nice girls by catherine dang // book review

A pulse-pounding and deviously dark debut, written with the psychological acuity and emotional punch of Luckiest Girl Alive and All the Missing Girls, that explores the hungry, angry, dark side of girlhood and dares to ask what is most dangerous to a woman: showing the world what it wants to see, or who she really is?

What did you do?

Growing up in Liberty Lake, Minnesota, Mary was chubby, awkward, and smart. Earning a scholarship to an Ivy League school was her ticket out; she was going to do great things and never look back. Three years later, “Ivy League Mary” is back—a thinner, cynical, and restless failure. Kicked out of Cornell at the beginning of senior year, she won’t tell anyone why. Working at the local grocery store, she sees familiar faces from high school and tries to make sense of the past and her life.

When beautiful, magnetic Olivia Willand, a rising social media star, goes missing, Mary—like the rest of Liberty Lake—becomes obsessed. Best friends in childhood, Mary and Olivia haven’t spoken in years. Everyone admired Olivia, but Mary knows better than anyone that behind the Instagram persona hid a willful, manipulative girl with sharp edges. As the world worries for perfect, lovely Olivia, Mary can’t help but hate her. She also believes that her disappearance is tied to another missing person—a nineteen-year-old girl named DeMaria Jackson whose disappearance has gone under the radar.  

Who was the true Olivia Willand, and where did she go? What happened to DeMaria? As Mary delves deeper into the lives of the two missing girls, old wounds bleed fresh and painful secrets threaten to destroy everything.

Maybe no one is really a nice girl, after all. 

this was one of those books i desperately wanted to like but ended up being a hot mess. the book is about “ivy league” mary, a small-town girl who reinvented her life by working hard and securing a place in cornell university only to get kicked out at the verge of graduation due to an act of violence. her school life was not so kind to her and she is devastated to have her shot at redefining her life ripped away from her and is forced to return back home. liberty lake, a sleepy town where nothing exciting ever happens, suddenly buzzes to life when she gets there as two girls are murdered with their murders possibly connected. we follow mary as she tries to solve these murders while trying to sort out the mess she has made of her college life.
the premise was actually pretty interesting and the plot had so much potential. what i expected from mary was the transformation from a spiteful, angry young woman who put so much importance in what everyone thought about her that she literally let it ruin her hard-earned college life into someone who rises beyond all the petty drama and things that absolutely do not matter. what i got an extremely self-obsessed, impulsive, frankly quite despicable character who never learned her lesson until the end.
she makes everything about herself including the tragic deaths of two girls, lies to her employer and gets mad when she gets fired for it; she jumps to hasty conclusions about who the murderer is and literally ruins the life of a guy who she gets arrested because of an impetuous call. another guy who she once again concludes is the murderer in a split second, she abducts and beats up only to learn he was not the murderer.

“but i wasn’t like them. i was boring and smart and i had busted my ass off to get into cornell. i was nice. i wasn’t someone who got fired.”

i found it really hard to feel any empathy towards her most of the times because she always ends up doing something incredibly selfish and condescending even going on to be quite delusional at times. the most interesting part is, she does not regret any of this even going on to believe that the harm she inflicted upon them is their punishment for the crimes they committed. the fact that mary was dealing with discovering herself and blossoming into a more self-assured person did not make her sudden decision to solve the murders of these girls seem like a natural outcome. mary was written to be an incredibly self-centered character and it did not feel like a natural flow of events when she randomly cares about the state of the events that do not involve her; it was even painful sometimes to read about how much she cared about the murders when just in a previous event, she would have acted highly insensitive and entitled.

the thing about having a narrator through which we learn about a murder mystery is that the author has to find a sweet spot between making us care about them enough to be invested while keeping the focus on the mystery. i felt the author was undecided about making this book more psychological, focusing on the dynamics of the relationships between the women in this book as they grow from teenagers at different social standings into young women trying to pave their careers or just a plain old murder mystery. due to this, the book fell short on both respects landing in a mess of unresolved issues and poorly developed characters.

in short, i love the author’s idea and the potential this plot had but unfortunately, it missed the mark for me.

have you read this book? what are your thoughts on this book?


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