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Literature / Losing Christina

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Losing Christina is a young adult thriller trilogy by Caroline B. Cooney (author of the Janie series), originally published between 1989 and 1992 in three separate instalments: The Fog, The Snow and The Fire.

Christina Romney is a girl from an island off the coast of Maine, who leaves her home along with other island adolescents to attend high school on the mainland. She and older student Anya Rothrock, along with brothers Benj and Michael Jaye, are staying at at a boarding house with the Shevvingtons.

Mr. Shevvington is the principal of Christina's new school and Mrs. Shevvington is the English teacher. They seem like model citizens until they start to psychologically torture Christina and manipulate the people she loves into believing she is badly behaved and even insane. When Anya starts to lose her grip on reality, Christina must engage in psychological warfare against the Shevvingtons to save her own mind and Anya's.

This series provides examples of

  • Adults Are Useless:
    • Even though Christina never lied to her parents while she lived with them, they do not believe her word against the Shevvingtons'.
    • Even after the end of Book 2 proves to everyone that at least some of Christina's wild stories were actually true, and some of the trouble of that book can be laid at the Shevvingtons' feet, there is still no serious investigation into the bizarre incidents.
    • Subverted with Mr. Gardner, though when he tries to talk to Christina about it, she naturally runs away from him.
  • All Abusers Are Male: Averted. In fact, Mrs. Shevvington is arguably more evil and insidious than Mr. Shevvington.
  • Badass Bystander: In Book 3, when Christina is frog-marched toward Mr Shevvington's office by his wife, she makes a break for it in the waiting room. The coach and secretary try to go after her, but an older boy waiting for detention sticks his legs out and trips them up, giving Christina the opportunity to escape.
  • Balcony Escape: Christina leaves the manor in this fashion twice; in the first book to save Anya from drowning herself, and in the third book with Val to escape the fire.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness:
    • Christina and Anya, whose beauty is described with almost egregious detail. In contrast, Mrs. Shevvington's oatmeal face can never be mentioned enough.
    • Although Christina doesn't think of herself as beautiful, compliments she receives on her appearance can be interpreted to actually represent her native island; not necessarily beautiful, but interesting. She does love her silver, gold, and sable hair though.
    • Subverted with Mr Shevvington, who is repeatedly described as handsome and elegant, but just uses this to help cover up his evil.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Jonah and Christina have this at the start, and even after they become friends (and sort-of boyfriend and girlfriend) they argue quite a lot. Notably, this is not because Christina's trying to tell her Cassandra Truth (as Jonah's one of the few people who actually believes her) but because of more personal disagreements.
  • Blatant Lies: The Shevvingtons tell these all the time.
  • Break the Cutie: Christina, Anya, Val, Dolly, and countless others chipped away by the Shevvingtons.
  • Boarding School of Horrors: Or boarding house in this case; the school is fairly ordinary.
  • Broken Bird: Val in the third book.
  • Broken Pedestal: Christina has had a crush on Michael for most of her life, only to realize in Book 3 that he's something of a Spoiled Brat, and turns her attention to his brother Benj instead. The same happens in regards to Blake, who she desperately loves only to realize that he could have said and done more to help her, but kept his mouth shut because he didn't want to look foolish.
  • Cassandra Truth: Christina suffers the most when it comes to this as time after time she's ignored.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Throughout Book 1, the Shevvingtons are assisted in their schemes by a Psycho Psychologist called Miss Frisch. Robbie warns Christina that she's the same woman they sent his sister Val to, and the conspiracy goes deep considering Christina also recognizes her as the owner of the souvenir shop on Burning Fog Island, who gives Anya a poster that the Shevvingtons keep switching with another one in order to gaslight her. (Christina even blames her for having killed the ferryman's dog). She's clearly in deep with the Shevvingtons and manages to take an incriminating photo of Christina going through school files, and yet after Book 1 she's never seen or referenced again.
  • Continuity Snarl: In the first book Mr Shevvington's first name is revealed to be Arnold. In the second it's Arthur. In the third it goes back to Arnold.
  • Creepy Basement: A basement that echoes weirdly with the tide, floods regularly and is home to the Shevvingtons' giggling, murderously insane son.
  • Cute Bruiser: Christina is very quick with her fists. She punches a classmate named Jonah on the first day of school. She apparently does this quite a lot, as both Michael and Jonah in later books know when a punch is coming and pre-empt her when they know they've annoyed her.
  • Empty Shell: What their victims are left as. However, it is shown that this needs to be maintained, as both Anya and Val are able to recover to some degree when they are no longer being actively targeted. In book 3, Christina has her spirit broken and briefly enters this state, but gets saved from it by Val, who she had saved earlier.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Played with. The Shevvingtons are aware of how good Christina and others are but see that as the fun, to destroy them so effectively. They are surprised that Christina keeps fighting back but see it as a challenge to break her.
    • Played straight when the Shevvingtons put out the story that Christina is crazy because her parents have long abused her. Having been so successful with their lies, the couple assume this will be believed as well. It turns out that the friends of the family know for a fact this can't be true and it becomes the first step to exposing the Shevvingtons.
  • Evil Gloating: In Book 3, as they prepare to burn the evidence of their crimes, the Shevvingtons finally admit to Christina how much they've enjoyed having her as an opponent. Before this point, they had always feigned innocence, even in private conversations with her.
  • Evil Teacher: Both Shevvingtons are this, as well as being the sadistic variety.
  • Food Fight: Book 2
  • For the Evulz: The Shevvingtons have no motives for their cruelty beyond being sadists who find it an amusing challenge. This is part of the reason why nobody believes Christina, as there appears to be no motive.
  • Funny Foreigner: Christina is from Burning Fog Island, and girls on the mainland laugh at her island dialect expressions like "goffle" (to mean "gobble") and "yarn" (to mean "exaggerate").
  • Gaslighting: Naturally. With Anya and Dolly, this is all that was needed, though Christina's extreme resilience means they focus more on convincing other people she's insane.
  • Geographic Flexibility: The third book introduces summer cottages along the coastline that have never been mentioned before, but which Christina has apparently been using as secret hideouts for some time.
  • Girl Posse: Vicki and Gretchen.
  • Good Cannot Comprehend Evil:
    • In the final novel, the adults finally admit to Christina that they didn't want to face the truth about the Shevvingtons and "that we invited a pair of genuine sadists into our town."
    • It's hinted that this is the reason the Shevvingtons got away with this in other towns. Even when they were suspected, the authorities wasted time trying to figure out what the motive for their actions was. The idea that "their hobby was ruining people's lives" was too much to take.
  • Hero of Another Story: A variation, which can better be described as victims of another story. On realizing that the empty guest bedrooms in Schooner Inne correlate to the Shevvington's previous victims, Christina gets to wondering who these girls are. We eventually learn their names when Christina finds the Shevvingtons' files, but nothing else about them.
  • Heroic BSoD: Christina suffers one during book three. It's Val who manages to get her back.
  • High-School Dance: Christina gets invited to one by Benji in book three. Makes for a sweet finale.
  • I Know What You Fear: The Shevvingtons operate by gaining trust of their targets, learning their fears, and then turning that knowledge against them, usually with the pretense of helping them to overcome their fears.
  • Ironic Nursery Rhyme: Liar, liar, house on fire!
  • Kill It with Fire: The Shevvingtons end up trapped inside their own burning house and their remains are dumped out in front of the beach party guests.
  • Laughing Mad: The Shevvingtons' insane son never speaks except for giggling.
  • Madness Mantra: Anya continually says, "the sea" With Val it's "The Alone."
  • Madwoman in the Attic: Or rather mad son in the basement. The mysterious figure in the wetsuit who haunts Christina throughout book 2 has a perfectly mundane explanation.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: This is all over the place, with Christina and the other victims of the Shevvingtons constantly grappling with the question of whether they have actual supernatural powers or not. They don't.
    • The perfectly timed wind that comes off Burning Fog Island, seemingly at Christina's command, to set the Inne alight and kill the Shevvingtons once and for all.
  • Meaningful Echo:
    Anya: I won't let you down, Mr. Shevvington, I'll do everything you say.
    Mr. Shevvington: I know.
    Dolly: I won't let you down, Mr. Shevvington, I'll do everything you say.
    Mr. Shevvington: I know.
  • Mind Manipulation: The Shevvingtons' modus operandi.
  • Most Writers Are Adults / Wise Beyond Their Years: Christina wins psychological warfare against two abusive adults when she is thirteen.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: The Shevvingtons try to claim Christina's parents have abused her in order to completely destroy her. It ends up finally exposing them, because friends of the family know for a fact that they have never abused Christina.
  • No Name Given: Presumably he has one, but the books never provide a name for the Shevvington's giggling, psychotic son.
  • Ominous Fog: In the first book, from which it gets the title.
  • The Ophelia: Anya was always this to some extent, being melodramatic and tending to ascribe evil intentions and fateful machinations to the sea even before meeting the Shevvingtons, as well as being extremely beautiful. Following her mental collapse, she becomes this trope in full. However, when she is no longer being actively targeted and undermined by the Shevvingtons at every moment, she recovers.
  • Passive Aggressive Combat: Both the Shevvingtons are good at this, though Mr Shevvington is better.
  • Promoted to Love Interest: After being a non-entity for the first two books, Benj suddenly starts showing romantic interest in Christina in the third.
  • Psychological Horror: The entire story.
  • Psycho Psychologist: Miss Frisch is a psychologist personally working alongside the Shevvingtons to help enforce the idea that the girls she examines are mentally disturbed. She's the one who helped put Valerie away in a mental hospital and tries to have a one-on-one with Christina.
  • Put on a Bus:
  • The Quiet One: Benji never says very much until the third book, and even then he gets easily flustered.
  • Sadist Teacher: Played with in the case of the Shevvingtons. Mr Shevvington's facade of kindness and understanding never cracks in public, while Mrs Shevvington is openly psychologically and emotionally abusive to her class (albeit usually in a passive-aggressive way). Each is also a full-blown Evil Teacher, however their only motive is sadism, though with an attitude behind it that's got more in common with a Serial Killer than is usual for this trope.
  • Saying Too Much: The Shevvingtons finally cross the line when they try to make Christina look crazy by relating her parents have been abusing her. However, they overestimate their influence as the adults who know Christina's parents know this can't be true and is the first clue the Shevvingtons are not as good as they seem.
  • Stress Vomit: Christina vomits after an encounter with Frisch, right onto two girls who had been giving her a hard time.
  • Survival Mantra: Christina frequently thinks of herself as "island granite" to reassure herself of her own resilience.
  • Terms of Endangerment: The Shevvingtons often use the term "dear", usually with their victims.
  • There Are No Therapists: There are, but...
  • Unholy Matrimony: It is unclear what level of emotional attachment there really is between the Shevvingtons; they function extremely effectively as a pair of serial soul-destroyers, but we never see anything between them beyond the practicalities of basic life and the discussion of plans for their victims.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: In the first book Christina befriends her math teacher Mrs Schuyler and tells her the whole story behind the Shevvingtons. Although Mrs Schuyler doesn't believe all of it, she admits that there's something very odd about the couple and promises Christina that she'll keep her eyes open. She's presented as an important character and valuable adult ally, but at the end of the book the Shevvingtons tell Christina that Mrs Schuyler took a job elsewhere, and we never see or hear from her again.
  • Will They or Won't They?: Christina has this with various romantic interests throughout the trilogy. By the end of the series it is still unresolved, as she simply decides to dance with both of her suitors in general celebration, rather than treating it as a serious commitment. Which makes sense, as she's only 14.
  • Worthy Opponent: What the Shevvingtons come to see Christina as. Their early shifting of their efforts from driving Christina herself mad to convincing other people she's mad is an early acknowledgement that she's stronger than they thought.