3 reasons Redemption Prep will resonate with Riverdale fans

Redemption Prep by Samuel Miller. Image Courtesy HarperCollins Publishing
Redemption Prep by Samuel Miller. Image Courtesy HarperCollins Publishing /

Samuel Miller’s Redemption Prep is a twisty teen mystery that will delight fans of Riverdale, but the story has some problematic elements that can’t be ignored.

Samuel Miller’s Redemption Prep is marketed as a story that’s Riverdale meets Twin Peaks, and to be honest, that description is pretty darn on the nose.

When precocious and popular student Emma Donohue goes missing, the student body of Redemption Prep is in an uproar. Was she kidnapped? Hurt? Or did she simply run away? And if so, who would throw away the chance to be part of such an elite institution?

The story of the search for Emma is told through the perspective of multiple characters. Neesha, her roommate; Aidan, her basketball-star boyfriend; and Evan, a fellow student who apparently spent the majority of his time prior to Emma’s disappearance stalking her. We also get occasional glimpses into Emma’s life through the various journals she kept for school, which recount her acceptance into Redemption, and her various struggles with her feelings while there.

To be fair, this novel isn’t perfect, and readers will find themselves irritated by some of its broader character choices, particularly when it comes to even. Its ending will be shocking to some, while others will lament the fact that the ultimate solution to the mystery wasn’t given more room to breathe or develop over the novel’s back third. That said, with its complicated characters and constantly evolving narrative, its a twisty page turner that you’ll want to see through to the end.

How you will feel about that ending, is perhaps the larger question we’ll have to talk about afterward.

Here are three of the most intriguing aspects of Redemption Prep.

Complicated teen protagonists

Here’s a spoiler for you: None of these characters are particularly likable. They’re self-centered, selfish, spoiled, hyper-competitive – and in Evan’s case, kind of frightening. Neesha and Emma were dealing drugs together; Emma and Aiden were about to break up. The fact that they all end up working together to find the missing Emma is an accident of fate and timing as much as anything else. Sure, none of them want anything bad to happen to this girl they knew, but their search for her is as much about themselves as it is their missing friend.

And in all honesty, this is a better narrative device than a bunch of kids from different areas of the school coming together to look for a missing student and discover the dark secrets of the school. It gives the story space to tackle some potentially dark and unsettling story beats. The novel doesn’t downplay the fact that Evan is a stalker, or undersell the others’ realization about just why he knows so much about Emma’s schedule and behavior. Neesha’s determination to succeed in her research is, even going so far as to use her fellow classmates as human test subjects, is treated as generally shocking. A character we meet later on in the story sets up an elaborate con to rob another, and displays absolutely zero remorse for it.

These kids may make for good story – but they’re not necessarily good people.

A twisty mystery

At first glance, Redemption Prep appears to be another story of overprivileged teens doing overprivileged things. These kids are elite – they’ve all been specifically recruited to attend this school, and most of them are particularly special in some way. Chess masters, religious savants, chemistry whizzes, basketball stars, poets. There are no ordinary kids at this school.

And that in and of itself would probably be enough to build a pretty compelling story.

Instead, one of their own goes missing, and our lead characters must figure out if Emma merely ran away, or something more sinister happened to her. And once they learn that Redemption has more than its fair share of weird secrets and strange behavior, the story becomes about much more than one missing girl.

There are twists and surprise revelations galore, as various teens lie and betray one another, all while learning that the institution they were supposed to trust to help prepare them for adulthood is a bigger danger than they ever imagined.

A messy ending

It’s clear from the beginning of the story that something is very wrong at Redemption Prep. From the remote location to the downright weird school tradition, it’s clear this isn’t your traditional boarding school long before the truly bizarre stuff starts coming to light. And the novel’s ending doesn’t entirely tie all this up with a neat bow by the end. In fact, it throws in several narrative wrenches that are psychologically disturbing and leaves at least one character’s fate in doubt.

Some readers will likely be dissatisfied with this – particularly the way the story ultimately treats Evan and the way it both does and does not deal with his behavior. Through the course of the novel, his gradually revealed backstory illuminates some reasons for his behavior, and why specifically he felt so drawn to Emma. Yet, this near-tragic shift often feels like an attempt to excuse or whitewash the fact that no matter how sad his story is, it doesn’t erase the fact that he’s a stalker. Does the final set of revelations ultimately make that aspect of the story worth it? You’ll have to judge that for yourselves.

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