Review: Ten by Gretchen McNeil

Title Ten
Author Gretchen McNeil
Published September 18th, 2012 by Balzer + Bray
Pages 304 Pages
Intended Target Audience Young Adult
Genre & Keywords Mystery, Horror, Thriller
Part of a Series? No
Source & Format Purchased from Chapters, Hardcover
Find It On GoodreadsAmazon.comChapters


It was supposed to be the weekend of their lives—an exclusive house party on Henry Island. Best friends Meg and Minnie each have their reasons for being there (which involve T.J., the school’s most eligible bachelor) and look forward to three glorious days of boys, booze and fun-filled luxury.

But what they expect is definitely not what they get, and what starts out as fun turns dark and twisted after the discovery of a DVD with a sinister message: Vengeance is mine.

Suddenly people are dying, and with a storm raging, the teens are cut off from the outside world. No electricity, no phones, no internet, and a ferry that isn’t scheduled to return for two days. As the deaths become more violent and the teens turn on each other, can Meg find the killer before more people die? Or is the killer closer to her than she could ever imagine?

“Shhh! Don’t Spread the Word!
What: Epic house party
When: Presidents’ Day weekend
Where: White Rock House on Henry Island
Why: Because if you miss this party you’ll regret it forever”

The concept behind Gretchen McNeil’s Ten is simple enough: Inspired by Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, like the final act in a horror movie, Ten follows the lives of ten teenagers who have traveled to and become stranded on a secluded island home after receiving invitations to attend a weekend house party. Taking place over the course of three days, the novel follows the teens as they are slowly picked off one-by-one by an unknown assailant.

“Be careful? It was a weekend party full of hookups and beer bongs. Other than mono and dehydration, what did she need to be careful of?”

Now, in theory, this book sounds like it was tailor-made for me. Having spent my formative years compulsively reading about the adventures of famed, beloved detectives like Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew and Hercule Poirot and devouring ’90’s teen slasher films like the Scream series (To say I’m a fan would be a gross understatement) and later Harper’s Island, I think it’s fair to say that I’m a fan of the mystery and horror genre. Almost nothing can beat a great murder mystery. When executed properly, there’s nothing like the rush of adrenaline and excitement one can experience when racing to determine who the murderer is and what their motive is before the reveal at the end of the story or episode.

Unfortunately, Ten seems like a story I’ve read (or watched) at least a half a dozen times before.

“You know what?” Minnie said with a dramatic pause. “This is how horror movies start.”
“We’ve already had one near-death experience,” Kumiko said.
Ben laughed. “Just an accident. Nothing sinister.”
“Dude!” Nathan pointed at T.J. “You’d better watch out.”
T.J arched an eyebrow. “Why?”

“Well, if this is a horror movie, you’re the first to one to go. The black dude’s always the first one to die.”

My largest problem with the novel stems from the characters and their development (Or in this case, the lack thereof) Having a large cast is always problematic as the author is faced with the challenge of creating ten distinctive voices and identities that will allow the reader to easily distinguish one from another. Ideally you want the reader to be able to connect and sympathize with your characters, as that will make their loss all the more keenly felt.

“Meg froze, her eyes locked on the shadow. The heavy form, oblong and amorphous except for the dangling appendages…
Legs. Holy crap, they were legs.
Meg turned her head and came eye-to-eye with a face hanging in the stairwell. The noose around the neck. The purplish-blue hue to the skin.
Meg opened her mouth and screamed.”

Unfortunately, what McNeil provides us with instead is a trite set of formulaic characters, each one encompassing at least one recognizable high school cliché. For example, we have T.J. (The jock), Ben (The mysterious new guy), Gunner (The laid-back surfer), Nathan (The obnoxious, over-sexed douche-bag whose confidence far outweighs his actual appeal), Vivian (The pearl and J-crew wearing uptight Type-A personality) and Kumiko (The edgy, alternative girl with the requisite unusually dyed streak of hair). Despite what McNeil likely hopes are recognizable character types, the majority of the characters blend together to form a bland, single entity. I often found myself having to flip backward to remind myself which name went with which stereotype. I also found myself looking forward to the first murder, if only because it would help to thin the faceless herd a little.

“Eyes rimmed red from crying, mascara running in jagged black trails down her face, sunken cheeks, pinched jaw…Minnie had flown into a crying rage. She grabbed Meg’s shoulders so fiercely she left five-pointed bruises on each side. “You’re going to Homecoming with T.J.?” She spat the words out, her fingernails digging through the thin cotton of Meg’s T-shirt and her eyes dashing back and forth across Meg’s face.”

While the majority of the characters are as innocuous as they are forgettable, one character stands out in the worst possible way. Minnie, the protagonist’s best friend, has the distinction of being one of the most obnoxious, insufferable characters I’ve encountered in fiction in quite some time. She is the epitome of the question “with friends like her, who needs enemies?” Self-absorbed, entitled, volatile and spoiled, Minnie has the unique ability to make everything in Meg’s life, from what prospective college she attends to who she goes to homecoming with, somehow about her. She brings nothing to the story from what I can tell, apart from inevitably casting everyone around her in more flattering light as a sheer result of her existence.

“You’re trying to make me someone else’s problem before you leave me.”
“I’m not leaving you! I’m going to college.” These arguments were starting to make them sound like a married couple on the verge of divorce.
“You could do that here.”

Rather than confront Minnie, our long-suffering heroine instead chooses to bite her lip and ignore Minnie’s borderline-abusive behaviour. Meg resorts to counting down the days until she leaves for college like a prison inmate scratching out the remaining days until their release onto their cell wall. And really, who could blame her? Five minutes in Minnie’s company might inspire me to become homicidal. It’s a sad state of affairs when you begin sympathizing with the murderer. I found myself wondering if they had ever met Minnie. It would explain a lot.

“Maybe this trip to the boathouse wasn’t such a good idea. Rickety wooden land bridge? Check. Storm of the century? Check. Certain death at the hand of the rocks on the beach? Check and mate. Just like Nathan’s painfully racist joke last night: This was how horror movies started.”

Apart from the poor characterization, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the novel itself. It’s simply adequate. McNeil excels with the setting and pacing of the novel, penning a fast-paced, atmospheric thriller that you find yourself reading in a matter of hours. It’s the perfect choice for a dark and stormy night spent alone while huddled beneath the covers. Ten doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it’s a fairly reliable, albeit simple, addition to the genre. It delivers exactly what one would expect from this sort of story but does not try to subvert expectations in any way. The murderer’s identity is easy to discern if you’ve ever watched a single episode of Masterpiece Theatre. The plot is also fairly predictable, relying on the standard red herrings and ambiguous diary entries left by an unknown entity that have now become staples of the horror genre. The self-aware characters who are well-versed with the horror oeuvre suggest that McNeil has taken a page out of the Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson playbook, an approach which was revolutionary when Scream premiered in 1996 but has become rather commonplace in the ensuing sixteen years (Boy, do I suddenly feel old).

“With more force than she intended, Meg flattened the frame against the dresser. She was about to leave when she noticed some writing on the back of the picture frame. With one finger, she spun the frame around so she could read the words.
They were written in red ink: I will repay.”

I have no doubt that Gretchen McNeil is, in fact, a talented writer and I will not hesitate to read her other novel, Possess, which sounds like it has a promising premise. The horror and mystery genre are woefully underrepresented in books aimed toward the young adult age group and while I admire McNeil’s ambition in attempting to delve into these relatively unexplored waters, sadly Ten sinks rather than swims. I don’t believe that this novel showcased McNeil’s abilities to their furthest extent or added anything substantial to the fledgling horror and mystery genre for young adults and will most appeal to those who are relatively new and unfamiliar with the horror genre and have fewer expectations or less experience with it.

Overall Rating

Around The Web

Still not sure this is the right book for you? Why not listen to what some other bloggers had to say about it?

● Thea @ The Book Smuggles wrote “All in all, I enjoyed Ten. It’s not the most memorable book, and there are certain things that bothered me, but it is undeniably entertaining and a competent YA mystery/thriller/horror novel. Good, fluffy, finish-it-in-about-an-hour reading.” (Read the rest of the review Here!)

● Steph @ Steph The Bookworm wrote “While there were a few things that kept me from loving this novel, all in all I enjoyed it quite a bit. I really liked the suspense, mystery, and eerie setting. I would recommend this to YA fans that are looking for a creepy read!” (Read the rest of the review Here!)

● Becca @ Nawanda Files wrote “A heart-pumping horror story with graphic deaths that’ll stay with you long after you close the book. Good enough to read once and pass along to your friend. “ (Read the rest of the review Here!)

12 Responses

  1. First, hey-o fellow Canadian! 😀

    She brings nothing to the story from what I can tell, apart from inevitably casting everyone around her in more flattering light as a sheer result of her existence.

    This is the BEST line I’ve read from a review in a LONG time! It perfectly captures how I felt about Minnie!

    Actually, you managed to put all of my feelings about this book into words in such an articulate and thoughtful way! I too found the characters indiscernible, with their stereotypical portrayal of certain high school tropes the only thing I had to differentiate one from another. The pacing and suspense were spot-on, but the overall plot was much too predictable for my liking.

  2. It’s always great to meet a fellow Canadian book blogger! *Passes ’round the Timbits and coffee* 😀

    I’m so flattered that you enjoyed my review! I’ve been a fan of your blog for some time now so your comment means more to me than I could ever express. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

    Ultimately, I think I was more disappointed in McNeil’s Ten than anything else. I absolutely love the horror genre and while I felt this book had potential, I couldn’t help but feel a little angry about how predictable the plot was and how under-developed and largely unlikeable the characters were. There’s nothing worse than loving the core concept of a novel only to be disappointed in the author’s execution, because you realize it could have been so much more 🙁

    1. I was happy to! While our overall opinions obviously differed, your review was really great and I absolutely loved the overall look of your blog 🙂 It’s so cute!

      Thank you so much for taking the time to comment! 😀

  3. I haven’t heard too many good things about this one, unfortunately. Just the stereotypical characters on their own would probably drive me nuts, but since I have trouble with most mystery/thrillers that don’t star Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys…haha, most likely not my thing.

    1. The characters really were the low point in the novel. Although I didn’t touch on it in my review, even Meg, the protagonist, was a walking stereotype. If I remember correctly, she was the standard bookish brunette with a superiority complex who somehow still managed to catch the attention of at least half the male characters stranded on the island. It was extremely frustrating.

      Given your love for Nancy Drew, have you ever read any Trixie Belden books? They’re so much fun and I used to love them when I was younger! I still break out one or two from time-to-time for a re-read. They’re really great mysteries and the characters are quite a bit of fun.

  4. There was actually a ridiculous amount of BOOK HYPE surrounding this book upon it’s initial release. But, as soon as the reviews started coming in, the ratings dropped tremendously. (Haha, the black dude always dies first! My friends and I always rant about how that happens. ) I’m confused is there a supernatural aspect to the novel, or not. It kind of reminds me of the movie ‘9 Dead.’ Ever heard of it? Thanks for the heads up. I think I’m NOT going to read this one.

    New Follower! (I love the way your reviews are formatted!)

    1. First of all, thank you so much for your very sweet comment. It really made my day! 🙂

      As far as I remember, there is no paranormal or supernatural element to this book. It’s your standard contemporary horror novel in the same vein as Scream or I Know What You Did Last Summer. I had never heard of 9 Dead before your comment but had to laugh when I looked it up on IMDB and saw that Melissa Joan Hart is credited as one of its stars. There goes my childhood! There’s something strange about reading about Sabrina the Teenage Witch starring in a horror film 😛

      Anyway, thank you again for your comment and for subscribing to the blog! I really hope you continue to enjoy my reviews 😀

  5. Such an amazing review! I almost joined a retelling event in which I was going to read And Then There Were None and Ten, but decided not to. I guess there was no harm done by not doing it, since this was a less than stellar book. You definitely have valid points for not loving it though – cliches, lack of character development, an insufferable character. Eh. But I love that even though you didn’t love the book you still are respectful in your review and write positively about the author. Such a good review!

    1. First of all, I just want to thank you for taking the time to comment on one of my reviews. I’ve been a big fan of your blog for some time now so I can’t tell you how much I appreciated your kind words. I’m still struggling to find my voice in my reviews, and seeing your comments really made me smile 🙂

      I always try to pinpoint something that I did like about a novel, even when my overall experience was largely negative. I would never want to hurt anyone’s feelings or set out to write a negative review simply for the sake of doing so 🙁

      I would be interested in reading Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, if only because I would be interested in seeing what, if any, resemblance McNeil’s Ten had to it. I think it’s always interesting to read an original work and then compare it to novels that are inspired by and/or written as homages to them.

      While I wasn’t particularly enamoured with McNeil’s work, I have no doubt Christie would handle a similar premise with much greater grace and subtlety. Ten simply felt like one in the endless series of re-makes we’re already experiencing with some regularity in the horror film genre. It was really neither necessary nor added anything new or revolutionary to the discourse.

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Hi! I’m Jen! I’m a thirty-something introvert who loves nothing more than the cozy comfort of home and snuggling my two rescue cats, Pepper and Pancakes. I also enjoy running, jigsaw puzzles, baking and everything Disney. Few things bring me more joy than helping a reader find the right book for them!