Review: They’re Watching You by Chelsea Ichaso

*We received this book in exchange for an honest review.*

It’s been two weeks since Polly St. James went missing. But Maren Montgomery is the only one that cares. You see, Polly left a note on her dorm room desk stating that she ran away and that she needed some alone time because the pressure of attending an elite academy was getting to her. The letter was written in Polly’s handwriting and she had a history of running away.

But Maren doesn’t believe the story. Something feels off about Polly’s disappearance, especially since the day she went missing, she was supposed to meet Maren and confess something. Since Polly’s parents, the school administration and the police have given up on finding Polly, Maren is ready to launch her own investigation.

After searching their shared dorm room, Maren comes across a letter addressed to Polly dated back in September from the Gamemaster’s Society, a secret society on campus. Maren had no idea that Torrey-Wells Academy had a secret society, but after speaking to some classmates, everyone knows about the rumors. What elite New England boarding school doesn’t have it’s secrets?

Maren has a gut feeling that the secret society has something to do with Polly’s disappearance. Desperate to learn the truth, Maren tracks down Annabelle Westerly, someone who Polly started spending time with this academic year. Maren challenges Annabelle to a game, hoping it would lead her to the Gamemaster’s Society…and it does.

Along with fellow classmate Remington Cruz, Maren is tapped for an initiation. The initiation is full of dark puzzles, where wrong answers could lead to paying the ultimate price. Maren is drawn into the elite world, where if Maren plays the games and follows the rules, she can have everything her heart desires. But that level of power and wealth comes at a steep cost.

Is joining the Gamemaster’s Society and saving Polly worth risking her life? Maren has a choice to make, as she is drawn into a centuries old cult with dark rituals and one final twisted game. Victory or Dust.

Wow, what did we just read? As we’re typing this, we can’t get They’re Watching You out of our heads. Honestly, we weren’t sure what to expect from this dark academia thriller set at an elite school in New Hampshire, but we were seriously impressed. Ichaso’s 2022 YA release, Dead Girls Can’t Tell Secrets, was just okay, so we didn’t have the highest expectations. But we couldn’t put this book down and we read it in one sitting.

First of all, we’ve really enjoyed reading dark academia books recently, especially The Secret History by Donna Tartt. There’s something about a creepy old school with hidden secrets that intrigues us.

They’re Watching You had the perfect setting and what makes it even darker is that we never leave campus with these characters. Everything takes place at Torrey-Wells Academy. It shows the reader how much the characters are cutoff from the outside world.

We learn right away that Maren feels out of place as a scholarship student from providence, Rhode Island. However, she had Polly, at least until their junior year started. Right away, we connected with Maren’s desire to do anything to save her friend. She’s intelligent, ambitious and courageous. Even though this book is plot driven, we found Maren to be a strong character. Her growth came in the form of learning how to put herself first/being less trusting.

As for the other characters, we found most of them to be intriguing. Polly, we could tell, was a terrible friend. We knew something about her was messed up, we just didn’t know what. She ultimately proved us right. However, despite being a morally gray character, we enjoyed Annabelle’s arc a lot. She defined the stereotype of typical rich spoiled girl and embraced her dark side. She didn’t care what Maren thought of her.

The one area we had trouble with was the love triangle between Mare, Gavin and Remington. We just didn’t care for the romance very much. While we think the love triangle was needed, we wish Ichaso developed the connection between Maren and the guys a bit more. As individual characters, we liked that we didn’t always know who we could trust.

Now, the plot and the world building are what truly shined in They’re Watching You. It’s one of the darkest YA books we’ve ever read and we loved it. Especially the ending, wow is all we have to say. Ichaso created a dark elite school that we found to be extremely compelling. While at times not the most realistic, we didn’t care because we found ourselves enamored with the school and the secret society. The plot kept us guessing about what the Gamemaster’s Society truly wanted and who pulled the strings.

Overall, we recommend all YA mystery and thriller fans pick this one up ASAP. We already plan on reading it again as soon a our schedules permit. They’re Watching You released on January 3rd, so you can pick up the book now!

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5/⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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