The Revenant: The Last Third Was Great, But The First Two Were Not

The Revenant is written by Sonia Gensler. It was published in 2011 by Alfred A. Knopf. It is Gensler’s first novel. Gensler’s website can be found here.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Supernatural, Realistic, Young Adult


“When seventeen-year-old Willie arrives in Indian Territory, she knows only one thing: no one can find out who she really is. To escape a home she doesn’t belong in, she has assumed a false identity and accepted a teaching position at the Cherokee Female Seminary.

Nothing prepares her for what she encounters. Her pupils are the daughters of the Cherokee elite—educated, wealthy, and more sophisticated than she. The school itself is cloaked in mystery a student drowned in the river the previous year after an ill-fated romance, and the girls whisper that her spirit haunts Willie’s room.

Willie doesn’t believe in ghosts, but when strange things start happening at the school, she isn’t sure anymore. She’s also not sure what to make of a boy from the nearby Cherokee boys’ school who has taken an interest in her—but whose past is shrouded in secrets.

Soon even Willie must admit that the revenant—the one who has returned—may be trying to tell her something.”

~Inside Flap


I lowered my voice. “Fannie Bell told me something very curious. She said my room belongs to a dead girl.”

Olivia looked down, her shoulders drooping. “Ah, she speaks of Ella Blackstone.”

“She drowned?”

“She did, and it was devastating. She shared a room with Lucy Sharp, whom you know from the senior class, along with two other girls. Lucy would not stay in the room afterward. In fact, each of the remaining girls made it clear that she did not wish to sleep in that room any longer.”

“A drowning death is very sad, but why avoid the room? It’s not as though she died there.”

Olivia looked away for a moment. “Many of the girls believe poor Ella was murdered by her beau, who then ran away.”

~Gensler 35-36

I lifted my chin, playing the cool lady. “Is there something you wanted to ask me?”

“Not really. I just like talking to you. Especially when you’re not surrounded by an army of students.”

“Why would you want to talk to a teacher?”

He looked at me for a moment, as though considering how best to answer the question. “Maybe it’s because you don’t seem like a teacher.”

My heartbeat quickened. “Why?”

“You don’t have that look—the tight frown that says you’ve forgotten how to have fun.” He abandoned the doorway and stepped into the room. “And you always look as though you’re keeping a secret.” His voice lowered. “A very delicious secret.”

~Gensler 139-140

Cover Art

Warnings: Séances and other supernatural elements

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Rating: 3/5

What I Liked:

The thing that I enjoyed most about this book was not the supernatural/mystery aspect of it, nor the (rather boring and obvious) romance. It was the character of Willie. First, I loved the comparison she makes when she returns home about how she is like a revenant (it’s a double-meaning title! Or, at least, a double-referencing title). In fact, the last third of the book is called “The Revenant” even though, plot-wise, the revenant part has already finished.

Second, I liked the revelations made about her character, especially at the end. In truth, Willie is just as bad as Fannie is in looking down at other people. She’s snobbish and arrogant and rather selfish. We come to realize that Willie is not the most reliable narrator about her past life and her current grievances. There is a lot that she didn’t know or ignored because of her pride. Her treatment of Toomey and her constant references to him as being “oafish” is as bad as all of Fannie’s jibes. She’s not nearly as resourceful or smart as she thinks she is.

I love character development, and I liked how Willie realizes at the end that she cannot go away, that she has a duty, a responsibility, to take care of. It shows that she has grown, and learned, and realized that things are not always as they appear.

Dr. Stewart, I had high hopes of you and Willie. Or you and Lucy. Oh, well…

What I Didn’t Like:

The first two-thirds of the book were just alright. I’m getting a little sick of the obvious romances, and the plot was really nothing special. I suppose Gensler was trying to portray the allure of a “forbidden” (yawn) romance, but since forbidden romance is 90% YA these days, it’s simply boring, unimaginative, and obvious. Whenever some mysterious, handsome stranger shows up, you know what’s going to happen. And, unfortunately, mysterious, handsome strangers usually are boring characters themselves, which in turns makes the romance boring. Stop making them so perfect! Stop giving them that “dangerous allure!” It will make it much more interesting, much less obvious, and much, much more enjoyable to read.

Overall Review:

The best part of The Revenant was the revelations about the main character and her subsequent development. The last third of the book is really good at showing all her faults at which the first two-thirds only hinted. The mystery was okay, but the romance was too typical, and boring as a result. This book did make me want to read more historical fiction, though.

You can buy this book here: The Revenant

Coming Up Next: Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix

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