holds many secrets and an even darker history. On a secluded island off the secluded coast of Maine, known as Wormwood Island, sits Cania Christy shrouded in mystery. As it's newest student, Anne can't help wondering how the daughter of a poor funeral director got accepted to an invitation only school. Surrounded by some of the world's most privilege (snooty, spoiled, mean, addicted, and weird)  teens, Anne soon finds herself thrust into the Big V competition. A Valedictorian race where every junior is assigned a guardian (stalker) and a unique mission in order to succeed. Anne finds herself caught up in much more than a race, as she realizes the school and students take the competition to the whole new and deadly extreme. As Anne “looks closer” she begins to unravel layer upon layer of secrets kept hidden from her, secrets that have deadly consequences. The puzzle as to why Anne is at Cania Christy is only the beginning.

The Unseemly Education of Anne Merchant gave me many mixed feelings, some aspects of the book I really liked, others not so. One of my favorite elements of The Unseemly Education of Anne Merchant was it's terrific setting. It oozes great atmosphere, it's setting on Wormwood Island is pure dark yummy-ness and a perfect setup for the story. I was intrigued by the overall plot and the whole mystery behind the Big V, how Anne got accepted, and why the villagers were not allowed to interact in any way with the students of Cania Christy.  I also admired how well the story pulled all these elements together in the end while keeping me totally surprised with the cliffhanger.  My main concern with the story was that there are just too many other little secrets going on. It felt overwhelming at times and confusing.

The characters also gave me mixed feelings, some I liked, some felt flat, and some had ick written all over them. As far as protagonists go I liked Anne right away. She has a sassy personality and inquisitive nature that I found enjoyable. The fact that she lived above the Fair Oaks Funeral Home and her father is the funeral director was odd, scary and funny to me. A bit sarcastic, Anne often refers to herself as the weird morticians daughter, Death Chick, and even Wednesday Addams. Once at Cania Christy, Anne becomes inundated by secrets, and determined to solve them all which I admired. There was a unique friendship with a sweet villager named Molly that I liked and Pilot seemed cute and one of the few members of the school that wasn't crazy, mean or weird.

Ben Zen, as a romantic interest and secondary character, was so mysterious and for the most part distant and unavailable in the story. I wanted to like him so much, but I could never really pin him down, nor warm up to his character. Villicus, the Headmaster of Cania, and Teddy, Anne's guardian, both scream weirdness and ickiness to me. I know this was totally how they are intended to make me, the reader feel, but I'm just saying it worked. Maybe too well. These guys were gross and more. Round this out with a group of privilege (cliche) mean girls who have their own agenda and are competing against Anne in the Big V, and you have a large cast of mostly characters I ended up not liking and or felt flat for me.

I was hoping a swoon-worthy romance, but I'm sorry to say it really didn't happen. There was a  connection between Ben and Anne, but because of all the secrets and Ben's very distant persona, the romance was lukewarm to me.

The ending can only be described as an epic cliffhanger, and “What the heck just happened!?” Layer by layer the mystery was revealed and I was truly kept in the dark until the very last page, where everything I thought I had figured out went completely out the window. I was shocked to say the least. I'm still not sure how I feel about it.

I would have loved it if the mystery/secrets were streamed down with more focus on the main plot and the characters more balanced (especially Ben) and it had a swoon-worthy romance that's worth fighting for. The Unseemly Education of Anne Merchant ended up truly somewhere in the middle for me. Loved some aspects, some not.

My Rating: 2.5 stars. It was okay.

PLEASE NOTE: A courtesy review copy of this book was provided by BenBella Books in exchange for my fair review. Thank you BenBella Books for the review opportunity!