Tighter, by Adele Griffin

I have always loved Henry James's 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw. When it comes to classic horror, this masterpiece of subtle, uncanny creepiness is the gold standard. Tighter, Adele Griffin's recent young-adult adaptation of James's story, is nowhere near as good as its source material, but if you're going to fall short of something, you might as well aim high, right?

Griffin's protagonist is Jamie, a troubled, pill-popping seventeen-year-old girl who has taken a summer au pair job on the Maine island of Little Bly. Jamie's charge, Isa, is delightful, but Isa's fourteen-year-old brother Milo is caustic and precocious. Milo's nasty little comments chip away at Jamie's shaky grip on reality, and the situation gets worse when she begins to see the ghost of Isa's last babysitter lurking around the island—a ghost who bears a disturbing resemblance to Jamie herself.

This is the second re-working of The Turn of the Screw I've read in the past few months, after Jennifer Crusie's romance novel-meets-Ghostbusters take Maybe This Time. Tighter has strengths Crusie's adaptation lacks: the set-up is more plausible, the descriptive passages are brilliant, and Griffin has an excellent sense of what to keep and what to discard from James's novella, making the first three-quarters of her book an intelligent and atmospheric update of a classic story.

Unfortunately, things take a turn for Disappointmentville in the book's final chapters, which veer dangerously close to “It was all a dream...” territory. The most interesting thing about the first section of Tighter—Jamie's disturbing, not-quite-platonic relationship with Milo—is replaced by a generic romance and a twist ending that demotes Jamie from self-aware heroine to deeply pathetic damsel in distress. It's the kind of ending that has me hoping this book inspires a lot of fanfiction, because if Ms. Griffin can't figure out a better way to serve her characters, somebody else will.

Review based on publisher-provided copy.

Posted by: Julia, Last edit by: Julianka


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