Skip to main content

R.I.P. Eliza Hart

Review

R.I.P. Eliza Hart

Why did a bright, beautiful boarding school student fall from a cliff just days before spring break? Was it a homicide, suicide, or accident? In the mysterious novel R.I.P. ELIZA HART, the shocking death of popular Eliza Hart grips the exclusive Ventana Ranch School in Big Sur. Clever classmate Ellie Sokoloff makes it her mission to solve the chilling case.

The suspenseful story unfolds on a small high school campus in the Santa Cruz Mountains where dorms overlook the Pacific Ocean and students walk to class surrounded by giant redwoods. Readers can picture the gorgeous California setting as they guess what really happened to Eliza. According to detectives, “everyone is a potential witness” to the model student’s death- even Ellie.

"Author Alyssa Sheinmel thoughtfully exposes the embarrassment and stigma associated with mental illness....once you begin this riveting story, you won’t be able to put it down."

Ellie Sokoloff, who suffers from claustrophobia, has accepted an academic scholarship to Ventana Ranch and relocated from New York City to make a fresh start. On her first day of school, the awkward 16-year-old recognizes Eliza Hart from their early childhood in Northern California. Ellie admires that Eliza “was still just as perfect as one of her Barbie dolls.” Surprisingly, Ellie is met with hostility from the blond beauty when she attempts to rekindle their friendship. Subsequently, Eliza spreads rumors around campus that Ellie is a stalker, obsessed with her since kindergarten. As the erudite Ellie searches for the truth behind her former friend’s unkind behavior and her fatal fall, Ellie becomes the heroine that the reader is rooting for.

Though Ellie and Eliza seem strikingly different from one another, they share struggles of mental disorders, which become a central theme of the serious novel. A claustrophobic Ellie avoids crowded parties, elevators and small restrooms, while a depressive Eliza experiences sleepless nights and self-destructive thoughts. Ellie eventually reveals her phobia to her suitemate Sam, but Eliza successfully hides her depression from her roommates and BFFs Arden and Erin. Author Alyssa Sheinmel thoughtfully exposes the embarrassment and stigma associated with mental illness.

As Sheinmel varies the story’s point-of-view between Ellie and Eliza, the reader becomes privy to each girl’s inner pain. An ostracized Ellie feels that she does not fit in at Ventana Ranch, that she is “standing on the outside wishing they’d invite [her] in.” An unemotional Eliza realizes that love, anger, right and wrong have always been “fuzzy” to her. I felt sorry for both characters, and I was particularly shaken by Eliza’s description of her own death.

On the very first page of the book, Eliza shares, “I died recently.” She informs the reader that near death, “Your heart is beating harder than it’s ever pounded before, reminding you of your flesh and blood and bones. Your temperature drops. Your skin is so cold that it hurts when the wind blows…Every heartbeat aches. And then, finally, at last your pulse slows.”

If you decide to read R.I.P. ELIZA HART, be prepared for a raw account of death and the harsh realities of mental illness. However, once you begin this riveting story, you won’t be able to put it down.

Reviewed by Juliette G., Teen Board Member on November 30, 2017

R.I.P. Eliza Hart
by Alyssa B. Sheinmel