"A girl was dead, a beautiful girl and there was tragedy in that" was the phrase in this novel which first turned me off it. I have read this same wrong-headed phrasing, written by so many female writers, so often that it makes me sick. Even in this day and age I can see it coming from some insensitive male writers, but for a woman to write this of another woman is a disgrace. Is this all the value a girl has: the shallow depth of her subjective beauty? Is that her only worth? Is there nothing more that can be said about her?
Apparently this author with an amazing name and in her debut novel doesn't think so, because while she could have written, " A girl was dead, a strong girl, but that didn't save her..." or " A girl was dead, a smart girl, who evidently wasn't smart enough.." or "A girl was dead, a sensitive girl and there was tragedy in that..." she didn't. She wrote only that the tragedy was that this was a beautiful girl. Meaning what? That if it had been an "ugly" girl, then it wouldn't have been a tragedy? If she had been plain and homely, it would not have been so awful that she died?
I can't rate a novel positively when the author abuses and cheapens women like this, callously reducing them to their looks, as if they have no other worth. I expect it from those trashy magazines that line the checkout shelves at the supermarket, where fattening junk food populates one side of the aisle while the other is replete with magazines telling women that they are ugly, sexually incompetent, and overweight. For a female author to willingly side with that kind of chronic abuse is shameful.
That alone was bad enough, but it was not the only problem with this novel which superficially purports to be about the death of a young girl, but which seemed more like the author was going for a pretentious piece of art than ever she was interested in telling an engaging and sensitive story about the kind of death we see all-too-often in real life.
Even on merit as a work of literature, there were issues, such as awkward phrasing and purple prose. I read on one occasion: "He hated to imagine his sadness inside her" which struck me as a peculiar thing to say or think. His sadness inside her? It sounds almost sexual, like he's considering penetrating her with something. It just felt wrong. Certainly it could have been phrased better. Another one which sounded peculiar was this: "When Cameron first heard about Andrea Yates, he ran a bath."
On the other hand, maybe this was perfect, because the character who entertained these thoughts was an out-and-out creep: a peeping tom and a stalker. I did not like him, and I sure-as-hell had no sympathy for him. It was so plainly obvious that he was not the perp that it was no more than an exercise in masturbation to pursue his story, which was boring, but this was true of all three characters this novel followed. Not a one of them had anything of interest in them to engage the reader.
If you're going to have characters that have unpleasant qualities, then you need to give them something to balance it unless you really don't want us to like them, and the ability to sketch portraits of the girl being stalked is not an endearing quality. It's just not.
Aside from the shallowness of the 'beauty' comment, the problem with this novel was that the layout was a confused mess. Instead of starting with the crime - the finding of the body, the novel opened with Cameron the Stalker in third person voice, then switched to Jade the Obnoxious in first person, like it was a nondescript YA novel (and like I cared about her story). It seemed like an afterthought when we once again switched to third person and met Russ, the cop who realistically should have had no involvement with the investigation, but who did anyway! So here we had our priorities laid out and none of them were the victim of a brutal assault. She was tacked on as an afterthought; a prop whose life was immaterial to the anguished and utterly self-centered existential chatter of the three main characters.
Jade gave me the impression that she was only in the novel so it could have the rebel female trope requisite in YA stories. Russ had even less reason to be in the cast. Why he was involved at all is the only real mystery here. They woke him early in the morning after the body had been found. He was not a detective, and he was not the first on the scene, nor was he instrumental in any matters regarding the victim, so I was at a complete loss as to why they called him out there. It made no sense at all.
The body was apparently discovered by the school "night janitor." I am far from an expert in school administration, but it seemed like an odd if not a rare occupation, especially given than this was not a massive urban high-school, but a small school in a small town, so I didn't get his reason for existence in this story at all unless he was the perp. Not that I'm saying he was. I never found out who the perp was and I really didn't care.
The story was laid out peculiarly, too: it was told backwards, with two characters being introduced who were at opposite ends of a stark black and white spectrum of feeling towards the victim. The victim trotted along after them a poor third, like an unloved dog, which resentfully has to be walked, and even then she didn't take center stage because her section was instead about the selfsame police officer who should never have been involved in the first place!
If he had been on night patrol and had found the victim, then it would have made sense for him to be involved, but it never did. Calling him out of bed to see the corpse represented nothing if not sick voyeurism, os this was really poor writing. Even during questioning, this officer was uninvolved, his mind constantly and tediously going back to his own past instead of focusing on the questioning of the suspect or the pursuit of the investigation! he was a lousy cop. I felt like he needed to have Yoda come along and give him his speech about "Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing," and whack him over the head with his little knobby walking stick.
The chapters were named after the person from whose perspective the story was told. This is typically a portent of imminent tedium to me. I've rarely (if ever!) enjoyed a novel written in this way, and the chronic voice-switching was jarring, making for a disjointed work which did nothing save remind me I was reading a YA story.
It felt like the author could not make up her mind about which voice she wanted to tell this story in and the hesitation showed uncomfortably. First person is almost never a good choice and mixing it with third is a no-no. The only effect that method has on me is to remind me repeatedly, with each change of voice, that I'm reading a story that's more interested in being artsy and pretentious than ever it is in actually telling an engaging story.
Despite all of this, I might have enjoyed it if it had been written well, but it was not. The author seemed far too in love with turning a phrase than ever she was addressing the very real problems children in school face when a death occurs. It's like the author had no respect not only for the victim, but also for the grieving process. It felt more like a sensationalist piece of writing than an exploration of death and grief, or even a detective story, and this approach cheapened the death of a young girl. But hey, she died beautiful, so what's to worry about, right?
I think at this point I am ready to quit reading not only novels which have a woman's name in the title, but also those which actually use the world "Girl" in the title, such as "Girl, interrupted" and "Girl on a Train" because they are inevitably poor efforts at telling an engrossing story.
This was an advance review copy and I have to apologize for making it only a third the way through this one before I had to quit reading, but life is short and reading list long, and frankly it's a waste to expend any of it on something like this when there are far more appealing and fulfilling efforts out there begging for attention.
I did not care about any of the characters, not even the victim because I was never given reason to, and I sure didn't care who the perp was because the author evidently didn't either! I do wish the author all the best. I think she has stories to tell, especially if she can get an editor who is on the ball, but this particular novel is not one I can recommend.