Mallory's life is falling apart.What Hysteria is really about, is a girl's journey in dealing with a traumatic event and some mild trauma-induced amnesia. There's nothing paranormal and while there were minor violent elements — we see her boyfriend's death through flashbacks — I wouldn't classify this as anything other than straight contemporary YA. (I mean, there's one weird thing, which could have been played up to increase tension and creepiness, but it wasn't. Instead Mallory just ignored it.) If I'd known to expect that up front, I probably would have enjoyed the beginning more. I kept expecting ghosts or demonic forces or something, but they didn't come. The last third or quarter of the book had a decent pay-off, but it wasn't the type of pay-off I'd expected going in. (I assumed from the start that things weren't as they seemed, but, well, they turned out to be more as they seemed than I would have liked.)
Her boyfriend was stabbed. He bled to death in her kitchen. Mallory was the one who stabbed him. But she can't remember what happened that night. She only remembers the fear...
When Mallory's parents send her away to a boarding school, she thinks she can escape the gossip and the threats. But someone, or something, has followed her. There's the hand that touches her shoulder when she's drifting off to sleep. A voice whispering her name. And everyone knows what happened. So when a pupil is found dead, Mallory's name is on their lips.
Her past can be forgotten but it's never gone. Can Mallory live with that?
I felt the beginning was a bit dull and took a while to get to the point. I was a bit frustrated in the first half or so with Mallory spending so much time thinking about boys. I understand her dwelling on the dead boyfriend, but she also dwelt on his brother, who she'd had a crush on and on the new (ish) boy she meets after she's sent to the boarding school. The only boy she's not interested in, at some point, is the jerky one at school who is interested in her. And she doesn't try very hard to make friends at the new school, which is sort of understandable because of the earlier traumatic events, but did mean that a large chunk of the book had her focussing on the love interest school boy, who is also her only proper friend at the school.
It did redeem itself towards the end, however, when Mallory's best friend from back home shows up again (she featured in the opening also, pre-boarding school, but not as significantly) and we are treated to some nice girl bonding. It was that aspect which saved the book for me. That and the way the plot started moving forward more rapidly once the student died, although that happened sufficiently far into the book that putting it in the blurb feels strange. Then again, that also underscores how not very much happened in the first half of the book.
I wanted there to be more darkness, more ominousness, and more psychological uncertainty. On the other hand, once I realised it was about Mallory processing and coming to terms with her boyfriend's death, the whole thing did fall into place a bit better.
Ultimately, Hysteria had so much potential in premise, but in execution it fell flat in several ways. It didn't go far enough when it should have been pushing the envelope. It wasn't a terrible book overall, but it definitely could have been more interesting. I recommend it to fans of non-speculative YA.
3.5 / 5 stars
First published: February 2013, Bloomsbury UK/ANZ
Format read: eARC