This story takes place in the late sixties: the nameless narrator, sixteen, is about to start her junior year in a boarding school exclusively for girls, where she has been sent after her father committed suicide. She decides to keep a record of her days in a diary. She is also looking forward to be reunited with her best friend and soul mate, Lucy.

Very soon, the narrator realizes that this new school year won’t bring the happiness the others used to: a new girl, Ernessa, occupies the room across the corridor. She seems to be very peculiar, never leaves her door open and looks down on everybody with self-assurance and scorn, which would be nothing, if she hadn’t set her mind to become friends with Lucy…

As the days become months, Lucy spends more time with Ernessa and takes her distance from her former best friend. As the narrator is feeling lonelier and sadder, she becomes more and more obsessed with Lucy and Ernessa, and their friendship. She is convinced that Ernessa wants everything that is hers. She has ambivalent feelings: sometimes, she sees Ernessa as a better version of herself, sometimes she is repelled by her.

The isolation of the school (nobody cares about what’s happening in the “real” world, about Vietnam war or inside politics), the choice of her readings (she follows a course called “Beyond belief: Writers of the Supernatural”), her incapacity to come to terms with her father’s death; all these elements feed her imagination and lead her to believe that Ernessa is something else than a regular, however bizarre, student. Soon she will have visions; dreams or drug-induced hallucinations, that will confirm her beliefs. Tragic events will then occur that could prove her right, making the reader wonder: is the narrator psychotic or is there more to Ernessa than everybody wants to believe?

The Moth Diaries is a powerful tribute to nineteenth-century writers of the supernatural (Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Alan Poe and Théophile Gautier to name a few…). Rachel Klein respects the “rules” of the genre, using the first-person point of view that raises most efficiently the question of reliability. Many allusions to the classics of the genre are quoted and evoked throughout the text, and as with the older texts, deeper questions emerge behind the pretext of the supernatural. Here Klein shows teenagers angst as manifested in anorexia or death wishes. She describes the feeling of being alienated and the desire to belong (the narrator is Jewish and very self-conscious about her difference since most of her friends are the “waspy blond type”), and mostly she explores the fear of changing and growing up.

Rachel Klein manages to maintain the hesitation between the two interpretations (madness or supernatural), in the tradition of the writers of the supernatural. Klein has done an excellent job, making The Moth Diaries a very compelling book, very well-written and difficult to put down…

Rating: 4,5/5