Girls on Fire-Robin Wasserman
Hannah doesn't have many friends until Lacey comes to town and they bond over how much they hate the queen bee Nikki who is dealing with the suicide of her boyfriend Craig.
Sometimes I fear that reading new releases all in a row makes me into a hypercritical reader. The industry tends to have thematic groupings. There was the season of cults, the season of couples taking trips to nice places and now, the season of dangerous teenage girls. The first time I read this theme, I loved the premise. Usually teenage girls are either without agency or they're obsessed with popularity and/or boys. This season's teenage girls are instead those on the fringes, pretty much stuck there, and mostly pass the Bechdel test. They're mostly good girls who are just uncomfortable by the realization that eventually they have be women but there's always one or two 'dangerous' girls. Here is where the trope annoys me when in bulk. The bad egg is almost always a new girl on the scene, someone from elsewhere, 8 times out of 10 they come from a broken family, and they are always platonically seductive. In this case, Lacey draws Hannah in by renaming her Dex. This is not actually the worst problem-the problem to me is that these stories are always end with the good girl staying good, that this was a misstep that'll haunt her forever, but in the end, life goes on and she is just like how she started but now won't make this mistake again. I'm not disputing life goes on, it does. What I'm disputing is this easy division of Hannah and Dex and post-Dex Hannah. There's an implication that Hannah will now grow up and consider this to be a small episode in her life as she is at heart a good girl. This really annoys me because these girls are me and I am who I am because I made mistakeS, because I expanded my horizons far beyond the boring suburb and got to know the damage the world creates early and while I could still recover. All of my friends are these girls and they are now bamf who are at home in their own skins because of our collective mistakes. We've got our scars but personally, I'd do them again to become the person I am.
I don't want to pick on this book but this was like the 8th "dangerous teen girls" book I read in the space of 2 months so I couldn't really enjoy it too much. Which is quite the shame because Wasserman really creates a great atmosphere here. There's almost a little bit of the mystery novel feel because what actually happened in the woods with Lacey and Craig. Why is Craig dead? The suspense building to the climax really sets this book apart. The 90s setting is great-Kurt Cobain and parental panics over devil worshipping feel authentic while not falling into the trap of feeling like a set piece. Equally authentic is the self-centric world of teenagehood-you hate this person and it genuinely feels like they are singling you personally to bully. At the same time, Nikki was a bit of a stereotype of the "dead inside" popular girl type which also annoys me. So on the one hand, you get most of the book from Hannah/Dex's narration which I liked but you also had this twisted plot line with Nikki and the occasional viewpoint from the parents which I found condescending.
But really, this is such a harsh feeling review because of the pervasive nature of this trope lately. I'm almost certain that had I read this book some other year, I'dve ended up loving it. The prose is great, the suspense and pacing is well handled and it felt authentic in an undefinable way.