In a modern retelling of Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, Francine Prose’s new novel The Turning transports readers to a haunted island. Jack has been hired by a wealthy man to babysit his niece and nephew, Miles and Flora, for two months until school starts. The children, whose parents died when they were very young, are living with are living in their family estate on an isolated island with the family cook, Mrs. Gross. Despite the fact that there is no Internet, television, or phone reception on the island, Jack takes the job in hopes of earning money to go to the same college as his girlfriend, Sophie. The novel is narrated in the letters Jack and Sophie send each other.
From the ferry ride to his new job, Jack receives ominous warnings about his destination. An elderly couple tells him that nearly a hundred years earlier, a young couple from the island tried to run away and elope because the woman’s father did not approve of the match; tragically, their boat capsized and they drown, leaving the island with a haunted legacy. Jack finds this story spooky, but he is reassured about his decision to come when he meets Mrs. Gross. She is a warm, calm and attractive woman who convinces Jack that there is no merit to the wild rumors about Crackstone's Landing. He finds Miles and Flora to be very different from most children but well behaved and friendly enough. As Jack settles into life on the island though, he senses that something is not right. He is troubled by the strange stares that the children constantly give each other, the locked room in the house, and the two strangers only he can see on the island. As he tries to get to the bottom of these mysteries, he discovers that there is indeed something evil at Crackstone's Landing.
If you had not read Henry James’s original story, you probably would find The Turning to be a spooky, enjoyable horror story. For those who are familiar with The Turn of the Screw, this interpretation will be a disappointment. Prose never fully captures James’s creepiness and the ending falls flat. The problem is in the epistolary format, which does not allow the tension to build. The pacing feels too rushed; one minute Jack is fine and in the next letter he is completely mad. Though there are plenty of scary images, reader doesn’t have the opportunity to feel Jack’s fear and terror.
Despite the shortfalls, middle grade readers looking for ghost story will enjoy The Turning. Recommend it to those you liked Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children or The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray.
3 out of 5 stars
Grades 7 and up