Just in time for Halloween, The Turning by Francine Prose will wind up your anxiety level and tighten you in the grasp of fear. This teen novel is a retelling of the classic Henry James novella The Turn of the Screw. The setting has been updated to take place in the present day, and is told through a series of letters exchanged between a teenage boy named Jack and his girlfriend Sophie. Sophie’s father has procured a summer job for Jack, babysitting two children for a considerable wage on a remote island. The couple realizes her father’s motivation is an attempt to end their romance, but in order for Jack to attend college with Sophie in the fall he has no choice but to take the position. When he is informed that there will be no phone service, television, or internet connection available he almost changes his mind. Through their correspondence, the reader experiences Jack’s loneliness and initial misgivings as they progress to outright distress.
During the boat voyage to the island, some elderly passengers recount the story of a tragic drowning death of a couple attempting to elope from the island years before. They also allude to some mysterious happenings in the more recent past, painting Jack’s destination in shadowy details. On his arrival to the children’s home, feelings of dread and foreboding emanate from the creepy gothic mansion painted funeral black. It is full of confusing darkened hallways and unused or locked rooms. The children themselves are unusual, formally polite, dressed in old-fashioned attire, and frequently exchange furtive glances alluding to secret confidences.
Ghostly apparitions begin haunting Jack: a tall menacing man watches him through the library window; a beautiful woman stares from across a field. No one else in the household seems aware of these spirits. Sophie grows increasingly alarmed as Jack’s letters reflect how the stress of the situation is taking a toll. This is a frightening tale, which pays homage to the original, and exposes a new generation of readers to some real creepy fun.