Dangerous Girls, by Abigail Haas

Short Take:  OH NO SHE DIDN’T!!

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Oh, this was a fun one.  A quick, nasty little mystery that takes place in both the island paradise of Aruba and also Mean Girls High in Boston.

Anna Chevalier is a high school junior who’s dealing with a lot.  Her mother is dying of cancer, and her father has decided that she will transfer to an exclusive private school, where hopefully, her friends’ parents will become his new clients.

After some typical new-girl hazing, Anna becomes best friends with Elise.  It’s an intense friendship.  They both are good girls with edgy tendencies, and their friendship leads them down some dark paths together.

During Spring Break of their senior year, Anna, Elise, Anna’s boyfriend Tate, and a few of their other friends decide to spend the week at a beach house in Aruba.  It’s there that Elise is brutally murdered, and Anna is accused of the crime.

Dangerous Girls flips back and forth between the year or so of Anna & Elise’s friendship leading up to the night of the murder, and the present day trial.  There are loads of secrets and rivalries and gossip and instagram and text messages, and all the usual high-school dramas that can be so much fun to watch from the outside.  (Note:  I don’t know anyone who actually enjoyed this stuff when they were in the middle of it.)

But there’s also a real life and death struggle going on, as Anna desperately tries to prove her innocence.  She’s up against a prosecutor who seems to be fixated on her despite having several other promising suspects, and in a foreign country, where the rules are vastly different.  There are a few twists, and then of course, a final reveal of the real killer.

Sure it’s formulaic.  I’ll admit, I actually didn’t figure out who the real killer was, but there were some pretty convincing red herrings, and truthfully, I wasn’t thinking about it that hard.  I was just enjoying watching the whole soap opera play out.

Abigail Haas captured adolescence in all its overblown glory.  It’s a time in life when all the emotional dials are cranked to eleven, and we all love harder, laugh more deeply, suffer more from heartbreak, and imbue every decision with so much more importance than we ever will again.  There’s an innocence to everything, even bad behavior.

Dangerous Girls also throws in a bit of subtle commentary on how many of us live our lives so publicly now, putting everything on social media.  When the prosecutor decides to put Anna on trial, there’s plenty of evidence of bad behavior right at his fingertips, pictures of her drinking, pretending to stab Elise, wearing skimpy clothing, etc.  But as the attorney for the defense says at one point “Any one of us could be made to look a monster, with selective readings of our history, but for every photograph he shows you out of context, I can show you another side”  and that’s true too.  Every single one of us, with just the worst moments of our lives plucked out and examined, would look capable of any crime.

One of my own worst fears is being accused of something terrible, and unable to defend myself against it, while some faceless authority points out every bad thing I’ve ever done or said, and every nasty thought I’ve had.  Haas’s portrayal of that was masterful.  Anna’s despair, anger, helplessness, and hopelessness were raw enough to bleed off the page.

The Nerd’s Rating:  FOUR HAPPY NEURONS (and one non-stabby tropical beach vacation.  It’s FREEZING here.)

fourhappyneurons

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