Author: Lizzie Friend
Publisher: Merit Press
Publication Date: December 18th, 2013
Read: Sept - Oct 2013
Where It Came From: eARC from publisher via NetGalley*
Rating: 2.5 Secret Society Scandals
The Quick and Dirty:
Lacrosse star Sadie Marlowe transfers from her life in Portland to the prestigious Keating Hall in Virginia on an athletic scholarship. Boarding school life with the 1% is a bit of a culture shock for her, and she gets yet another shock when she is kidnapped one night to be inducted into a secret society. The posh parties, high fashion, and other privileges for members are enough to keep her from thinking too hard about the unexplained bruises on her body, other members with sociopathic tendencies, and the mysterious deaths of some former inductees—until things get really out of hand. But will Sadie be able to extricate herself and her friends from the toxic world of Keating and the Order of the Optimates before it’s too late? There’s potential here, but clunky dialogue, blah characters, and other aspects of the story/writing need polishing.
The Wordy Version:
This book…gah. I just. I don’t know how to feel about it. It’s not horrible by any means, but there’s so much that could be better about it. It was really hit and miss for me—some parts were pretty good, but other times it just fell flat.
I was drawn to this book because it sounded vaguely like the Pretty Little Liars series, which I unironically and unabashedly enjoy (the books, not the TV show. The show is dumb). Wealthy teenagers with private school shenanigans—scandal! Murder! Mayhem! The books are very different, but try as I might, I find it very hard not to compare the two. Still, for you, dear readers, I will try to keep them in separate corners of my head.
For the most part, the writing in Poor Little Dead Girls is good in that the words are put together in sentences that make sense and flow well. However, I do have issues with the dialogue—it often sounds like it’s trying too hard to sound teenager-y, dropping all kinds of lingo and slang that comes off a bit like an adult trying to approximate how they imagine high schoolers might speak. Even for the adult characters the dialogue simply doesn’t feel realistic. There were also many times when the word choice or phrasing of a sentence was just off—I understood what the author was going for, but it was just a bit wonky and could have been said better or more clearly. Keeping in mind that I read an advanced reader’s copy that may differ from the final published version of the book, here’s an example of some word choice/ambiguity that made me lol: “Brett shook her head, so small it was almost imperceptible” (270). I would argue that “slightly” would be a more appropriate word than “small” in this instance, unless of course Brett’s head really had been shrunk down to microscopic proportions. I can forgive that sort of word-wonk if it happens once or twice in a book, but if it happens repeatedly there’s some editing that needs to be done. Here’s hoping these sorts of things get worked out before the final version goes to print.
Another thing that left me confused in this book was the humor. Sometimes it was spot-on and made me cackle to myself as I read (ex: referring to a pair of heels as “high-fashion bear traps” ), and other times it just fell completely flat for me (“Maybe fashion designers really were magical. It would explain how they had managed to convince people to wear shoulder pads”  ::crickets::). Humor can be a subjective sort of thing, but I felt there was unevenness here.
I also felt the storycraft aspect of the writing could use some work. I was irked by characters being introduced only to disappear until it was convenient for them to be a part of the story again (e.g. Sadie’s roommates), and the romance between Sadie and her male counterpart transfer-student-lacrosse-player-not-buying-into-this-rich-crap Jeremy was on the trite side (although the pair of them watching a movie online together while in separate dorms was cute). There was uneven characterization and not much difference in voice between many of the main characters—you could probably give me isolated quotes from many of the Keating girls and it would be hard for me to match up who said what. Sadie herself had moments of feisty badassery, but other times I found it hard to connect with her. Additionally, sometimes there were jarring statements or turns of phrase that didn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the book (“Her voice cracked like a choirboy's whose balls were starting to drop” —oddly vulgar, no?).
There was also level of unreality that I just couldn’t shake and made it hard for me to suspend my disbelief. Things like the fact that Sadie rarely ever thinks of friends back home in Portland, that she is able to identify and comment on her roommates’ habits after knowing them for about one night, a character saying he’d call Sadie even though we’d recently established that he didn’t have her phone number…I could go on. And there were loose plot threads dangling at the end—what happened to Thayer, and more importantly, Brett, who was one of the protagonist’s good friends and dealing with a (spoiler alert) abusive relationship?! I don’t know if the author is planning a sequel, but I didn’t think those things (well, mostly Brett) should be left up in the air.
Like I said, it’s hard for me not to lay this one alongside Pretty Little Liars in my mind. Both are kind of bonkers, outrageous, implausible rich-kids-at-school stories, but PLL has a gossipy, scandalous fun to it that I didn’t quite find here. There’s implausible that I can suspend my disbelief and have fun with, and then there’s implausible with mustache-twirling bad guys and a certain cardboardiness that doesn’t entice me to buy in.
That being said, it’s worth noting that despite these complaints, I did finish the book. I may not have been completely satisfied with many aspects of the story and writing, but it did pique my curiosity and pull me through the story. The writing had a humor and brightness that shone out from behind the things I found problematic, and I wanted to see the mysteries through to the end and find out how things turned out. But would I buy it? Probably not. Would I check out a sequel? Also probably not. I see potential here, but I think the book would benefit from some (a lot of) polishing and tightening.
*As ever, much as we are grateful for the copy, our review is uninfluenced by its source.