Siena by Helen Eve
|Siena by Helen Eve
|Reviewer: Robert James
|Summary: An intriguing prequel to last year's Stella, this is even more over the top but an extremely good read. A surprisingly powerful tragedy.
|Date: January 2015
|Publisher: Macmillan Children's Books
Siena Hamilton rules over Temperley High, along with her clique the Starlets. Nothing can stand in her way – not even the return of ex-Starlet and her former best friend Romy, who spent a term in France after a shocking incident one night led to the headmistress deciding the girl needed to spend some time away from their school. If you've read Stella, you know roughly what happens here, but you don't necessarily know why. If you haven’t read it, I'd definitely suggest going for that one first. (There may be spoilers here, although I've tried to avoid anything too specific.)
I said when reviewing Stella that there were things about the school in the book - the cliques, the Stars, and the way that everyone else was so obsessed with them - that didn't ring true, but that this felt like a deliberate stylistic choice by the author. In this prequel, set five years before Stella, things are taken even further. For those who haven't read that book, it focused heavily on Stella's campaign to take her rightful place as Head Girl of Temperley High, with a level of staggering obsessiveness with the position that was like nothing I'd ever seen in a supposedly realistic YA novel. This shows us how the Head Girl position came to be so coveted, and there are intriguing reasons behind it. That's not to suggest it makes the campaign any more believable in retrospect - but it's so gloriously over the top that it's an intriguing look at what student politics could develop into if left completely unchecked. It's even less realistic than Stella was, and yet it somehow manages to also work as a tragedy.
In fact, I think it’s the knowing shallowness of much of the book which means that when things develop later on, it’s a change of tone which has a staggering impact. We know from both the other book and the first two pages of this one that Siena dies here, and yet the actual climactic scene is one of great power, making it a more emotional book than Stella was. While Stella was Gossip Girl meets Great Expectations, this starts with an extract from The Lady of Shallott, and you could suggest that like that titular lady, Siena is cursed – but it’s also an echo of the previous book and the central question of whether destiny can be changed, or if with a family like Siena’s and Stella’s, they were doomed from the start. Despite there being so many similarities with Stella’s story, it’s not one that feels repetitive; it’s compelling reading as we see just how Stella grew into the person she was in the book named after her, and what Siena’s influence on her was.
I found Siena to be just as strong, and fascinating, a character as her sister was in Stella - and it was interesting to see how her actions set Stella up to follow in her footsteps five years later. Romy, for me, was a nicer character than Caitlin was in the other book, easier to warm to but not as interesting. The two main villains here are pantomime-style baddies, but that fits in with the overall tone, making it hard to criticise this characterisation. Overall, it's definitely a better book than Helen Eve's debut was, and the pair of them, and the pair of them are well worth reading. Will Eve next give us the story of the third Hamilton sister, Syrena? Part of me thinks that it would be going to the well once too often; part of me has a feeling that if anyone could do it, Helen Eve could.
I will be extremely intrigued to see what Helen Eve writes next, whether it’s Syrena's story or something completely different. Fans of complex stories where there’s much more going on than meets the eye should definitely read both of these.
I think fans of this will really enjoy the Pretty Little Liars series - fellow reviewer Zoe was a big fan of book 2, Flawless: Pretty Little Liars 2 by Sara Shepard. Another intriguing read in which I thought the author made a conscious decision to exaggerate the effect of cliques was High and Dry by Sarah Skilton.
You can read more book reviews or buy Siena by Helen Eve at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
You can read more book reviews or buy Siena by Helen Eve at Amazon.com.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.