Thirteen-year-old Lizzie Hood and her next-door neighbor, Evie Verver, are inseparable, best friends who swap clothes, bathing suits, and field-hockey sticks and between whom — presumably — there are no secrets. Then one afternoon, Evie disappears, and as a rabid, giddy panic spreads through the balmy suburban community, everyone turns to Lizzie for answers. Was Evie unhappy, troubled, or upset? Had she mentioned being followed? Would she have gotten into the car of a stranger?
Compelled by curiosity, Lizzie takes up her own furtive pursuit of the truth. Haunted by dreams of her lost friend and titillated by her own new power as the center of the disappearance, Lizzie uncovers secret after secret and begins to wonder if she knew anything at all about her best friend.
I finished this book some time ago and I’ve been putting off writing the review. Dreading it, actually, because I really didn’t enjoy reading the book and thus figured writing the review would be painful. To be honest I wasn’t sure I was even going to write a review, I wondered if it would be better just to skip it since I didn’t like the book.
In the end, obviously, I’ve decided to write it. Not because I feel strongly that people need to know OMG I did not like this book!!! but to explain why it didn’t work for me. And hey, just because it struck the wrong chord with me doesn’t mean that someone else won’t really enjoy it. And so I write. Be forewarned, this might get a little spoiler-y. I’ll try not to be too blatant, but to fully explain why I felt the way I did it’s necessary to get into specifics.
I will start by saying that Megan Abbott has a very unique style of writing. Particularly the first chapter, which is written almost in a stream of consciousness style, contains a lot of abrupt sentences, etc. I know a lot of people enjoy this style of writing but I have always found it rather jarring and – for me, at least – it makes for slow reading, which in turn makes it hard for me to get into the flow of a book. After the first chapter this did become less of an issue for me, I’m not sure if that’s because I got used to it or because it wasn’t written so directly from the perspective of Lizzie. There are also a lot of flowery adjectives, which is strictly a personal taste issue but is a personal pet peeve.
One of my main problems is that the characters are so young but much of the dialogue doesn’t sound to me like something that a 13 year old would say, even a particularly precocious one. For example, at one point Evie says “Lizzie, do you ever find yourself wanting so much that you feel like you might disappear? Like all that you are is the wanting, and the rest of you just burns away?” I guess I could see a bright-if-melodramatic high schooler saying that, but I just have a hard time imagining a very adult and very poetic thought like that coming from a 13 year old. It’s another thing that kind of took me out of the book because it didn’t seem realistic. Maybe I just don’t know any precocious/ubersmart 13 year olds.
I also had issue with the characters. There’s just nobody to like here, which can be fine, but in this case I was just dying for someone to come along who I could root for. Lizzie is a little liar whose only motivation for trying to find her bff seems to be impressing Evie’s dad. Dusty was a complete bitch with a serious Electra complex. Evie was a brat with daddy issues of her own. All of the kids in this book were just really terrible little people. Where I should have been distressed by all of these young girls craving the attentions of older men (in some cases their own father – gag) or sympathetic to the feelings that drove them to this point, I just wasn’t.
Something about Lizzie working out the clues to the mystery of Evie’s disappearance just rang false with me. It’s certainly not the first story about a teen or tween solving crimes that the police can’t, but this one feels different somehow. It’s not good-natured or light, or even scary and dangerous. It’s not Veronica Mars or Nancy Drew. It’s mean and it’s vile and it’s done for all of the wrong reasons (namely, a pubescent girl trying to hook up with her missing best friend’s dad).
I do give Megan Abbott credit for dealing with taboo subjects, the problem is that I didn’t feel any emotional connection to any of the characters or any reaction other than “ew.” It just left me feeling icky, for lack of a better word. And don’t get me wrong, you should feel icky given the subject matter. But still – I dunno. It’s not a bad book and it’s certainly not poorly written so I don’t want to give that impression, I just found it to be a very difficult book to read and an even more difficult book to like.
I think what it boiled down to for me is that there was no balance, nothing to break up all of the fucked up-edness. It’s all pedophiles and married men sneaking into houses at night and little girls lusting after grown men. It sort of reminded me of something from Chuck Palahniuk, where it just spirals downward until it drowns in depression. I almost stopped reading a few times but I did want to see how it ended.
Overall, I just found it too unpleasant. And usually this isn’t a problem for me – I’ll gladly read books where zombies rip through nursing homes and orphanages or people cheat on their spouses or whatever other unseemly things happen in the literary world. But this one was just too much for me. Which, again, is not to say it’s a bad book. It’s not, and I suspect there’s a large audience who would enjoy it. Megan Abbott is obviously a talented writer. This particular book just didn’t work for me personally.
2/5 stars – Not My Bag, Baby