A house party on an island . . . a group of guests with guilty secrets . . . a series of grisly deaths.
If any of this makes you think of Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None”(a.k.a. “Ten Little Indians”), well, that’s exactly what Gretchen McNeil intended. Her new Young Adult thriller, “Ten,” is an update of Christie’s novel, set on Washington state’s Henry Island.
High school senior Meg and her best friend, Minnie, have been invited to an exclusive house party on the island, thrown by one of their classmates. Minnie has talked Meg into lying to their parents to get away for the weekend. It’s a lie that they’ll both bitterly regret before the weekend is over.
When someone in the house sneaks almonds into the salad, and a boy with a nut allergy has a severe attack, it’s written off as an accident or a mistake. When a girl is found hanging in the stairwell, everyone believes it was suicide. But after two more mysterious deaths—and after red slash marks begin to appear on the wall—the guests have to face the horrifying truth: Someone wants them dead. All of them.
With help from T.J., the boy that she secretly likes, Meg tries to figure out who the killer is, while at the same time trying to keep the fragile, troubled Minnie from having a nervous breakdown. But as murder follows murder, and the number of suspects dwindles, the greatest danger becomes the temptation to turn on each other.
Despite the modern setting, and some difference in the murder methods and the killer’s motive, McNeil follows Christie’s basic plot carefully—so carefully that readers who are familiar with “And Then There Were None” will easily spot the twists coming. (Just in case the connection wasn’t already crystal clear, she includes other small tributes to Christie here and there, such as naming a boat “Nemesis.”) But for those who are new to the story, it still has the power to surprise.
Though Meg sometimes seems a bit of a cliché—how many times now have we been asked to root for the plucky young aspiring writer who’s more responsible than her peers?—she still makes a likable heroine, who grows in confidence and courage. Her friendship with Minnie is an especially interesting aspect of the book, and a potentially educational one for young readers navigating complex relationships of their own.
It’s easy to see that Minnie takes advantage of Meg, who enables her friend’s selfish, hedonistic behavior. Meg herself is aware of the problem, but constantly makes excuses: Minnie is clinically depressed and needs her help and compassion; Minnie has been kind and loyal to her in the past; they’ve had so many good times together. But their unhealthy dynamic leads to serious consequences as the novel builds to its climax.
The ending of “Ten” isn’t quite as bleak as that of “And Then There Were None”; instead, McNeil follows Christie’s own stage adaptation of her book, in which two people are left alive in the end. The killings are gruesome, but not excessively gory. I wasn’t too deeply disturbed by any of McNeil’s descriptions, and I’m notoriously squeamish.
As for the houseful of teens who make up the cast, their views and behavior seem fairly typical of their generation. That means there’s a good deal of underage drinking going on, some profanity, and the occasional hookup, though we don’t get any graphic details. Also, there’s a shared history among many of the guests, of cruelty or neglect toward one particular schoolmate—behavior that’s now coming back to haunt them, with even innocent bystanders getting swept up in the retribution.
(As far as worldview goes, there’s not much of one at all. Church, prayer, and the Bible are all briefly mentioned, as elements that play a part in the teens’ lives but don't seem to have a major impact on them.)
It would be easy, while reading this book, simply to shake one’s head over the moral failings of the younger generation. It would be very easy indeed—unless we were to remember that in Agatha Christie’s original novel, published more than 70 years ago, the moral failings of the adults were far worse than those of most of the teens here. If nothing else, “Ten” reminds us that there is truly nothing new under the sun.
Gina Dalfonzo is editor of BreakPoint.org and Dickensblog.
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