by Suzy Vadori
I’ve been reading since I was a young child and as a result, I’ve blown through thousands of books in my nearly 36 years. There are a precious few that I always seem to go back to, there are some that I’ll never read again, and there are those special books that leave me finishing that last chapter with a smile.
The Fountain was one of those books that left a wistful smile on my face. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there was just something about it that left me strangely nostalgic. When I was about 11, I went through a phase where I would race through mystery/coming-of-age books faster than the winning horse at the Derby. The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall by Mary Downing Hahn. The Dollhouse Murders by Betty Ren Wright. Behind the Attic Wall by Sylvia Cassedy. I read these books over and over, fraying the laminated edges of my well-worn library card from the constant swiping as I checked these books out of my local library week after week, fervently wishing that I had the money to buy them for my own personal library.
They don’t really make books like those anymore; not in the mid-grade sense, at least. In an era where children have been taught that instant gratification is the norm and often times their right, it’s getting harder and harder for me to convince my 12-year old boy that “reading the book is better.” Especially when, if the book is any good (in his opinion), it will be made into a movie that he can see on the silver screen while relaxing in a leather recliner and sipping a Coke that cost his mom $5.50. When was the last time your kid asked to go to the library? I’m willing to bet it’s been a while – if ever – because they have everything they could ever want sitting at their fingertips in the form of an iPhone, laptop computer, video game remote, or touchscreen tablet.
There was something special about these books though, and that specialness has been something that has attached itself to my aura as I’ve grown from a young girl into a woman. As a child I was very withdrawn and struggled with the social aspects that came with school and group activities, and so reading became my haven . . . my imagination would run wild and the characters would become my friends. Losing myself in a book has been something that has saved me, again and again.
The Fountain brought me back into the my 11-year old self’s spirit during the week that I read it, plunging me headfirst into scenic memories of a chubby child clutching a scary R.L. Stine novel and a flashlight at 3am on a sticky summer night while desperately turning the pages in an attempt to find out if she had it all figured out. And as the plot in The Fountain opens with a girl beginning boarding school and feeling like an outcast among the elite, I found that I could honestly relate, having myself been ripped from the comforts of my sleepy Louisiana country school at the tender age of 10 and thrust into an elementary in the big city of Dallas that was so overpopulated with children that half of the campus was taught in portable trailers. The adolescent struggles of love; trying to choose between the familiar and the new, was also something that I could relate to. A mysterious fountain that seems to grant wishes was something that could have softened the blows that I took those first few years after my transplantation into Texas society, or would it have? The Fountain rounds a turn and becomes a cautionary tale, spinning webs of worlds crashing and timelines disappearing, forcing the reader to wonder if wishes are worth it. In any event, the concepts of this book made me sentimental for those days when I’d curl up in bed on a late Louisiana summer night, listening to the cicadas sing while I transported myself into a fantastical mystery written by an author that didn’t have an agenda.
And so . . .
Ava Marshall finally got her way. After begging her father repeatedly for permission to travel clear across the country to enroll in a prestigious boarding school, Ava is thrilled to finally begin her year wrapped up in the newness that is St. Augustus. The school was her parents’ Alma Mater, and since the death of her mother, Ava is anxious to hang on to any shred of anything that provides a link to the woman she so desperately misses. Stepping foot onto the impressive and dominating campus with high hopes mixing with the butterflies fluttering away in her belly, Ava feels ready to embark upon a new adventure alone. She’s left behind a devoted boyfriend/best friend and a dutiful father and she knows she may become lonely, but she retains her optimism as only a teenage girl can.
But Ava soon finds that her reputation has preceded her. Or rather, the legacy of her parents. Ethan, the handsome boy with the roguish attitude, knows who she is because her mother left his father standing at the altar of Senior Prom in favor of Ava’s dad. Ms. Krick, a cranky old teacher who gives Ava the veritable creeps, reminds the teenage girl that she’s got her eye on her — just like she had on Ava’s mother. And Courtney Wallis, the wild redhead with a permanent sneer etched upon her face, doesn’t hesitate to let Ava know that even though she may be a “legacy kid,” no accommodations will be made for her around St. Augustus.
Things are rough from day one. Trying to her best to get involved and follow in her mother’s footsteps, Ava attempts to join the swim team. But Courtney has other ideas, abruptly plunging the pretty brunette into the deep end of hazing, causing one problem after another for Ava in her endeavor to ruin the new girl’s reputation. Ava couldn’t have less in common with her perky roommate if she tried; the girl is obsessed with clothes and materialistic items and it leaves Ava feeling awkward and inadequate. And as if things couldn’t get worse, one of her teachers already seems to have it out for her, with beady eyes marking her every move.
When a prank pulled on Ava by the spiteful Courtney turns nasty, Ava is afraid she’s on the fast track to being expelled and catching a plane back to sunny California. In an effort to find some quiet and solace so she can collect her thoughts and formulate a plan of defense, she decides to venture through the West Woods and visit her ailing grandmother. Her Aunt Mia is also visiting the older woman, who lives just on the other side of the imposing cluster of overgrown trees and damp foliage, and Ava knows she can find the sympathy and friendship she has been so sorely lacking since her arrival to St. Augustus. On her journey along the beaten path, Ava comes across something she did not expect — a fully functioning fountain; its shimmering moat full of shiny coins and moss covering the intricate designs upon its facade. It’s placed out in the middle of nowhere in a random clearing in the middle of the woods, and Ava’s curiosity gets the better of her. Tossing a coin into the depths of the water, she speaks the words that have been lingering on the tip of her tongue for days — the wish that Courtney and her family had never been heard of at St. Augustus.
Dreading the Monday after the weekend more than ever, a despondent Ava treks into the office of the headmistress to try and plead her case. She’s fully prepared to take the brunt of any unjust punishments, but she’s hoping that she’ll at least have a chance to tell her side of the story. Courtney has it out for Ava, and things need to be brought under some semblance of control. But much to Ava’s surprise, the headmistress has no desire or need to see her, and the receptionist is confused as to why Ava is even there. Leaving the office in bewilderment leads to a day of things steadily not making sense. When Courtney doesn’t show up for swim practice, Ava is even more confused. The swim team seemed to be the only thing that really mattered to the red-haired girl, and things are eerily quiet without her dominating personality holding court.
Putting the pieces of the strange puzzle together, Ava comes to a conclusion with a sinking dread deep in her stomach — her wish came true. Courtney is not at St. Augustus anymore, and never has been. Neither has anyone in her family, including Courtney’s benefactor father. And as the butterfly effect of her decision to toss a coin into a fountain takes its toll, Ava does everything she can think of to turn back the clock. The only problem is . . . you cannot undo what has been done.
The Fountain is the debut novel by Canadian author Suzy Vadori, and was a finalist in the 2016 Aurora Awards for Best Young Adult Novel. Appropriate for readers ages 13+, it is a well-written novel that young readers will find intriguing and relatable.
I had the pleasure of reading and reviewing The West Woods, the prequel to The Fountain. Spinning the sticky tale of Courtney Wallis and her own encounter with the fountain, The West Woods is a classic tale of how greed can change a person and alter the course of their life for the worse. While I did not know that The West Woods was part of a series when I read it and it can be considered a stand-alone novel, I did not fully appreciate the story until I read The Fountain. Seeing the result of Courtney’s choices come into complete fruition was entertaining, and I now fully understand the true purpose of The West Woods.
I give The Fountain 4.5 out of 5 stars, recommending it to young readers who are lovers of a good classic mystery. As I said before, there is just something about this book that gives me all those nostalgic feels, and I truly hope that more are written in the series. There were a couple of plot lines and clues that didn’t go much of anywhere (the journals, the mysterious “lucky room”) and I hope that in future books these are addressed. I would love to learn more about the founder of St. Augustus and the fountain’s origins, not to mention the history of that nosy Ms. Krick and her true connections to the school. I feel like there is so much left to be explored in this series and I’m anxious to see where the author takes it in the future.