I’m here to talk to y’all today about my exam week binge-read, and I’m lucky enough to be able to host a tour stop for it! Without further ado, here’s the book.
Novel: Sanctuary Bay by Laura J. Burns and Melinda Metz | Goodreads
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
In this genre-bending YA thriller, will Sarah Merson’s shiny new prep school change her life forever or bring it to a dark and sinister end?
When Sarah Merson receives the opportunity of a lifetime to attend the most elite prep school in the country-Sanctuary Bay Academy-it seems almost too good to be true. But, after years of bouncing from foster home to foster home, escaping to its tranquil setting, nestled deep in Swans Island, couldn’t sound more appealing. Swiftly thrown into a world of privilege and secrets, Sarah quickly realizes finding herself noticed by class charmer, Nate, as well as her roommate’s dangerously attentive boyfriend, Ethan, are the least of her worries. When her roommate suddenly goes missing, she finds herself in a race against time, not only to find her, but to save herself and discover the dark truth behind Sanctuary Bay’s glossy reputation.
In this genre-bending YA thriller, Sanctuary Bay by Laura J. Burns and Melinda Metz, Sarah’s new school may seem like an idyllic temple of learning, but as she unearths years of terrifying history and manipulation, she discovers this “school” is something much more sinister.
My identical twin sister stole this from me to read the day before her calc exam, assuming she’d take a bit of a break from studying and get some reading in. Unfortunately for her, she ended up staying up until one A.M. to finish it, thus ensuring she was significantly sleep-deprived for her exam. (She still got an A; why those math skills didn’t transfer to me, I’ll never know.) Hannah’s usually pretty conservative with her book reactions; while I’m crying over an ending or freaking out about two characters kissing for the first time, she’ll cavalierly sidle over to me and say “oh, I liked that one” and say nothing further on the subject. That’s a shining recommendation to me that she loved this enough to really obsess over it.
So when I settled in to read it, I had ridiculously high expectations. I’ve been fond of thrillers lately, becuase I want a book that’ll really surprise me. Admittedly, I was a little nervous when I saw it was in third person, simply because I usually connect more to thrillers told in first. Luckily, I found a lot of what I was looking for in Sanctuary Bay.
Sanctuary Bay starts out with quite the hook: Sarah witnessing her parents’ murders as a child. It then fast-forwards to her being shuttled out of foster care and onto an elite and remote island school known for turning out big names in business, politics, and other fields. While she deals with the inevitable confusion of understanding where she fits in among her peers and her new environment, she stumbles across something much greater while in seclusion. Then, the real story begins.
Sarah’s exposure to her new environment was conveyed in a way that was both eerie and satisfying, setting up a tightly-wound and climatic ending. It feels atmospheric but also rooted in foundational details that give it a lot more legitimacy. It’s that process that really made it a successsful thriller, both upturning my assumptions and making me undoubtedly emotional. While I didn’t particularly feel like I connected to the characters well – Sarah could be a little singularly-focused in a way that I didn’t quite relate to or believe to be as developed – I did thoroughly enjoy the plot. Plus, I loved that she was into science. I think girls need to see more of that in YA, although I’m not particularly STEM-oriented myself.
The genre-bending aspect of the plot was also a pleasant triumph. I know my reading style well enough to know that magical realism and genre-bending stories are ones that I gravitate towards, and this was no different. It actually reminded me a lot of Variant by Robison Wells, which I remember absolutely stunning me. Psychologically, the riveting nature of Sanctuary Bay and the plot within it are well-done. It could be…dark at times which I wasn’t particularly expecting either, but I still enjoyed it.
I think there’s a lot to be said for Sanctuary Bay. I think the majority of YA readers would likely enjoy the wild ride and the suspense, and I may pick up the sequel. (Jury’s out on that – sequel? No sequel? We’re not exactly sure.) I LOVE that thrillers are big this year in YA.
Laura J. Burns and Melinda Metz have written many books for teens and middle-grade readers, including the Edgar-nominated mystery series Wright and Wong and the YA novels Crave and Sacrifice. They have also written for the TV shows Roswell, 1-800-Missing, and The Dead Zone. Laura lives in New York and Melinda lives in North Carolina, but really they mostly live on email, where they do most of their work together.
CONNECT WITH LAURA & MELINDA
CONNECT WITH ST. MARTIN’S PRESS
BUY THE BOOK
Daddy pressed his ﬁnger to his lips, shushing Sarah quiet as he slid the door to the tunnel back on. She wrapped her arms tightly around her knees and pressed her cheek against her arm, trying to pretend she was back in her own room. But it didn’t smell like her room. Even the spicy smell of Daddy’s cologne had faded now that the tunnel was closed. And grayness was all around her. She was almost four, and that was too old to be scared of the dark. But it wasn’t all dark. It was just gray dark.
She tried not to think of monsters crawling toward her. Daddy said there were no monsters. But monsters liked tunnels. They liked little girls.
Sometimes when she was scared she liked to sing the Maggie song. But that was against the rules. She had to be quiet. She had to be still. She had to wait until Daddy or Mommy opened the door and got her.
Thinking about the rules helped. She could almost hear Daddy saying them, as if he was hiding in the tunnel with her. Even though he was way too big. If something bad happens, wait until the room is safe. If you leave the tunnel, put the funny slitted door back on. Run fast. Find a lady with kids. Tell her your name is Sarah Merson. Merson. Merson. Merson. Merson. Ask for help.
Her nose started twitching, itching from the thick air. Making her want to sneeze. But she had to be quiet.
Then she heard Mommy screaming. Mommy never screamed. Were the monsters out there and not in the tunnel?
On hands and knees she started creeping toward the slits of light, heart pounding.
“Kt85L is our property,” a man said. “You had no right!”
Out there. Mommy on her knees facing the hotel room wall. Someone’s legs. A hand reaching down. A silver bird stared at Sarah from a ring on the ﬁnger. Stared with a horrible little black eye. The ﬁnger pulled the trigger of a gun.
A bang. Her ears ﬁlling with bees. Mommy collapsing on the ﬂoor. Red spilling out.
Sarah shoved her ﬁngers into her mouth. Quiet. The rule was be quiet.
Shouting. Daddy’s legs running by, out of the room. The bird man chasing. The door banging closed.
Something bad happening.
The room was safe. The bird man was gone. So she had to get out. Mommy was on the ﬂoor. Daddy was gone.
She shoved the door and it fell out onto the ﬂoor. Near Mommy. Near the red. But the rule was to put the funny door back on. She picked it up and shoved it over the tunnel like Daddy had shown her.
Sarah didn’t want to look at Mommy. She looked out the window instead. The window was always open and there was never a screen. Daddy’s voice came from the hallway, yelling. Screaming.
Sarah pressing her hands over her eyes. Not looking. Not looking. Something bad happening.
Daddy was quiet now. Something bad. She had to run fast.
Sarah climbed on the chair under the window. The chair always went under the window. She stuck her legs through the window and jumped down. Now run fast.
She ran fast, looking for a lady with a stroller or a kid her age. A mommy would help her. She would say she was Sarah Merson.
Sarah Merson, and something bad happened.