The Companion (2020) by Katie Alender was a creepy weight-neutral YA thriller/ horror that beautifully walked the line between–is this supernatural horror or plain old human cruelty?
Margot is a teenager living in a group home because she’s the only survivor of a terrible car crash that killed her entire family–both parents and two younger sisters. She has nightmares every night and wakes up screaming, which makes her an unwelcome part of the group. But both parents were only children and her grandparents are gone, so she has nowhere else to go. Until one day the house mother tells her that she is very lucky, because a wealthy family who has some connection to her father has decided to take her in.
Mr. Sutton had gone to law school with Margot’s father, who had saved him in the pool one day while swimming. When Sutton found out about the “great tragedy” that had befallen Margot, he decided that he had to repay the favor and bring Margot to live with them at Copeland Hall, an estate that is far out in the country somewhere on the suburban/ rural outskirts of Chicago. Mr. Sutton’s wife, Laura, had inherited Copeland Hall, and lives there with Mr. Sutton and their daughter, Agatha. Their son, Barrett, is away at boarding school.
Margot finds out that Agatha is sick with a mysterious illness and is catatonic much of the time, and that Margot coming to stay with them also had the purpose of giving Agatha some kind of socialization, because Margo is expected to be something of a companion to Agatha, since she no longer is able to get out much. Agatha seems perfectly healthy and compliant with dressing, eating, and sleep demands, but doesn’t speak or interact much.
The house is so far out in the country there is no cell signal; Laura doesn’t believe in unsupervised internet and doesn’t seem to be able to work the wi-fi, so Margot is cut off from the rest of the world, and after several weeks, Margot finds out that Laura intends to homeschool Agatha and her. She has plenty of food, and books, and spends time out in the garden every day with Laura, but she is profoundly lonely and bored, although her nightmares seem to have stopped.
But strange things do happen–sometimes Agatha acts out, and Margot finds messages written in mascara on her wall, telling her to get out. And when Barrett comes home for a while she enjoys getting to know him.
In some ways, what’s really going on sneaks up on you, and in other ways the author left hints all along so it didn’t really surprise me. I really wanted to find out what happened, and one member of my book group said that she liked it, but “her 16-year old self would have LOVED it” and I agree.
It was weight-neutral in that there was not really any descriptions of characters’ weight or size, although there is one mention of a diet and weight loss when comparing a hug from Laura to the feel of a hug from Margot’s mother, but it seems to be mentioned in a neutral, comparative way and not negatively.