Years ago, when my district still had a robust outside reading program, I read along with my students. Not only because it seemed hypocritical for me to say they had to read when I didn’t, but also because we could discuss books as equals. Back then I read almost entirely YA and what would become designated as New Adult. Lots of fantastic writing is done in they genre, and many of my favorite books come from this time.
But I fell out touch with YA as things changed with the curriculum, and now I know about these genres primarily from my daughter. When I picked up my library books yesterday, I also picked up hers, one of which was a good girl’s guide to murder [sic] by Holly Jackson. She’d been waiting for it, and I was intrigued by the premise. So while she went to work, I sat down and read the book.
There will be spoilers. You’ve been warned.
Jackson creates highly believable, fully fleshed out characters that are dynamic and interesting. I engaged with Pippa, and although she’s somewhat naive, I bought the nerdy trope, primarily because Jackson does an excellent job of showing Pip become increasingly obsessed with finding out who really murdered Andie Hall.
The structure of the book might challenge less sophisticated readers, though honestly, they probably wouldn’t pick up the book in the first place. After all, it’s about a school project. Jackson does cash in on the alternating 1st person/3rd person POV that’s all the rage right now, but she does so deftly. Personally, I can find the switching back and forth grating, but here it was organic and entirely appropriate.
The Not So Good
After some thought, here are the things that bugged me most, in no particular order.
- Though Pippa does chide the town for not seeing Andie as anything other than a rich, pretty girl, Jackson never once brings up race as a motivator, which I find to be a glaring omission, and she missed an opportunity here. The plot is that a pretty, popular white girl is murdered by a young man of Indian heritage. (Implied, not stated specifically which culture he comes from. That’s another issue.) But given these bare facts, readers are to believe that though the entire town ostracized the Singhs and never once brought up race? Really? This is America she’s writing about. And because Jackson doesn’t even give a side-swipe at race, it makes the other characters’ races and gender preferences feel like boxes she ticked off, not genuine.
- Her parents. I loved the family dynamic she created, though for the reasons mentioned above, her step-father’s race feels like it’s only there to show how liberal Fairview is. But beyond that, he’s a lawyer, which is great, but when Pip and her friends go to a Catastrophe party, he encourages her to have a good time–even though he knows there will be no parents there and underage drinking. That’s not cool. That’s shitty parenting, and I find it hard to believe that a responsible lawyer would countenance that.
- Lots of rich kids with cars appear in the book, even though Jackson doesn’t admit that they’re rich. Fairview is not a typical town, nor is the high school typical. Most places, parents would lose their minds at the idea of a capstone project that was started over summer…and teachers wouldn’t be signing off on them in July…which leads me to believe that the author did not go to an average American high school.
- Jackson–via Pippa–makes a big deal at the end of the book by showing that Pippa is not so much of a good girl because she openly admits she violated the terms of her capstone projects by getting help. But everyone knew by then that she had contacted BOTH families and she had been expressly forbidden to do. She’d have failed the project way before that.
- The relationship between Ravi and Pippa. They have a great chemistry, but he’s 20 and she’s 17. Even if she was 18, it still would be weird at best. How that got past an editor is beyond me. It would have been easier to make Ravi 18 and homeschooled or sent to a private school or something.
- Barney. Aside from violating the rule of “You don’t kill the dog,” it wasn’t necessary at all. Pip would have been just as angsty and guilt ridden if Barney had been returned. The plot could have functioned in entirely the same way. She didn’t rise John Wick like from the ashes and kick ass. Killing Barney off was a cheap emotional plot device and nothing more.
Despite these things, there are students I would have recommended the book to, mostly so I could get their thoughts on my nit picks. I finished the book, so that says something, but I really can’t see what all the hubub is about it.